Young entrepreneur's sustainable wall system provides a house that keeps on giving
Imagine a future when housing is so adaptable, your son or daughter could simply “unclip” their bedroom from the house and take it with them when they leave home.
And a future when building a house takes a matter of days, and construction waste is a thing of the past.
That future is upon us, already, and it has taken a leap forward in the past year, thanks to the efforts of a Wellington doctoral student, who has been snapped up for an Australian commercial accelerator programme.
The 26-year-old, who is studying at Victoria University’s School of Architecture, has designed the reusable X-Frame structural framing system that can reduce construction waste from a single home by up to 5 tonnes. His design is already rolling out in New Zealand and Australia, and Finch is up for an award in the Sustainable Business Awards, to be announced on November 19, 2020.
Finch says his design was picked up this year by the Australian commercial accelerator programme, which was looking for circular economy models. “They found X-Frame and were very keen to be involved, and, subsequently, we have had a lot of success in Adelaide.”
The team has built more demonstration projects, completed several office fit-outs, and is about to build a large house that will be completed by Christmas.
Finch says there is still a lot of R&D involved in establishing the business, but, with the university’s backing, growing it to become a large-scale operation is a priority: “We are looking at a year of high growth, although it does mean the PhD has taken a bit of a back step. “It’s ironic that while I came up with the technology the industry wanted – a technology that has addresses environmental issues – I am too busy to finish the PhD.”
The circular economy model is reinforced by tests that show an extra-high “recovery rate” – more than 95 per cent of the sustainably sourced materials in an X-Frame house or building can be reused once it is no longer needed. And it can be reused over and over again.
Then there are the carbon benefits: “For an average 150 square-metre house, we will sequester 25,000kg of carbon,” says Finch. And, it’s the Australian backing that is fast-forwarding the innovation. “It seems to be that Australians have the appetite for risk,” Finch says. “It helps that we can manufacture an X-Frame panel cheaper there. A standard wall module in New Zealand is around $70, compared to $42-$45 in Australia, which is a huge difference. That’s not a barrier to doing it here, but the value proposition is better there.”
In addition to commercial interior fit-outs in Australia, the company has completed two fit-outs in New Zealand – an engineering workshop and high-profile co-working space in a Wellington highrise. The engineering workshop fit-out left one side of the system exposed, as the company liked the structural aesthetic.
24-HOUR BUILDING CONSENT
Finch says the system has been signed off by engineers. “In Australia, this is enough for us to go full steam ahead and get it out there. Building consents are privatised there. With a consenting turnaround of just 24 hours, we can be building the next day.”
While fast turnarounds are not the case in New Zealand, Finch is confident the completed fit-outs here will set a precedent for the X-Frame system.
The Ashbourne prototype, built in July-August, measures 6m x 3.6m. The internal plywood lining was fixed using hidden X-Frame Fir-Tree screws and clips.
Because the system is easily installed and removed, the company was able to put in temporary partitions in the Wellington office fit-out while waiting for consent. Then once that came through, X-Frame took the partitioning down and repurposed it into the final layout.
“At present we are focussed on the interior fit-outs, which need the potential for flexibility. If you require electrical work, an opening or door in the wall, you can simply pop off the panel. It is very easy to change once the walls are up – you don’t need a sledgehammer and you don’t need to take down and replace 5m of wall.”
Finch says the cost of the system, when used for housing, is comparable to a bespoke architecturally designed project rate.
“A conventional wall in a house costs about $62 per square metre if you are talking high volume, while an architectural project with more robust, energy-efficient walls is around $75. Our system is comparable to that rate.”
But the big difference is what happens at the end of a house’s life, says Finch. If a house is demolished, the waste going to landfill can be 35 to 40 tonnes, which can all be saved by reusing the wall modules on an X-Frame house.
And the walls can be dismantled into pieces small enough to fit in a car boot – so, ostensibly, it’s that easy to take your house with you when you move.