Prefab housing centre on the way

The ARC Training Centre for Advanced Manufacturing of Prefabricated Housing to be led by Professor Priyan Mendis and Dr Tuan Ngo, from the Department of Infrastructure Engineering, is funded for four years and includes support for six post-doctoral fellow positions and 14 PhDs.

Professor Mendis said that the Centre aims to unlock the potential growth of Australia’s prefabricated building industry by creating a co-operative training system between industry and universities.

“The Centre will enable the next generation of engineers and architects to apply advanced manufacturing ideas to prefabricated modular buildings,” he said.

“This emerging highly trained workforce driven by the needs of the customer will identify innovations in the use of advanced materials, design for manufacturing and assembly.”

Professor Mark Hargreaves, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research Partnerships and External Relations) said that the University of Melbourne is proud to lead the delivery of innovation and excellence through the ARC.

“The Centre will secure the Australian industry’s competitive advantage leading to local employment growth and increased exports of prefabricated products and services,” he said.

“Through this program, we will train emerging industry professionals, enable industry, with world-leading research capability, to develop and apply new materials, processes and technologies that will create products, processes and business models,” Professor Hargreaves said.

Ideas from this project will enable the prefabricated building industry to produce innovative and customer specific building products required in future markets.

Towards tiny homes

Emerging as an antidote to super-sized housing, a growing number of minute homes are being planned and built as part of the Tiny House Movement. The movement answers yearnings for a simpler, greener life. It challenges mainstream consumer culture and empowers people to take charge of the design and build of their own house.

Tiny houses have their roots in the US with pioneers Sarah Susanka, author of The Not So Big House book (2008), and Lloyd Kahn, author of Tiny Homes: Simple Shelter (2012). Jay Shafer and his Tumbleweed Tiny House Company propelled the movement with practical resources, off-the-plan homes and workshops throughout the country. There’s now an annual Tiny House Conference and even an American Tiny House Association founded this year to assist members to navigate regulations, insurance, planning and other speed humps to doing things differently.

In Australia, the tiny scene is also blossoming. Tiny Houses Australia, and particularly its booming Pinterest and Facebook pages, is ground zero for Australia’s enthusiasts. Founder Darren Hughes anticipated 30 or 40 followers when he set up the Facebook page two years ago. It now has over 16,000 ‘likes’, just under half from Australia. Darren’s modest “scrap book for ideas” has boomed into a thriving community that shares resources, ideas and eye candy, and has started running workshops around the country.

One of the first teeny dwellings built in Australia was recently sold on eBay, a relatively common occurrence in the US. For creators James Galletly and Alicia Fox, their first foray into tiny was conceived as a test case for James’ business, The Upcyclist. With their first project a success, they’re planning another tiny, a strawbale construction which they are hoping will open the door to more commissions.

The appeal of the movement, says James, is that it allows people to “exit the cycle of perpetual home rental or long term mortgage debt”. A tiny houser is someone who values a high degree of interaction with the outside world, he explains, and a desire for financial freedom, limited possessions and an outwardly focused lifestyle. For James and Alicia, the appeal is also the vastly reduced environmental impact that comes through building small homes with reclaimed materials.

Sustainable carpet choices

Environmental impact

While thermally massive materials such as concrete and tiles are often preferred for living spaces to help moderate temperatures, carpet does have benefits in the right space, offering warmth underfoot, noise reduction and insulation. However, the environmental impact of carpets varies widely. One of the primary issues is the relatively short life cycle of some carpets when compared with hard flooring materials.

Agriculturally sourced fibres have wide ranging impacts depending on the intensity of production, land and water use and the related outputs of the farm. Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) aim to cover all of these aspects, but for agricultural commodities this is inherently complicated and not all assessments will cover farm processes.

The need to regularly vacuum carpets to lengthen life, maintain appearance and reduce dust should also be considered alongside the embodied energy – that is, all the energy required to produce and distribute the product for use.

Carpets are recyclable, but current rates of recycling or reuse in Australia are low. When carpets are recycled, only one reuse is generally possible, with around 25 per cent of the carpet likely able to be reused as carpet, a further 25 per cent could be retained for carpet backing and half the carpet sent to landfill where it could take up to 50 years to break down, releasing greenhouse gases in the process. And of course some components of nylon and synthetic materials from petrochemical origins will never completely break down.

Some manufacturers operate their own recycling programs and will collect your old carpet for reuse as part of the installation agreement, though this is more common for commercial properties. Meanwhile, innovative programs such as one at Deakin University are working to reuse carpet and textile polymer waste in concrete.