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Tigh Grian: housing the future

There are a small number of pioneering organisations who are innovating an alternative to traditional social housing. Among them is Scottish organisation Tigh Grian, a homebuilder with aspirations of zero carbon, zero waste, volumetric housing that also costs less than a traditional build.

The strategy behind this bold proposal is precise and scientific. The systems and techniques

tigh grian

A volumetric housing unit is lowered into place

involved in production are the result of both academic research and prototype collaboration between Tigh Grian and Swiss not-for-profit technology company ÜserHuus. The aim is to make genuinely affordable, sustainable housing solutions by thinking very much “outside the box”.

Pioneering technology

The components of each home are manufactured in a controlled factory environment, similar to a production line. This method provides complete control over the final product and also enables the factory to produce all components, from start to site ready, in just 16 days.

However, as Gordon Campbell, Director of Tigh Grian explains, it’s a new frontier of home-building and people can find it a challenge to adopt. “People ask: who has done this before? For housing associations it’s very hard to change, and why would they risk doing something new?”

On paper, though, there’s a compelling argument for this kind of innovation. The specifications of the homes reads like a utility list of gadgets and pioneering technologies: PV roofing tiles; triple glazed windows; mechanical ventilation heat recovery units; and experiments with lithium storage batteries (Gordon’s favourite aspect of the build, with great potential for development, he says). Uniquely, all of this is manufactured away from the site meaning that once the ‘pods’ are delivered, installation can take a matter of hours.

Typically, there’s a huge amount of waste in the building of new social housing – both financial and material – with further financial loss being passed on to tenants through energy inefficiency and high maintenance costs. These homes are designed to eliminate this, and still cost less than other social housing builds.

A new model

Tigh Grian certainly don’t sound like your typical social housing provider and chances are they don’t look like it either. What begins in the factory as precisely manufactured cubes are constructed on site as two or three storey modern homes, clad in stone or wood. Some models have then been topped with PV roofing, which harnesses the sun’s energy while looking like normal roofing tiles. Features such as these have allowed the houses to generate up to 80% of general energy needs.

tigh grian

Though there have been previous prototypes at Watford and the BRE Innovation Park at Ravenscraig, the next stage is exploring how they perform off paper and away from blueprints, with real families living inside. A new order from Link Housing Association for 48 houses and flats in Alva, Clackmannanshire, provides an opportunity to do just that. This project is already in action thanks to financing of £2.3million from Triodos Bank. Soon, with families living in the homes day-to-day, Tigh Grian and ÜserHuus can further hone the precise specifications of the build.

As Gordon Campbell says: “The science proves it, but there’s nothing better than getting a family in and then monitoring the homes on a practical level. Once we get tenants in and the maintenance teams have actually managed them, then you’ll see the real momentum build up.”

Paving the way

With work underway on the Alva development, this momentum is already building: “We land pods every Wednesday and we haven’t had a delivery since April where there hasn’t be an audience – academics, housing associations, councillors – they want to see what these new innovations look like. This is exciting stuff.

“People want to know more about it, but it takes an organisation like Link Housing Association to actually do it.”

Take a look at our other social housing projects

Tigh Grian

Scottish Housing Association, Tigh Grian, aim to help reduce fuel poverty and maintenance costs for the affordable housing sector in Scotland and England. Through innovative off-site construction and new technologies, Tigh Grian are paving the way for zero-waste, zero-carbon sustainable housing at their new development site in Alva, Clackmananshire.

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