:: Specific Design Brief

CAT 6: Ecological Housing - further information


The house design should take into account the ecological criteria outlined in the General Reference Section.



For such pre-fabricated housing to have any chance of success with the UK public as permanent desirable housing, it needs to be long-lasting, substantial in its materials, attractive, and possibly fit in to a regional character. This is alongside all of the benefits to comfort and health, and the sunny attractive interiors that the above sustainable design criteria will bring.  To facilitate these qualities, a study might include looking at the following;

  • Look at past or current examples; for example, 1,000’s of pre-fab. houses were put up after World War 2, and some still remain standing, albeit renovated. There are also examples of these in some of the open air museums, i.e. Avoncroft and Chilterns Open Air Museum.  Recent well-known examples of pre-fabricated houses include the ‘Castaway pods’ for the t.v. programme of the same name.
  • How are the houses built in your area? Commonly, the ‘brick’ houses filling new estates all round our towns are theoretically timber framed houses, with the brickwork solely providing a substantial rainscreen, and that desired impression of masonry construction.  A lot of these new houses may include pre-fabricated wall and roof panels and trusses.
  • Choose an area of the country for the design; a hebridean island or an infill site in Birmingham would bring contrasting ideas to inform the design
  • Study weather patterns of the area; rain, sun and wind. The nature of the exposure of the site will inform the type of materials chosen
  • Create a profile of a typical user; this could vary enormously from an independent self-builder working co-operatively with a small group to build a small estate of detached dwellings, or a developer building a terrace of houses
  • Study regional typical build costs,
  • Look at materials of the region (vernacular); how can the new houses fit in with these. Can the design be adapted to have a steep clay tile roof in Northumberland, and a parapet design in regency Cheltenham, for example.
  • Are different cladding of the walls possible to encourage this variation


  • Study the different types of construction used to build houses in the UK; post and beam, stud framing, masonry – solid or cavity wall.
  • Which systems are most appropriate for pre-fabrication
  • What type of materials can maximise the pre-fabrication process; i.e. is a frame made in the factory and clad on site, or are wall and roof panels prepared and insulated in the factory etc.
  • How do these processes work on site; what equipment is needed for construction; how are panels or components joined together ?
  • How is airtightness of the construction, etc. ensured ?
  • Once a building is super-insulated, it is vital that ventilation for fresh air internally is through controlled openings, i.e. windows and trickle vents in windows, and mechanical ventilation. Great care has to be taken in the construction to avoid uncontrolled air leakage between elements of the construction, e.g. between window frame and structure.


  • Look at health of materials
  • Look at the sources of current conventional building materials, and compare their embodied energy with that of more ecological materials. Generally speaking, materials have less embodied energy if they are natural, unprocessed, involve simple fixing on site, and minimise transport.
  • This may involve looking at new technologies to produce insulation and board materials from plant and organic fibres and wood; flax, straw, hemp, sheepswool, wood fibres etc.
  • Recycled materials may also lead to knowledge of existing techniques or of new possibilities; re-use of car tyres, glass, crushed concrete etc.


  • Look at solar hot water heating, wind turbine technology, photovoltaics, water saving technology, biomass district heating etc.
  • Compare the types of technology used in current example projects around the country; ‘Castaway pods’, Taransay, Scotland; ‘House for the Future’ at Welsh Museum of Rural Life, St.Fagan’s,Cardiff; Integer House, BRE site, Garston,Watford; various houses at the Centre for Alternative Technology, Machynlleth, Powys.; Eco-House, Leicester Ecology Trust,Leicester etc.
  • Survey current technologies and decide what may be appropriate (i.e. user-friendly and easily maintained) and affordable for householders.
  • Focus in on one element of your designed system, and design and make a particular component.


  • Plans, sections and elevations, and 3-D drawings of the house, 1.50 metric scale or larger
  • Model of the whole or parts of the construction, 1.50 or larger; this could be a roof truss that could be easily tested by weighing down with water; or a section of wall construction showing the layers of rainscreen, sheathing boards, insulation materials, structural components, and internal lining materials
  • Full scale model of a particular component, using the actual materials of construction.
  • Separate reports in the different study subjects, showing how this research information has informed the design and make project chosen.