By Tarren Bolton

Ikhaya Modular is committed to the manufacture of small- to medium-sized modular spaces out of local timber with quick turnaround time and are nationally certified structures. Timber iQ spoke to architect Frank Böhm, and head of manufacturing, Chris Pienaar, to find out more about the great value in these beautifully simple, highly feasible urban applications.

Ikhaya Modulars’ spaces are architecturally designed, expertly constructed, built swiftly, and are architecturally and structurally certified.

The company built its first structure out of a combination of timber construction techniques with the focus on using CLT (Cross Laminated Timber), for its diverse structural ability, large premanufactured building elements and its beauty. Frank Böhm says that Ikhaya’s greatest value lies in the use of sustainable and local material, with a rapid installation time and that a design fee is only charged for tailored modular solutions. Installation time varies from two days for the smallest module of 10m² (the Shack), to their largest module, the Valley at 100m² with a 10-day installation period. The company currently has six prefabricated modules on offer, and units are 100% certified to all municipalities.

Ikhaya held a roadshow in November 2021 to promote ‘light on the environment’ and environmentally sensitive building practices and to showcase Ikhaya’s rapid, sustainable pre-designed quick turnaround solutions. The Ikhaya Team drove their smallest module, The Shack, on a big flatbed trailer along the peninsula and surrounding holiday areas. “We wanted to entice the public to enquire about the various possibilities that these units can offer,” said Pienaar.

Timber iQ found out more:

You are committed to manufacturing from local timber. Can you expand on this and explain this process?

We have experience in making furniture and a multitude of timber structures for numerous architectural projects with various alien and indigenous timbers. The alien local timber we use for our structures are from a variety of pine and gum, and we have committed ourselves to use local timber as much as possible. With correctly cured and treated mass timber, we have proven that our local timber, like pine or gum should rather be used to manufacture good quality buildings than being exported for paper pulp!

XLAM manufactures our CLT panels from local SA pine to specific order resulting in minimal waste. Furthermore, we prefer using a local hardwood, eucalyptus Red grandis for our flooring and cladding and decking. This local plantation timber offers great value in price, durability, and aesthetics. These trees are harvested in only 10 years making it a far better option than using scarce, exotic hardwoods that have to be imported from all over the world.

We deal directly with local timber growers in South Africa. The greener and the more we can activate our local industry the happier we are.

Our process:

  1. The client selects the module of their choice.
  2. If modifications to the predesigned units are required, we would go through a design process. If not, finishes and internal finishes are resolved.
  3. If a unique solution is required, we first commence with defining the specific client brief.
  4. With all selections made and the deposit paid the factory manufacturing process begins.
  5. The two small units both have a 6-week turnaround time. The manufacturing process is 2 weeks for a complete unit. Our bigger units have an 8-week lead time to date of delivery.
  6. Soil conditions are studied, the site gets prepared to receive our pre-certified foundation system with the base beam structure, which is installed and takes a day.
  7. Next, the module gets delivered and placed on the founding beam substructure. After the module is fixed to the base structure it will be electrically connected.
  8. That evening the new owner moves in, ready for use.

Tell us more about the focus on CLT. What are the benefits, and if any, what are the challenges?

We are drawn to mass timber and CLT because of its structural integrity, it is measurable, and aesthetically pleasing. As CLT is an engineered solution with the bulk being factory-produced we have little to no waste. It is cost-effective because of the pre-design process, one can pre-plan and pre-manufacture all the building elements. These precise, large building elements fit like a glove, which makes for a smoother, quicker, and measurable installation process. Almost all of it comes from a renewable source. Timber is forgiving and very versatile!

What about cost? Is CLT expensive to manufacture?

Very similar to our modular costs, CLT is expensive on first impression, but due to it being factory-produced, it results in a quick and effective installation process. As we save a lot time by having no changes and a rapid installation system, the cost is very similar to building with standard construction methods. Although our advantage is that structures are finished to a high level of detail in comparison.

“Prefabrication forces both client and designers to resolve all aspects of the design process prior to installation.”

We have found that the prefabrication forces both client and designers to resolve all aspects of the design process prior to installation, which results in a lot less site changes or variations. Snag lists are shortened because a lot of the snagging is resolved before the building elements come to site.

Your first structure was built from combination of timber construction techniques – tell us more about these different techniques.

The units were made with a combination of timber framing and CLT construction techniques – all from locally grown hardwoods:

  • The base frame was made from laminated red grandis eucalyptus.
  • The floor panel was made from 3 lamella CLT with the top layer in red grandis eucalyptus.
  • The wall panels were made from conventional H2 SAP timber framing with glass fibre insulation, a 27mm CLT panel was then pressed onto these frames resulting in seamless interior wall panels.
  • The exterior wall panels were cladded with 22m tongue and grove red grandis boards.
  • The roof panel was also made with H2 pine framing and a thinner CLT panel was pressed onto it. The roof was insulated with cellulose recycled newspaper.

Combining conventional timber framing and thinner CLT panels allowed for both cost-effective, lighter and easier assembling, as well as the seamless visual aesthetic of CLT.

The units are transported on a flatbed truck. Image credit: Ikhaya Modular

The units are transported on a flatbed truck. Image credit: Ikhaya Modular

Your units are 100% certified to all municipalities. Please tell us more about the certification and associated criteria.

Our modules fit the National Building Regulations Act 103 of 1977, which ensures all buildings fit prescribed regulations:

  • Fire rating.
  • Thermal performance.
  • XA – energy efficiency and environmental sustainability on new buildings.
  • General National Building Regulations – spatial building regulations.

Our modules allow:

  • Flexible and correct building orientation,
  • Shading to the northern walls,
  • Sustainable building materials and methods for foundation, floors, walls, and roof,
  • Geared towards off-grid living such as solar, waterless toilets, grey water systems.
Finishing touches, including the roof flashings and final sealing are completed on day three. Image credit: Ikhaya Modular

Finishing touches, including the roof flashings and final sealing are completed on day three. Image credit: Ikhaya Modular

The rapid build aspect is a huge plus – can you outline the installation process? Why is it so quick?

All the components of the buildings are pre-manufactured under controlled factory conditions. The units are almost fully assembled in the factory allowing for the units to be delivered to site as a 90% complete building. The bigger units are flat packed, the various floor, wall and roof panels are then assembled on site expediently with the assistance of a crane. The assembling goes really fast because everything is already prepared to fit perfectly.

Would you regard these modular units as a possible solution in the affordable housing space? If so, could you motivate this, keeping in mind that the emphasis is on ‘affordable’. Is this a feasible option?

Yes, on mass these units could definitely become a solution for affordable housing. More specifically if you had to look at taller multi-storey apartment-type buildings, such as those in Europe and America.

When we started the notion of modular buildings with focus on simplicity, cost-effectiveness, and using timber 10 years ago, we had hoped to design an environmentally friendly structure that is affordable. With an established mass production line, low-cost timber building is that solution.

Our current modular solutions are detailed with visible craft and precision which serves to highlight the possibility of mass-produced dwellings out of a renewable resource. It is certainly our best possible solution to cater for growing population with the intent of guarding our natural environment.

Also, for lower income markets, or for government-funded low-cost housing, small houses can typically be constructed in days without the need for any cement or concrete foundations, but rather light, on-earth piling foundations. The ‘affordability’ is realised in the quick turnaround time, almost zero waste and the actual look, feel and comfort of these buildings, compared to environment- and inhabitant-unfriendly, cheap porous cement block units.

Recent local project – The Lee Studio

Ikhaya Modular was recently commissioned to create their first Studio module. Image credit: Ikhaya Modular

Ikhaya Modular was recently commissioned to create their first Studio module. Image credit: Ikhaya Modular

Ikhaya Modular focuses on producing sustainable modular buildings with an end-to-end solution that are smart, through the manufacture of various-sized modules that have been pre-designed.
The company was recently commissioned to create their first Studio module, the Lee Studio.

The client, a graphic illustrator and hobby artist, and his wife, were forced to both work from home as result of the Covid pandemic. The 14m² Studio solution was the ideal application and solution for an office space that would allow both husband and wife to work from home in separate offices. Upon consultation, the clients’ original concept was tweaked to suit the pre-manufactured Ikhaya Studio module.

A major benefit was that the whole unit was fully pre-designed and manufactured in the factory in less than two weeks. The roof was fully constructed as one panel in-factory but had to be transported as a separate component because of load restrictions. The client was able to inspect the completed Studio with its complete plug and play electrical installation before the completed structure left the factory.

Another major benefit was the savings in time. Installation took three days – one day to install the subframe on Ikhaya’s unique piling foundation system. The Studio was delivered and placed on the subframe with a crane on the second day. The two roof panels were then put in place and fitted. The finishing touches, which included the roof flashings and final sealing was completed on day three.

The entire process, from first engaging with the client to final handover, took less than six weeks.

If a customer prefers a different configuration, Ikhaya offers a design service that allows the client to get involved to create a tailored result and design process.

There are currently 6 modules on offer – the popular Shack and Studio, which are the smallest modules – 11mm² and 14m². Their biggest modules, the Coast and Valley are 38m² and 105m², including deck areas, respectively – are 100% complete when they leave the factory. The bigger modules are designed to be flat packed and suitable to fit onto a truck.