What will the housing providers’ repairs service look like in the future? This article (the first of two in this and the next edition of Housing Technology) from Chris Potter, ROCC’s Uniclass director, is his personal view of some very probable scenarios and others a little bit more fanciful, looking at what a 22nd-century repairs service would look like and covering different aspects such as housing stock and transportation and scheduling.
The housing stock
Housing stock will be more diverse and eco-dwellings will co-exist alongside legacy properties which will be well over a hundred years’ old and will present different challenges to the workforce. Some of the features of the eco-home will include an ‘upside-down’ roof which hides a bunch of solar arrays in addition to the ability to capture rainwater meant for irrigating the garden’s native plants. Apart from that, there is a special system that treats ‘grey’ water from the washing machine with chlorine and UV light, where it will then be used to flush the home’s dual-tank loos.
A trio of geothermal wells under the home will stash away warm water (which in turn has been heated partly by the rooftop panels), where it will then circulate this water to the house for heating and cooling purposes.
A triple-coat glaze on the glass will offer more than double the thermal resistance of standard double-paned glass, while honeycombed shades ensure more heat is retained – perfect for lowering heating bills in the winter.
The emphasis will change from reactive repairs to a pro-active and pre-planning approach. The eco-house will be constructed using recyclable, smart materials such as smart concrete which will require little or no maintenance.
Concrete is a core building material. But even concrete starts to crumble when it comes face-to-face with water, wind, stress and pressure. The current method of dealing with structural instability in concrete has been to replace or repair it. But what if all you had to do was add a little water? A new type of smart concrete contains dormant bacteria spores and calcium lactate in self-contained pods. When these pods come into contact with water, they create limestone to fill up the cracks and reinforce the concrete. Self-healing concrete is estimated to save up to 50 per cent of the lifetime costs by eliminating the need for repair. Smart concrete is still being tested to determine how long the bacteria sustains itself, but researchers are hopeful they will be able to officially introduce smart concrete to the construction industry very soon.
The housing stock of tomorrow will be computer controlled, carbon-zero, solar-powered and have no heating. Nothing will need maintaining; problems will be self-diagnosing and either fixed remotely or during an annual service.
Transportation & scheduling
Travel and scheduling will be provided by self-driving cars which will be pre-programmed to get to each location in the most efficient way. They will automatically provide tracking, communication with the tenant and operative safety.
The smart car ferries operatives from one place to another without any user interaction. The car is summoned by a smartphone for pick up at the operative’s start location with the destination set. There is no steering wheel or manual control, simply a start button and a big red emergency stop button. In front of the passengers, there is a small screen showing the weather, the current speed and a small countdown animation to launch.
Once the journey is done, the small screen displays a message to remind the operative of the job and any risk assessment as well as contacting the tenant to establish identity and credentials.
Each vehicle will be equipped with a 3-D printer. A range of materials will be produced directly on-site using the vehicle as a mobile manufacturing unit.
Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, is the process of fabricating solid objects from digital models and has been around for three decades. Talk of how this technology could transform both the construction industry and the way we conceive of and build cities has long circulated, too. In the developing world, low-income housing could be erected en-masse, while speedily-printed structures would provide disaster relief or temporary homes for refugees.
But until recently such talk was largely theoretical. Then in March last year, the little-known Chinese company Winsun announced it had 3-D printed 10 £3,200 concrete houses in a day. This raised the question of whether the technology was about to become commercially viable.
In Winsun’s showroom, a video on a giant LED screen shows a printer head moving horizontally along a massive gantry frame. Winsun’s 3-D printer is 7m tall, 10m wide and 150m long. A filmed close-up of the nozzle reveals what looks like a giant icing bag extruding a grainy batter in a careful pattern. This ‘ink’ is made from recycled rubble, fibreglass, steel, cement and binder and takes 24 hours to dry. The ribbed-finish printed walls are hollow inside apart from a corrugated filler, a design that saves on materials without sacrificing strength.
Chris Potter is the Uniclass director for ROCC.