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Green Building News

Australian Startup Launches Prefab Passivhaus Line

So far, there are no paying customers for these steel-framed buildings clad with steel-skinned panels

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The Superpod is a prefab Passivhaus. This manufactured house is made from insulated steel panels over a steel frame.
Image Credit: All photos from Superpod
The Superpod is a prefab Passivhaus. This manufactured house is made from insulated steel panels over a steel frame.
Image Credit: All photos from Superpod
A no-frills aesthetic. Superpod won a Good Design Award this year in Australia. The company says that the modernist design is a "blank slate" for owners to finish as they like. Bathrooms have a camp-lilke feel. The slab-on-grade construction uses concrete as the finished floor, lending itself to a curb-less shower in the bathroom. Developers liken the design to a renovated warehouse or a vintage industrial building.

UPDATED on August 14, 2015

A house made from insulated steel panels and a steel frame has been certified by the Passivhaus Institut (PHI) and now the Australian company behind the project says that it would like to get the Superpod into full production.

The modernist design has few frills, but the company says that it goes up quickly, is made from durable, low-maintenance materials, and is a “blank slate” that can be customized by its owner.

There is but a single Superpod, built in 2014 in Wonthaggi, Victoria, a town near the coast southeast of Melbourne, but the fledgling company that built it is looking for partners to expand the company’s reach. Founding director Fiona McKenzie said by email that the startup is now capable of shipping Superpods to sites outside of Australia, but would prefer to find fabricators and builders in the U.S. and elsewhere to manufacture and assemble components closer to their final destination.

The company was launched in February.

The first Superpod, built with “a lot of donated product,” has 73 square meters of conditioned floor area, roughly 748 square feet, according to its listing at PHI’s website. The walls and roof incorporate steel-faced polyisocyanurate panels manufactured by Kingspan. The framework is hollow-section steel tube measuring 100 mm by 100 mm (about 4 inches on a side).

A Superpod of 75 square meters (768 square feet) would cost about $280,000 (AU), McKenzie said, or $204,100 in U.S. dollars. That’s $273 (US) per square foot.

Thermal performance can be scaled up

The R-values of walls and the roof in Superpod are listed by PHI as R-4.2 in the walls and R-7.7 in the roof. These are European R-values, however; the unit is m2·°C/W. Translated to U.S. R-values (ft2·°F·hr/Btu), the walls are R-23.8 and the roof is R-43.7.

Kingspan lists a variety of insulated wall and ceiling panels. Some walls panels, for example, are 6 inches thick with an R-value of more than 43, according to the company’s website.

The R-value of the panels could be increased if needed for different climate zones, while the size of the steel framing members could be increased to meet the structural loads of multistory buildings, McKenzie said.

“The walls and roof are completely scalable,” she wrote. “The panels are not SIPs so they can be any width and go up high, and the internal frame is engineered to suit the weight of them.”

The original Superpod uses triple-pane vinyl windows. There is a heat pump for space conditioning and a vacuum tube solar collector for domestic hot water.

McKenzie didn’t offer details on how a Superpod is assembled, particularly when it comes to air-sealing.

“We have a patent pending,” she wrote, “but it is important to retain some confidentiality around our details, which are proprietary. Especially our thermal break and airtight solutions, which have taken a long time to develop.”

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