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House to haus
Summer 2007
Published:  15 July, 2007

OSM's design for a show home at Stoke-on-Trent College

German timber house manufacturers are beginning to make their presence felt in the UK. Stephen Powney reports

For some years, the German timber home industry's participation in the English housing market has been restricted to a few select, high value projects, with Huf Haus being the most obvious name in the mix.

But as Timber Building reported last year (TB Autumn & Winter 2006), a growing tide of German companies have turned their attentions to the UK with their offering of advanced, highly prefabricated homes. And they are looking to work with developers, not just self-builders.

Many of these companies are now getting their first UK projects off the ground.

Could this be a significant milestone in the way we design and build housing in the UK? Or are these homes destined to remain in a niche market? Time will tell, but the companies have been encouraged by the reception so far.

The sleek lines of a typical Huf Haus interior
Baufritz launched its UK operation a year ago at the Grand Designs show in London. At this year's event it displayed a full-size “carbon positive” show home (see p67) and was also able to tell people of the completion of its first UK build – near the Cornish town and tourist magnet of Padstow. Owner Andrew Nicholls has just received the keys to the house, built on the site of his former holiday home overlooking Trevone Bay.

The timber-clad traditional-style property, featuring Baufritz's closed panel technology, took just two days to erect and incorporates solar panels, reclaimed Cornish slate roof and a bore hole for fresh water. The layout, which includes a basement lounge, sun lounge and

terrace, makes good use of the dramatic sea views.

Other projects in the pipeline for Baufritz include a house in Bath, to feature on the Grand Designs television programme next spring, and a house in Newmarket, for which the planning process took only eight weeks. Baufritz is also in discussions with a developer about building an eco village consisting of 20-25 semi-detached homes in the Midlands.

Baufritz's first UK home under construction in Cornwall
“We came to the UK very much to be focused on individual homes,” said Baufritz marketing manager Amanda Politzer. “But a lot of developers have come to us because they like the quality.” She added that the response from the market had been “really good”.

PlatzHaus (TB Winter 2006), which came to the UK in March 2006 hoping to provide competition to Huf Haus, has sold three houses in the UK so far.

Its first project will be an architect-designed house in Scotland, on the shore of Loch Tay. Modelled on a Scottish long house on a 55-acre site, the house will be 27x7m, with a 7x7m outhouse and terracing. The project is in the final stages of preparation for manufacture and will be erected in late June. Designed by architect Colin Smith, the building will feature a rounded zinc roof, large glass sections overlooking the loch, a ground source heat pump featuring 600m of piping, larch cladding, plus a heat recovery system. The wall construction will have a U-value of 0.21W/m2K, while total floor space will be about 3,000ft2.

“It will look quite something,” said PlatzHaus' UK representative Helmut Gross.

Following the Loch Tay project, PlatzHaus will build one of its Komfort post and beam houses in Leeds on the site of a disused reservoir, while a third unit earmarked for the Isle of Wight is in the planning process. This will feature a basement, a common feature in German homes.

These houses are very much German style and Gross believes the UK is ready for different house designs. “People are getting much more aware that if they spend some money and find a plot where they want to live, they do not need to buy the conformed UK houses that are badly equipped and badly insulated,” said Gross. “And the planning authorities are more prepared for contemporary designs because they all watch the home style tv shows.”

Brighton-based OSM Homes Ltd, whose manufacturing partner is Streif in Germany, is starting its first development – 18 homes for Blue Sonic Developments in Lewes. The two á Ü blocks of five terraced houses and one block of eight units will be of traditional English appearance, incorporating a brick outer skin on the ground level and Siberian larch cladding on the first level. A second phase of 33 houses will follow on the site.

It is also building an eco-friendly house at Stoke-on-Trent College's Burslem Campus in co-operation with Renew North Staffordshire. Part of the show house will be left in first fix stage so students can see the construction, while the other part will be fully finished. It will also act as a showcase for renewable energy technologies, such as photovoltaics, geo-thermal and solar panels.

OSM is also looking at other potential sites with Renew North Staffordshire, which has a target of building 14,000 houses in the next 10 years. Recently, it tied up a partnership with NGM Developments, a developer which specialises in floating homes and hopes to build 600 units in the next four years using the OSM product. Floating bases will be imported from Holland by NGM.

“We want to liaise with developers, we do not want to go down the route of individual homes,” said OSM's Hans Kohl. “We want to have a technology transfer taking the best out of German engineering, teaming up with English partners and creating an English product, so it looks like an English house. We do not try to bring everything in from Germany. We want to do the panel system, roof, windows and doors.”

OSM wants to have a manufacturing plant in England, at the earliest in 2009, which would probably be a joint venture with Streif.

WeberHaus UK (TB Autumn 2006) is targeting both self-builders and developers in its quest for UK market share. Work on its first individual home is due to start
soon at Aston Clinton, Buckinghamshire and it has also secured detailed planning consent for a 15-unit scheme in Hastings.

WeberHaus also has a much larger project in hand, 102 two- and three-storey homes on a former Territorial Army site in Aylesbury. Designed by Make Architects, the units form a distinctive “S” shape. The project is still in its early stages of planning. Both of these development projects were won as part of contractor William Verry Construction's bid in the government's Design for Manufacture competition.

So what does Huf Haus think of the increasing German presence? The company's sales and marketing executive Afra Bindewald thinks the market is big enough for everyone. “We are a niche market but it is growing.”

She compared Huf's strong brand with Porsche, which would always attract those wanting that extra bit of quality.

Huf has been in the UK for nine years and in that time has increased its output from four houses a year to 40.

Huf Haus has been in the UK for nine years and in that time has increased its output from four houses a year to 40
“The general attitude towards pre-manufactured timber building has changed a lot,” said Bindewald. “Previously people were not that receptive – they still had that image of post-war construction in the back of their mind. We are an architect-designed, bespoke concept tailored to each customer and suited to the site location.”

She said satisfying planning and building control in the UK had been a comfortable process, with planning authorities very supportive. “They want to see good developments. It would be great to see the architecture changing a little bit in the UK because we have been stuck in a rut in the UK. I'm not saying get rid of UK house styles as the contemporary European styling is not for everybody.”