Global interest in the trend for unconventional, modular housing is growing and set to rocket in the future
The fixation with unconventional housing trends – whether it is decking out a bus or camper van for permanent living or following the tiny house movement – has caught the imagination of people throughout the world.
These homes and how they are designed are so intriguing that reality
television programmes and YouTube channels exploring them are raking in viewers.
Modular housing is also becoming “a thing”, even here in South Africa, where Dirk Coetser, director and architect at A4AC Architects, says the idea of living in such a home is becoming “more popular by the day”.
However, the number of inquiries so far outnumbers the actual investment in the houses.
“There is a lot of interest in these homes, but not yet many people willing to buy them. Since 2014 we have constructed and designed four. Most of these are in Gauteng as transport over a distance greater than 50km can be costly.”
All the modular homes built by the company are one-bedroom units, some with a small kitchenette and bathroom.
Designer and founder of Inizio Homes, Philip Nel, may only have built “a percentage” of the 180 to 200 modular homes he has designed over
the past decade, but those that are completed are now lived in “all over
The majority, he says, is in the Western Cape and Gauteng. These homes are custom-designed and built “from the ground up” to suit clients’ needs, but cognisance has to
be taken of the site on which they are to be erected. There is, of course, no restriction in terms of area or location, and if a site is remote or has difficult conditions like bad soil or a steep gradient, he says it can make more sense than a traditional building.
While the number of modular homes in South Africa is relatively small, Alicia Kalil from Berman-Kalil Housing Concepts says compared to when the company started out four and a half years ago, the movement has gained traction.
In addition to having built more than 14 such homes, it has also completed conversions such as ablutions, medical facilities, classrooms, retail/ bar units and offices. The homes are situated throughout the country in areas that include Bot River, Fisherhaven, Pringle Bay, Betty’s Bay, Fish Hoek, Suurbraak, Redelinghuys, Grahamstown, Stellenbosch and Tzaneen, Kalil says.
Homes range in size from small bachelor units to those with four bedrooms and two bathrooms. The biggest challenge designers and architects of these homes face is
the price. Coetser says creating small modular structures that are compliant with regulations makes it “fairly expensive”.
“You can easily build a brick and mortar structure for the same price. But you cannot move that structure in the future, whereas a modular structure can be moved to a new location.”
The Mamelodi Pod, designed by the company, costs about R40 000, and container units range from R109 000 to R275 000. Delivery within the Gauteng area ranges from R5 000 to R15 000.
“The purchase price is the biggest expense,” Kalil says.
Standard units could cost R7 500/ m² and go up to R10 000/m² for more luxury finishes, roofing or exterior cladding.
Town planning goes modular
Modular units can assist anyone with housing, from those living in informal settlements to the rich and famous, says A4AC Architect’s Dirk Coetser.
Furthermore, town planning schemes in South Africa are becoming more lenient towards extra accommodation.
“On February 1, a new town planning scheme in Joburg came into effect. The town planning scheme makes the process of applying for a second dwelling on your erf much easier. This will already make it a lot easier to add a modular small home to your existing property.”
The Global Prefabricated Housing Market Report states: “Lower construction costs, improved functionality, superior aesthetics and weather-resistance are key benefits driving demand for high performance and manufactured houses.”
Shipping out puts shape back with off-the-grid contentment
After being severely injured in a shooting at Northgate Mall in 2010, Tony Elburg, together with his wife Collette, were determined to live a simpler life, away from the hustle
and bustle of Randburg.
The move took them a few years to make, but the pair eventually fell in love with the small town of Wakkerstroom in Mpumalanga.
They relocated in November 2017 and have been living in a Jurgens caravan they bought for R30 000 while they construct, build and fit their dream home – which is made up of two 12m x 2.44m shipping containers set on a 6 000m² plot.
The ceiling is higher than normal containers, with a height of just under 3m. Each container was bought secondhand for R36 000.
The couple will move into their new abode,which Elburg designed, in July. “We have spent R800 000 on our property and for that we will soon have a 200m² home with four
bedrooms and three bathrooms, an outside working room, and all on 6 000m² of land.”
This cost includes everything needed to go completely off the grid, such as the installation of a borehole and solar power panels.
While the Elburgs have taken on the entire construction process themselves, from the laying of the foundations to the interior design, a neighbour who loved the design of their home so much had one constructed, based on their model.
“His containers were constructed in Pretoria and then delivered here eight weeks later. Those who can afford to do so can go this route, but for those who cannot, like us, you make a plan and do it yourself.”
Elburg says: “We have paid probably one-third of the price it would have cost us to have had it built the traditional way.”
While the couple will only move in to their new home later this year, he says the benefit of a container home is that one could move in straight away.
For the Elburgs, the thought, time, effort and love put into their new dwelling will make the living experience a whole lot sweeter. In a few years’ time, they will probably
sell their home and buy a camper van to travel the country. That, Elburg says, is the next big dream.