VundaHaus's mission is to industrialise the process of upgrading the thermal performance of homes, making them fit for the 21st Century. We will decarbonise the least efficient properties by reducing heat demand, followed by heatpumpification (a verb that should be in everyone's vocabulary!). To tackle these hard-to-treat properties, we are developing an external wall insulation system that can be installed rapidly and cost-effectively at scale. Because only through increasing labour productivity will we be able to retrofit homes at the scale needed to decarbonise residential housing in Europe by 2050.
For the last two weeks, we have been busy preparing a high-level design proposal for a block of 11 houses. We are aiming to reach the first milestone of creating an External Wall System that:
- significantly reduces on-site labour
- uses off-the-shelf components and materials
This project is both a significant size, 900m2 of facade, and a significant turning point in our product journey. So much so we have needed to pivot on our original system design.
Why is this important?
At the heart of why this is important are the home occupants. Insulating homes can help put reduce their bills and create a healthier home. Off-site manufacturing increases the quality of the house fabric upgrade We believe that this also rejuvenates neighbourhoods and gives a bit of pride by transforming the houses into greener, future-proof homes and a facelift.
This is not to mention reducing the disruption that we save by doing External Wall Insulation (i.e. minimal disruption internally) and much faster than traditional methods.
Our origin story, coming from Carbon13, drives us to achieve substantial carbon savings and contribute to a greener future. Ultimately, our focus is on delivering a scalable solution that improves individual homes and uplifts entire communities.
On initial inspection (photo), the blockish appearance and absence of heritage features in the houses in question might appear straightforward to treat with external insulation. However, a more detailed assessment soon threw up some challenges. As we have been told time and again when speaking to industry experts: each archetype of home needs special consideration.
In this particular case, we can observe that:
- Overhangs - need structural support to support a structural frame above
- Balconies and party walls - need careful treatment to eliminate cold bridging
- Large proportion of glazing - it is nearly all windows leaving small strips to be insulated
- Flat roof - needs insulating from above
- Access problems - limited access to large machinery
- Fire rating - external cladding materials must be Euroclass A-rated
So, a real challenge for team VundaHaus to sink their teeth into!
Back to the drawing board
Sure enough, as many mentors have said that when the reality hits your designs and plans change!
Our initial design concept was for a structural, ground-supported system, which could not be straightforwardly installed on an overhanging wall. We were also focused on using structural timber and natural insulation materials wherever possible. As we built the requirements and matched them to our system concept it slowly dawned on us that our initial product specification needed refinement.
So back to the drawing board!
Focusing our minds
A customer deadline is a great forcing mechanism!
Real-world insight is the only way to grow fast and to truly understand the critical constraints that need to influence the design. We pulled out our External Wall Insulation system taxonomy (i.e. our initial napkin discussions for our product roadmap) and set about evaluating from first principles.
Several Vulcan mind-melds later we emerged with a Eureka moment:
“Why can’t we use the same ventilated rainscreen facade systems that are commonly applied to high-rise buildings?”
This proved a very interesting hypothesis that we have partially validated:
- Manufacturers of these systems have not considered the application of such systems to residential low-rises, as their focus is on high-rise new build and re-cladding work
- Component manufacturers and suppliers are setup to cater for a small customer base who undertake large commercial projects
- There is limited flexibility around finish and sizing
- They do not offer aesthetics that suit most low-rise residential buildings
Refining our strategy
We are crafting VundaHaus as a kit-of-parts approach which will lend itself to smaller batch sizes, more customised and better detailing. So, can we make this project work using these large-scale off-the-shelf solutions as a prototype for that business?
This has broadened our understanding massively in what a solution could look like in terms of business model and activities:
- An adaptable subframe that is engineered for low-rise properties
- Supply chain - Fully integrated and customised by VH. Supply chains and smaller batch orders custom made
- Facade and aesthetics will be a big part of the product - so design! Must fit with planning and norms. Offer brick slips and smooth render finishes
- Cost-effective and quick to install
- Impact resistant at the ground floor level
- Can be made from non-combustible materials - providing peace of mind for those who want it
Ultimately, we want to deliver value for our client in this project today. What might that look like?
We think it's mutually beneficial to look at ideas that are outside the customer’s normal go-to solutions if they generate relevant insights. Each innovative step brings them closer on their journey to offsite manufacturing of retrofit solutions.
We should strive to make a pragmatic and deliverable solution. This sometimes means moving away from our preferred options, such as using low embodied carbon materials - at least in the short term. Though consideration of embodied carbon is essential and will become ever more important in the future, it is even more important that we start delivering operational carbon savings today, not in the future.
We need to be thankful there are partners out there that want to support innovation (and we are!). We believe the innovators will ultimately have the edge in the market, as they are able to substantially overcome the constraints of labour supply on growth.
This project has not only helped focus minds, drive learning and deliver value for our client in the short term. It has also helped us to see a very scalable way to reach our product goals. We will now approach our 6-week product sprints by focusing on a single archetype together as a design challenge. A 2-week design proposal, customer feedback and validation followed by prototyping and further feedback.
Any comments or feedback? Tell us your opinion!