As a society, one of the great moonshot challenges that we face between now and 2050 is to transform construction and development: moving from the risky, outdated, carbon-intensive, wasteful methods we have been using towards healthy, high-performance, zero-carbon, zero-waste homes and neighbourhoods that are wonderful places to live.
The future of construction should be smart, efficient and beautiful.
The layout of your building is driven by two things. The first is the spaces you want to create for the occupants of the building –– we'll leave that bit up to you, although here are some resources you might find useful:
The second, which we will focus on here, is the structural capacity of the building.
With the WikiHouse Skylark system, the main structural constraint is wind. In high winds, lightweight structures are more prone to slight lateral flexing, which is not allowed within most building codes, because it could lead to issues like cracking windows or internal finishes. WikiHouse blocks have been designed and tested to prove their performance. This data can then be interpreted by your Structural Engineer to check the performance of the system is adequate for your design in your site location. Please check the section Designing for WikiHouse and the Engineering Guide to ensure you are working to the system’s structural parameters.
One of the side-effects of lightweight timber buildings is that they have less thermal mass. That's to say; they take less time to heat up and cool down. In winter this is no problem – in fact it can even be an advantage. But in hot weather it can be a disadvantage. Keeping the heat in is easy, but in summer we need to get rid of it.
Fortunately, there are a few ways to overcome this disadvantage, without resorting to air conditioning:
The most obvious move is to re-introduce more thermal mass if possible.
In summer, the first challenge is to stop the space from getting hot in the first place, if possible.
The most effective protection from overheating is to stop direct sun hitting the glazing during hot days. South-facing elevations will need the most shading. North facing elevations do not require shading.
The next tool is ventilation: letting hot air escape from the building, and pulling in fresh, cooler air, especially at night.
⚠︎ Some MVHR systems will cheekily describe themselves as having a 'summer bypass' mode. This is not always the same as 'full summer bypass' mode. Make sure you look for the word 'full'.
Many of these tactics – both low and high-tech – will only work if the occupants know the basic principles. For example, if at the hottest point of the day, there is no air anywhere outside the building that is cooler than the air inside, even ventilation is not your friend. In fact, at that point, your best option may be to close the windows entirely.
Your MVHR system engineer or manufacturer will be able to provide more information about the correct size and layouts for your project. However, here are some high level things to consider:
An air source heat pump (ASHP) is a heating and cooling system used in buildings to provide both warmth in the winter and cooling in the summer. It operates on the principle of transferring heat energy between the outdoor air and the indoor space. ASHPs are a good solution for retrofit and new-builds with limited space looking for a simple solution.
There are two main types of ASHPs:
ASHPs are most efficient in moderate climates but may be less effective in extremely cold regions. Some models are designed for cold climates and can operate efficiently in sub-freezing temperatures.
Proper sizing and installation are essential for an ASHP to work effectively. If in doubt, talk to a qualified HVAC professional such as a Services Designer, or M&E Engineer.
A solar PV (photovoltaic) panel, often simply referred to as a "solar panel," is a device designed to capture sunlight and convert it into electricity through a process known as the photovoltaic effect.
Consideration should be given to where you position your solar PVs - orientation & angle will dramatically affect the performance. Solar PVs are often used in combination with another energy or heating system.
Solar water heating, also known as solar thermal heating, uses sunlight to heat water. Unlike solar photovoltaic (PV) systems that generate electricity from sunlight, solar water heating systems focus on capturing and using solar energy directly to heat water.
In some systems, a heat exchanger is used to transfer the heat from the solar fluid to the water that is actually used in the building, such as for showers or space heating.
A biomass boiler is a heating system that uses biomass as a fuel source to generate heat for space heating and hot water. The boiler is fed with organic materials, typically derived from plants and sometimes from animal waste, that is burned to produce heat or converted into other forms of energy.
This option can work well for larger sites that want a single source of energy and heat. A larger land area is needed to house the boiler and the fuel, and access from the road will be needed for fuel drop-offs.
A high budget option. Some ground source heat pumps have a passive cooling module that, as well as extracting warmth from the ground in winter, can also dissipate heat into the ground in summer.
There are a range of options for providing power sustainably. The most common options would be:
It may be a combination of these options that works best.
The key to creating beautiful places is often less the buildings themselves, and more the spaces between the buildings. We have included some suggestions in our Place Design Principles, but here are some technical aspects worth considering when using WikiHouse:
Most WikiHouse chassis are built above the ground, with a suspended ground floor. Typically, your ground floor will be at least 380mm above the level of the ground. This has several advantages, but it also creates two problems.
There are a few ways to solve both these issues.
Adding a deck moves the step-down away from the building. The edge of the deck can then become a nice place to sit and enjoy the landscape, or buys you enough space to mediate the level change, either with a ramp, or by connecting to higher ground.
On larger sites, often you can create long boardwalks across a natural meadow or open water, which mediates the level change while creating an incredible sense of arrival. Make sure your boardwalk is well-lit at night.
Another solution is to build up (or dig down), so the house effectively sits in a recessed pit below the ground level. However, it is essential that this pit does not flood, is well drained and well ventilated. You will probably want to fit a grille across the gap to prevent objects or rodents from getting into the gap.
You may wish to add additional weatherproofing to the chassis or cladding, because raindrops will bounce higher up the building's façade.
At points where no access is required, another trick is to create raised planting beds in front of the building. This creates an attractive green buffer, and affords somewhere to sit. By using, for example, recycled railway sleepers, bricks or wire mesh gabions, it can also add some material variety to the site, and make use of old masonry that would otherwise go to landfill.
Ramps that stick out from the ground generally look ugly and feel terrible to use. So, where possible, place it down the side of the building, a low retaining wall or a raised planter. That way, it just feels like part of the landscape, and you can use it without even really noticing that you are doing so. Make sure your external ramp is sufficiently wide, and has a gradient that works for wheelchair users. Part M of the building regulations in England, for example, includes clear guidelines about this.
Another good way to nest a building into its context (and to create beautiful spaces around it) is to add secondary structures such as walls that connect the buildings, bin stores, storage benches, bike stores, heat pump shelters, or even porches or verandahs. Even though in some cases these may physically connect with the building (or at least appear to), they can easily be built using more basic, traditional methods, such as bricks, treated timber, glasshouse kits, or even steel key-clamp. These structures can often be added after the main building is complete, and more slowly.
WikiHouse parts are cut from 2440mm x 1220mm sheets of plywood. What's left behind is a thin frame. Usually manufacturers arrange for these to be chipped up and recycled, or used as fuel. However, one idea that has been suggested is to retain these and stack them up, to create earth-filled planters, treating them with a non-toxic, environmentally-safe wood protection (so they at least last a few years).
No one has tried this yet: but if you do, please send us a photograph!
Most WikiHouse files and information are licensed under a Creative Commons–Sharealike licence, so you are free to use, distribute or modify them, including commercially.
All WikiHouse information is shared 'as is', without warranties or guarantees of any kind. You are responsible for checking it and using it in a safe and responsible way, for example, getting it checked by a structural engineer.
You are responsible for making sure your project complies with all relevant local regulations, including planning, building codes and health & safety legislation. If in doubt, seek professional advice.
If you make any improvements to the system, you must publish your files under the same type of open licence. However, you do not need to publish the plans and specifications for individual projects unless you wish to.
Do not call your company, organisation or any marketed product or service 'WikiHouse'. However, you may use the term WikiHouse to talk about the system, and you may describe your project, product, service or organisation as, for example, "using WikiHouse", "based on WikiHouse", "contributing to WikiHouse", or similar.
Do not remove any licence notices from files if you are re-sharing them.
Do not give the impression that you are endorsed by, or affiliated with WikiHouse or Open Systems Lab (unless you are, by written agreement), and do not claim to represent the WikiHouse project or community as a whole.