Open source housing – the fantasy, part 1

This is a fantasy.  It is about something that I have been thinking about for a long time – the construction of my own house.  Part of the reason is the pain I feel from having to rent expensive accommodation with the particular problem that because we don’t own the house there is no way that we can address the major issues I have with the design.  The most important design issue  is the lack of attention to energy efficiency.    I also feel deeply that I have in some sense failed to provide the security and stability of home ownership.  And finally, we are all sick of renting with the periodic imposition of the inspections the constant worry about damaging or soiling the house and the knowledge that all the money we spend on rent is getting us no closer to ownership.

Housing is expensive in most of the places in Australia where people want to live. There are a lot of reasons for this but I think the main reason is that housing is most often treated as just another way of making a profit and so the speculators, investors and developers cause the housing prices to escalate to a level where large swaths of the population will be unable to purchase a home.

With this fictional account I want to try to describe a system where it is possible for ordinary people to design and construct their own homes for prices that are within their reach.  This system would be designed to allow couples to be involved in the complete process of design, project management and construction.

I guess my initial idea came from watching some of the Grand Designs episodes where the Grand Designers used a technique that I believe was called computerized pre-construction which is where whole wall modules were built in factories and fitted together on site in order to build a house much more quickly than by ordinary methods.

And so I begin my fictional account.

We found out about Open Source Housing during a Google search for sustainable living. It seemed an interesting idea and I would have felt hopeful except for the fact that no houses had yet been built.  And even worse, no land had yet been purchased. The idea seemed to be to take the construction of green housing and the sale of land out of the hands of builders, developers and government and hence to remove the fees, charges, mark-ups, red-tape and bureaucratic nonsense embedded into the process of going from land to dwelling.

The web site was fairly basic and right up front were some disclaimers and a list of risks and probabilities of success for various facets of the processes. On the one hand this did give the project an aura of honesty but on the other it made me worry that all their ideas would come to nothing.

The component of the plan with the least probability for success and the most risk was that of dealing with the government to get land releases for cheaper prices than the government would get from developers. This problem of getting expensive land cheaply had the biggest effect on the final costings of completed dwellings and also had a massive impact on the availability of choice locations.   This wasn’t a deal breaker but the overall tone suggested that the website authors really, really wanted to wrest control away from Canberra so they could obtain fair prices for suitable housing plots.

As I read further on through the website I found that the project was based around the following 4 ideas

1, A design of housing made from a set of open source designed house components that would be prefabricated and would be the smallest set to allow a reasonable spread of different dwelling designs to be constructed.  These components would be 2 person lift able and would be complete to the second fit stage. Only the foundation and connection to utilities would be required for a finished house.

2. The existence of a group of house builders who would work together to create all the parts of all their houses in a collective manner. A standard set of jigs and tools would be specified to be built or bought and the group would work as a kind of distributed production line.

3. A web based tool would exist to allow 3D modelling of houses using the standard components along with project management to track and control the building of the components and the building of the houses with the prefabricated components

4. A collective land purchasing and development initiative with the possible (but not required) absence of government intervention. Of course it was noted that this would only be considered at the small scale of subdivision into individual land plots since it would be difficult to imagine purchasing with no government intervention at all.




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