These days designing and building your own home is an increasingly popular option for a growing number of people. The popularity of TV property shows such as Grand Designs have inspired huge numbers of us to bite the bullet and start building. As any self builder will testify, the end result can be amazing but the process of getting there can be incredibly stressful. Managing the site and the whole build process is not a job for the faint hearted but for those of us who don’t have unlimited amounts of cash, taking on the role of project manager may well be the only way that we can afford the home of our dreams.
But just what is the home of our dreams? Ask any group of people this question and you’ll get a whole load of very different responses. But within their replies, there will probably be a lot of common ground. Most people now want homes that are well designed and stylish. They want high quality materials and fittings, eco-friendly and cost effective heating systems, perhaps they want to add extra environmentally friendly features such as a green roof or a rainwater harvesting system, but above all, they probably want a space that works for them.
These days houses aren’t just places to eat and sleep before going back to work. In the last few years, lifestyles have changed quite dramatically and the days when a 3 bed semi suited most people have long gone.
Many people work from home at least some of the time, some need a designated office space or even a separate building. Flexi-working means that in many families, both adults need their own work space at home; then there’s space for hobbies and crafts, plus the usual eating, sleeping, washing and living space requirements. Households with kids will need a place for them to play, as well as maybe a study zone for the older children and perhaps a hang out for the teenagers. Factor in step-children and elderly parents coming to stay as well as an increased desire for indoor and outdoor entertaining space and you can see what a challenge designing the modern home has become. Combine this with attempting to do it all yourself and you could easily have a recipe for disaster. But never fear, help is at hand with a new company, Pod Living who are bringing innovative, affordable, eco-friendly buildings into the mainstream.
So who are Pod Living and what can they do for you? The company works in partnership with Wyder timber frame engineers and a leading architectural practice to construct high quality buildings which have the same lifespan as any brick construction and yet, come in at a fraction of the cost. Their services range from the supply of timber frame kits through to a full turnkey service. This includes everything from the initial design, planning applications and every other element of the build, right up to the point where the keys to a fully finished and furnished building are handed over.
Where I think the Pod Living concept is especially interesting is in terms of providing an affordable solution to the rising demand for affordable micro living spaces and units. Rising divorce rates mean that more and more people are living alone or are part of a larger group where they may need additional bedroom and living space for parts of the year when children and step-children come to stay. Equally there are lots of us who need to think about providing separate living space for older family members and we all know people who’d love to be able to park their teenagers at the bottom of the garden... Joking aside, being able to extend living space with a stylish and high quality new build provides a far cheaper and much less stressful alternative to moving house.
Pod Living can offer a range of ways to extend your living space from bespoke buildings to ‘off the shelf’ units. One of their best sellers is the Garden Room which is an ideal way for home owners to maximise living space quickly, cheaply and very often, without the need for planning permission. There are more of us working from home than ever before and using a Garden Room as a home office is a perfect solution. There’s no longer any need to sacrifice the spare bedroom or part of the sitting room, the clear divide between home and work space means that interruptions are minimised, less distraction means increased productivity (trust me, I know this for a fact!) and the striking design makes the pod an ideal place to meet clients. The pods feature sustainable materials and are thus perfectly placed to blend into the natural surroundings and come in a range of sizes and finishes to suit all needs and budgets.
The ‘standard’ specification on the pods is anything but standard. They include aluminium bi fold doors; the difference between these and ‘standard’ sliding PVC doors has to be seen to be believed. The doors make an enormous difference to the overall build quality and I can’t stress enough what a fantastic bonus it is to have these included as standard. The cladding is red cedar, there are ample sockets, LED lighting, a smoke alarm, real wood flooring and cutting edge infra-red heaters. There’s also a range of optional extras which will allow you to customise the pod to suit your exact requirements. These include air con, integrated blinds, an extra window, a WC / cloakroom and even a shower!
If you’re after overnight accommodation rather than office space, then the Glamping Pod might be the answer to your prayers. They are classed as a caravan / mobile home for tax reasons so planning permission will not normally be required if their use is incidental to the main property. The pods come complete with bespoke kitchenettes, a shower, toilet and sink, infra-red heating, ‘Funky Bunks’ and a range of interior designs. Pod Living offers two models, a 2 berth and a 4/5 berth unit and can provide ROI calculations based on the two unit prices and a range of occupancy rates. For site owners who are providing a top end Eco glamping experience, the Glamping Pod has really raised the bar and will allow you to offer a luxury experience for the high end market.
If you simply want a home extension, then Pod Living can help with that too. Pod Living are the only suppliers of the Steico Eco Wall in the UK and all of their buildings from Garden Pods to office blocks benefit from this revolutionary eco-friendly system. The closed panel system is made from FSC timber and comes ready insulated meaning that the on site installation is fast, cutting down on labour costs and build time. This unique Steico Eco Wall system gives you an Eco-friendly timber frame that optimises energy efficiency. The recycled wool fibre insulation is an effective and environmentally friendly option, the company offers a bespoke size option and will design the perfect extension for your home, meaning that you’re not limited to a pre-designed kit and installation is fast. You will have a water tight building that is ready for the first fix in a matter of days. Timber frames now account for around a third of all construction in the UK and the preferred method of building in Scotland and the Scandinavian countries. The excellent thermal properties of Zell insulation mean that they are the perfect choice for homeowners who want to reduce heating costs.
Pod Living are able to install any type of heating system into the buildings and pods. These include traditional systems such as underfloor and gas fired central heating as well as wall mounted heaters. Pod Living also offers air source heat pumps which are a cost effective and eco-friendly solution. They work by extracting heat from the outside air and can be used in temperatures as low as minus 15º Celsius. They are easy to install, low maintenance, have low carbon emissions and lower heating bills than conventional systems, can heat hot water and provide income through the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme.
Pod Living have another heating alternative, the infrared heating panels. I really like the sound of these. They are relatively new to the UK market but have been in use in other European countries such as Germany for some time where they are being installed in a large number of new builds. They can be up to 70% cheaper to run than conventional systems, can be wall mounted to save space and come in a range of designs including mirrors, coloured glass and even art. They work like the sun, emitting infrared waves heating objects rather than the air around them. This means that unlike traditional heating methods, they warm solid objects (i.e the walls), thus cutting down on damp and retaining the heat inside the building. If you’ve ever leant against a brick wall at the end of a long sunny day, you will know what I mean! The panels never get too hot to touch so are safe for family homes, they require minimal maintenance, take only 30 seconds to reach their optimal heat output and are energy efficient. They are environmentally friendly with no emissions to the air and run silently. As the panels provide dry heat, they are also excellent for people with allergies.
In addition to speed and thermal efficiency, there are other benefits to opting for a timber frame for your new home or extension. The build itself isn’t weather dependent so work on site won’t grind to a halt when it rains. It’s far easier to organise and manage the whole build process as trades can be booked for a precise date, safe in the knowledge that the panels will be ready for the first fix once installed. As anyone who has ever tried to coordinate and chase up plumbers and plasterers will know, this makes a huge difference and makes the whole build process far less stressful. Timber frames also provide much better sound insulation that traditional building methods and last but very much not least, due to the significantly lower material and labour costs, timber frames offer a much lower overall build cost. For example a 140 m2 new home with 3 / 4 bedrooms would cost just £63,000. Pod Living also produce a wide range of eco-friendly school classrooms (a far cry from the damp portacabins of my youth), healthcare and commercial buildings. Obviously the specifications of these vary enormously so it is hard to provide accurate prices without detailed information but the company says that prices start from around £1200 per m2 with an average cost of £1500 per m2 for the turnkey option.
There are numerous ‘green’ energy add ons that can be fitted to the building. Solar panels and rainwater harvesting are two of the most often requested. Pod Living offer a range of different solar systems for all the buildings in the range including a standard 3,4 and 7 kWh package and a rainwater harvesting package that will provide water for flushing toilets, washing cars, gardening, showers and washing machines. As water bills are only ever going to get larger and hosepipe bans are becoming a regular fixture of UK life, installing a rainwater harvesting system makes financial as well as environmental sense.
My personal favourite and something that I will be adding to my next project is a green roof. A green roof can be made of grass, sedum or wildflowers and they are becoming very popular. They look great in both urban and rural settings and have numerous benefits. For starters, they increase the lifespan of the roof. This is because they form a protective barrier, protecting the roof from the elements (including UV rays) and this has been shown to double the lifespan of waterproof membranes. They also improve thermal efficiency; less heat is lost through the roof in the winter and the cooler air is retained inside the house during the summer months. A lower demand for heating and cooling systems means a lower carbon footprint - which is another bonus.
They also reduce noise. Sound emissions from buildings with green roofs can be reduced by up to 8db compared to a conventional roof, plus they reduce sounds such as rainfall for the occupants of the building. They also lessen what is known as the Urban Heat Island Effect, the temperature difference between the town and the countryside. Put simply, this means that they help to counteract the excess heat found in urban landscapes in addition to removing an estimated 0.2kg of dust per m2 each year from the air and improving overall air quality. Studies have shown that there is a reduction of 37% in sulphur dioxide and 21% in nitrous acid in the air above a green roof. They also attract wildlife, are a great way to provide extra outdoor living space in areas where outside space is at a premium and look amazing! Prices start at an incredibly reasonable £1495 for a sedum pod roof and if your budget is really tight, there is even an option for an artificial grass roof (made from recycled materials of course!) at a very sensible £495, which will at least add to the aesthetic appeal of the building.
One of the things that I really like about this company is their eminently sensible pricing structure. The average m2 cost is more than reasonable especially when you factor in the quality of the materials being used. All too often ‘kit’ home companies make their money by overcharging for the optional elements, knowing that people often get carried away during the build process and overspend on extras. In contrast Pod Living’s price structure is incredibly reasonable. Obviously you are paying slightly more for each element than you would if you sourced and fitted or added it entirely by yourself but you’re not being ripped off. For example, an additional set of aluminium bi-fold doors for a 42m2, 2 bed living pod will set you back just £3,250 and an additional rear window for the same unit will cost you another £450. Both of these prices are inline with market rates.
Whether you want a new office, a granny annexe or a three bedroom home, Pod Living will help you at every step way from drawing up the plans, to making the planning application to dealing with building regs. to the interior fit out. We’re renovating at the moment but the next project is going to be a new build and we were already leaning toward a timber framed option. Having discovered Pod Living’s designs, services and the Steico Eco Wall, as well as their emphasis on eco-friendly materials, I’m fairly certain our next abode will be a pod. Watch this space...