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The future in a flatpack

House building eco-kits are the perfect way to combine sustainability with lower unit costs, says Bill Dunster

After gaining valuable experience from Beddington Zero Energy Development, the UK's first carbon-neutral eco-community, the team at Bill Dunster's architect firm, ZEDfactory, were sure they knew how to reduce construction costs and refine designs for other carbon-neutral schemes.
They also knew nobody wanted to pay a premium for the extra design and engineering time in such projects.
Bill Dunster explains: ''We were ambushed by the application of traditional design codes on Government-controlled sites and reluctance to discuss improvements on the BRE eco-homes standards. It seemed raising standards was seen as a threat to delivering maximum numbers of affordable new homes.''
Looking for alternatives to current practices, the team put forward to the Government its own 'ZEDstandards', a low-carbon roadmap for urban regeneration and new development. They calculated that by applying these across just 3 per cent of the Sustainable Communities programme they could reduce any premium above current building regulations to zero.
Mr Dunster says: ''This led to our new fast build, dry construction, zero-carbon house kit, called RuralZED. It had to accommodate perimeter block layouts required by traditional design codes, work to a lower density of 30 to 50 homes per hectare, and have sufficient integrated renewable energy systems, which combine wind and solar power, to approach carbon neutrality.''
Many say maximising passive performance of the building fabric through solar gain, thermal and photovoltaic panels, wind turbines and super-insulation is the best way to make renewable energy a viable national strategy.
So, with funding from the Housing Corporation on behalf of the Cornwall Sustainable Building Trust, ZEDfactory began developing a prefabricated RuralZED kit, complete with assembly manual and training course.
Mr Dunster says: ''After the hot summer of 2003 we knew overheating from climate change meant we had to find a way of creating a flatpack kit to meet the Government's definition of a modern method of construction.
''The solution was to cast eco-concrete panels into prefabricated planks that could be bolted onto pre-cut frames designed to carry the extra weight. The concrete used was often less than that required by a conventional timber frame on mass concrete strip foundations.''
The first RuralZED frame kit was erected in 2006 in the Cornish regeneration zone of Camborne and attracted favourable interest from the local community. Since then ZEDfactory has moved into a production phase. Build costs are currently œ1,350 per m sq for terrace units but larger projects will give volume discounts. The plan now is to kick-start the process using Cornish made components before establishing local supply chain networks and training courses across the UK.
Single, semi-detached, terrace and courtyard homes arranged over two or three stories can all be made from the modular frame kit and its accompanying micro turbine, photovoltaic and passive ventilation energy package.
Mr Dunster concludes: ''Attention to aerodynamic form, solar access and district heating, along with conventional urban concerns of active frontage, streetscape and public transport, can reassure the public that a resource-short future is not frightening. Celebrating this is better than denying the realities of climate change.''

Bill Dunster, a partner at Bill Dunster Architects, is speaking on the first day of the Green Construction Summit


The two-day Green Construction Summit on September 25 and 26 offers an unparalleled opportunity to learn about the benefits of good environmental practice from some of the leaders in the field. Keynote presentations will followed by streamed sessions looking specifically at recycling, materials, waste, low-carbon buildings, planning and energy efficiency. See the website at for details.