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Stepping outside the box - for a more sustainable future

Stepping outside the box - for a more sustainable future

At the leading edge of change, Dan Heyworth, the founder of a modular system for building architect-designed, energy-efficient houses, says the whole building industry is “extremely fraught, messy and complex” – and has been for many years. He believes a huge shake-up is due to create different ways of designing for the average person with an average budget.

The concept of “Big is beautiful” is something we need to address, says Heyworth. “Many architects are designing for people with big budgets and large plots of land. In 1940 the average house in New Zealand was 120m2. Today, when families are much smaller, the average size is 220m2. We’re not being clever. The production process hasn’t changed. There’s still little evidence of modularisation of building components. A lot of things could happen to make the industry more efficient and environmentally friendly.”

Box Living is a step in the right direction, he says. The company was established by a builder, an architect, a project manager and a sustainability expert, who wanted to improve the value and efficiency of designing and building.

Heyworth, who is general manager of Box Living, believes the problem with custom-designed architectural buildings is often the length of time they take to produce, their complexity and their uncertain cost. Box Living designs are well-thought out in terms of all the construction and design detailing to achieve far greater efficiency – and affordability. They come in various modular sizes.

“It’s kind of like playing with Lego,” says Heyworth. “It’s modular, so you just put it together like building blocks. A lot of the design work has already been done, and our builder can just fit it together for each site.” 

Clients work with architect Tim Dorrington who configures and stacks the modules to suit the site for passive solar design. He also works with the client on interior details like the kitchen, bathrooms, material finishes, lighting and so on.

“You get the benefit of an architect,” says Heyworth, “but for a fraction of the cost of a bespoke home. On a $300,000 home, whereas you’d probably pay about $40,000, with the Box Living system it would be about $10,000. In addition, it’s quicker to build and you get much better value for money.”

Heyworth has been surprised by the amount of enquiry he’s had so far. “There’s a lot of curiosity about Box Living. We now have six projects underway spread between Wellington and Matakana, north of Auckland.”

Clients all share a desire to own a well-designed home that’s slightly different from the normal offering. They express an interest in architecture and interior design. Heyworth says, they’d all like to use an architect if they could afford it or could justify the expense. “A lot have experience of living abroad so appreciate good quality.”

As well as being sited right, Box Living offers greater sustainability in the right choice of materials plus advice on things like solar heating, photo-voltaic energy, low flow devices for water economies, energy efficient light fittings and appliances. During construction, they ensure waste is minimised.

While Box Living designs are based on simple, modernist architecture with its clean lines and honest materials, the company recently launched a more traditional design in Box Lite.  This uses timber framing rather than post and beam construction.