back to article Architect pitches builder-bothering 'Print your own house' plan

WikiHouse, the "print your own open source pad" project, has called for contributors and cash to help it establish an online archive of downloadable dwelling designs. The site’s aim is nothing short of the democratisation of the construction industry: to allow, in short, “anyone to design, download and 'print' CNC-milled …


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  1. Trygve Henriksen

    No Allen keys?

    B - but...

    You can't have flat-pack without an allen key in the package!

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: No Allen keys?

      I think what people may have failed on, is that it's a model.... a scale model of ones proposed house plans....

      You know, laser cutter, plywood... tube of glue etc..

  2. Ed 13

    Building Houses

    So how much does the "printing" machine cost?

    Quite how much 18mm ply would a three bed detached house use?

    There will need to be a fair amount of foundations, insulation and roofing material that you won't make out of 18mm ply.

    Also there are the complications that electricity and gas installations need to be signed off by a suitably qualified person.

    1. Matt Bryant Silver badge

      Re: Building Houses

      ".....Also there are the complications that electricity and gas installations need to be signed off by a suitably qualified person." In the UK it would illegal to build the electrical or gas bits without being a qualified electrician and/or gas engineer, even if they came as pre-built frames, if they connect to mains gas or electricity supplies. Potentially, you could do it all if you were only connecting to your own generator and camping gas cylinders, but even then you would need your installations signed off by a building inspector. There is some loophole around classing your home as a "trailer" but IIRC you then have a different set of regs you still have to comply with. And if you skip any of it a busybody at the local council will order your work removed, and potentially they can order your whole building demolished if you really upset them, even if it is fully-compliant. Trying to evade the correct paperwork and procedures in the UK is simply stupid.

      1. Tom 13

        Re: Trying to evade the correct paperwork and procedures in the UK is simply stupid.

        Or the US. Or France. Or Canada. Mexico would probably be a 50-50 thing depending on whether you known the correct people to bribe. In point of fact, just about anywhere in the world except 3rd world countries are likely to run afoul of many building regs. And I expect in the 3rd world, you'll have trouble finding those CNC machines.

      2. SImon Hobson Bronze badge

        Re: Building Houses

        >> Also there are the complications that electricity and gas installations need to be signed off by a suitably qualified person.

        > In the UK it would illegal to build the electrical or gas bits without being a qualified electrician and/or gas engineer

        Actually, that is **NOT** the case.

        It is absolutely legal for you to do all your own electrical work provided you have enough competence to do so. Part P of the building regs states that "Reasonable provision shall be made in the design and installation of electrical installations in order to protect persons operating, maintaining or altering the installation from fire or injury."

        That is the entirety of Part P !

        However, the main building regs state that all work is notifiable unless exempted by Schedule 4 which lists those works for which notification is required, or unless the work is done by someone who is a member of an appropriate approved scheme through which they can self notify.

        So you can do all your own electrical work, as long as you have enough competence to comply with Part P (not that onerous) AND you notify your Local Authority Building Control (LABC) department. Since you'll need to notify LABC for building your house, the electrical works can be covered under that. If you are able to supply all the required test results, then LABC will probably accept those if they think you are competent to have done the tests and inspections properly. Otherwise they will get a qualified electrician in to do some tests.

        For major works such as this (wiring a new build house), it's worth just lumping in the electrics with the main build and it'll cost you very little extra to notify. For minor works, the LABC fee structure is designed such that it's often more expensive than employing a member of an approved organisation to do the work !

        BTW - Schedule 4 changes very significantly on 6th April. At present there are quite a lot of things that aren't exempt - from 6th April most of these become exempt and from memory the list of notifiable electrical works effectively comes down to : work within the zoned area of a bathroom, provision of a consumer unit, addition of an extra circuit (ie extra way in the fuse board or CU).

        Much the same applies to gas work - it is a myth (that the industry is happy to keep alive) that no-one can work on a gas system without being a member of Gas Safe. The Gas Safety Regulations effectively say that you cannot work on gas "by way of trade" without being registered. If you are working on your own property then that's not a trade and the regs don't require you to be registered. The same applies if you do some work for a friend without their being any form of payment (either cash or kind) involved. But if your friend pays you, then it comes under the rags.

        But, for both gas and electrical works - there are significant safety risks if you don't know what you are doing. So it really really does make sense to leave it to professionals if there is any doubt.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Building Houses

      Actually almost all of the shell of a house can be made out of 18mm Structural OSB (cheaper than ply). Clearly you might need a few beams here and there ... but SIP panels - a sandwich of two OSB with expanded insulation in between - require no beams what so ever. So all you need are concrete foundation and the weather layer. i.e. some kind of shuttering and felt roofing tiles.

      The electrical and gas muppets come along after the shell is errected - the conduit of course is already laid out for simple and straight forward installations of all utilities.

  3. Tom 7

    I thought the whole point of being an architect

    was to design houses that you (the architect) would never consider living in and uncomfortable enough to make sure you got to design another.

    Surely if this works then we will have debugged houses that do everything a house should and no need for architects.

    Until they lobby parliament to get the laws changed so none of these are viable anymore!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I thought the whole point of being an architect

      I think (I'm not sure) that there is a legal requirement for an architect already, they handle all of the X has to be Y distance away from Z type decisions and the two doors between a kitchen and toilet, etc. Certainly a structural engineer needs to be involved, if you ever want to get insurance on your property and also you'd better know your numbers if you want to get building regs approval, without engineer or architect.

      1. DJV Silver badge
        Thumb Down

        Re: two doors between a kitchen and toilet

        Hasn't been a requirement in the UK since at least the early 1980s. See item 4.10 here:

  4. JDX Gold badge

    do for building what Linux did for software

    Is that really the slogan they want to use? Come on who wants to go first... show us you penguins have a sense of humour too.

    1. Michael

      Re: do for building what Linux did for software

      Will slowly over time take control of the mobile home world?

      Apologies, that was bad.

      1. JDX Gold badge

        Re: do for building what Linux did for software

        "this time next year Rodders"

    2. jubtastic1
      Thumb Up

      Re: do for building what Linux did for software

      Hush you, it's a fantastic idea, in fact I liked it so much I forked it on github, forget about these losers, is where its at.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: do for building what Linux did for software

      You do the wrong thing with open source software, and your computer might crash. No worries, you restart and try again.

      I'm not sure the same is true of a building.

      1. BinkyTheHorse

        Re: do for building what Linux did for software

        @AC 15:56 - you're right, only open source source software crashes, closed source one never does that.

        You know, there's a saying about how people vulnerable to an argument shouldn't use it themselves. In fact, it has something to do with construction - specifically, with houses that, from a certain point of view, are all Windows...

    4. Euripides Pants

      Re: do for building what Linux did for software

      Will be ignored by the masses....

    5. Spoddyhalfwit

      Re: do for building what Linux did for software

      I want my house with windows, but then Eadon will turn up ranting.

      1. Matt Bryant Silver badge

        Re: Spoddyhalfwit Re: do for building what Linux did for software

        "I want my house with windows, but then Eadon will turn up ranting." Hmmmm, a good reason for a windowless design with a lot of extra soundproofing!

  5. Gordon Fecyk

    Including fifteen different building codes? Hostile contractors?

    Open source DIY domicile project to 'do for building what Linux did for software

    (OK, perfectly fine article if not for this secondary headline. Venting speen in 3... 2... 1...)

    So now I'll have to choose which distro of house I want before I can build it, there will be inter-distro feuding over building codes, and crowdsourced contractors consisting of a mix of maybe friendly and mostly hostile geeks, each deriding each others' designs.

    "No one builds a wall with studs sixteen inches on-centre anymore."

    The paranoid ones will use "NSA House" like they use NSA Linux, only to later speculate about gaping holes in the walls. There might not be any holes, and it might be the strongest house you could build, but who would trust it?

    Someone else might build a friendlier house, only to have other contractors deride them because they'd insist on being paid first.

    Who am I kidding? If Microsoft made a house, people would complain about the door locks. Come to think of it, my wife would complain about the door locks and not use them, and then she'd wonder why the TV was stolen.

    1. Code Monkey

      Re: Including fifteen different building codes? Hostile contractors?

      Not to mention Linus popping round to swear at you over your choice of roof.

    2. Eddy Ito

      "No one builds a wall with studs sixteen inches on-centre anymore."

      Amen! Preach it brother! Absolutely!

      Hi my name is Eddy and I was a 16" O.C. believer. I was young and didn't understand. I was a dirty heathen. I stand before you reformed because I have seen the light. I now know 19.2" is the one and true O.C. distance and I vow to never use another measure or 2x4 studs on exterior walls again.

      Say, is this hall one of those cheap 24" O.C. buildings? It feels a bit drafty.

      1. Tom 13

        Re: "No one builds a wall with studs sixteen inches on-centre anymore."

        No, No! It is not 19.2", it's 50cm! None of that farting around with non-decimal conversions anymore!

    3. TwoBuck40
      Thumb Up

      Re: Including fifteen different building codes? Hostile contractors?

      that's some funny shit!

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Think Grand Designs had a program on someone building a house along these lines - think they had a computer controlled wood cutter on site that produced the bits as needed.

    In reality its more likely to lead to the ability for people to design their own houses on a computer system (probably in conjunction with an architect), upload the design to a company who will cut the required components to size and deliver them then get builders to put them all together.

    Of course, builders will need to get used to the new technology - another GD prog had some people build a kit house like this sourced from the US. Local builders they used were taking ages to nail all the frames together as required and were amazed when person from US company came to help and introduced them to the concept of the heavy duty nail gun!

  7. Leonard Lee

    3 little pigs

    Do we all know the story?

  8. Graham Dawson Silver badge

    Guy's behind the times. CNC is already in use in the building industry and it has to compete with other essentially flat-pack housing systems as well. I mentioned SIPs in another topic, you can get an entire house made up in those things and have it delivered on site for final assembly. You can buy a timber-frame house from Finland and have it assembled within a day of its arrival. Two on the outside. There are multiple systems available for doing this already.

    I suppose the difference is on-site, but... to be honest, the economics of on-site fabrication just aren't viable. The cost of the machine, the materials, all the wastage you'll inevitably suffer, it wouldn't work. There's a reason timber and building materials are mass-produced in big centralised locations.

    With this you'll end up with some two or three big companies mass-producing CNC parts for shipping to sites, because the economics dictate it can be no other way.

    1. Tom 13

      Re: Guy's behind the times.

      And as other posts have noted, the real problem to building a house for most people isn't buying the parts, it's knowing the local zoning regs, then getting the permits and the inspections. Good reasons for all of them initially, but these days a mess to coordinate, which is what the general contractor does.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    crap versions of these then?

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Maybe I'm missing something. I'm no expert mind you but I did work in the IT department of a company in the construction industry for a while... But isn't the real pain in the arse getting an engineer to sign off on a complete set of plans that include all the other necessary bits? Not to mention different areas have to worry about different safety standards due to quakes, fire, or environment. You have to account for things like snow loads on the roof, sprinkler systems, etc. Unless you really over design things these are going to cause significant changes before any building inspector is going to sign off on it.

    1. Christoph

      I gather part of the idea is for these to be usable in places like Favelas and shanty towns where there aren't any building inspectors or engineers.

      But then there's not likely to be many CNC machines around either, so I don't see how they will get the parts made!

      1. Matt Bryant Silver badge

        Re: Christoph

        I vaguely recall a charity project a few years back to get shipping contractors to donate (as a tax write off) old steel shipping containers for Third World "instant shelter" buildings - there are already mechanisms and procedures to ship them all over the World, you send them full of aid and then all you need is an angle grinder and a few bits to cut and install windows, chimneys, etc. Containers can even be stacked and bolted/welded into blocks if land space is short, with steel or wooden stairways attached as required. And if you want to move it you can stick it on the back of a standard articulated lorry trailer. There's many a good reason the pod datacentre idea took off and they all apply to using them as houses too.

  11. Why Not?
    Thumb Up

    Personally I think its genius, if certain designs get building approval in principle when used with XYZ plumbing & electrics it would make self build a reality for many more people.

    Also this agreement in principle could be extended to planning and allow innovative designs to be approved based on established plans.

    Also in emergency shelter situations shipping in a CNC machine (or CNC cut parts that interlock with standard boards) and a set of plans could rehouse people in days.

    Also I suspect many designs will become ECO warrior powered and become homes of the future with near zero impact.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Not sure how well getting an incomplete set of plans pre-approved would work here in the states. Who's going to pay an engineer in every state to stamp the structural plans so they can be scanned and uploaded to their site? (never mind the fact that I'm pretty sure some municipalities will only accept 'wet' seals) That's 50 versions per building type just for the states alone.

      That's not to say that you couldn't use this sites plans as the basis for your project but I guess it all depends on the flexibility.

      1. Tom 13

        Re: That's 50 versions per building type

        If only it were that easy.

        It's not even the states that set the regs although they might set certain guidelines, it's the municipalities. So it gets down to at least each country, and possibly even cities within the county. That's thousands of plans per basic design.

  12. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    Note the key thing about this is *control*.

    The trouble with kit build houses is they tend to be all or nothing propositions and this system allows a more "incremental" approach to building a house.

    It combines the use of standard components (Like a Segal house) with the potential for unique (or at least highly tailored) designs.

    It has been done with cars (the "Africar" project, despite it's unfortunate ending).

    But why no love for Autoclaved Aerated Concrete?

  13. JaitcH

    Great fun, but impracticable ...

    Many regions of the world are wood-adverse.

    Take the Asian Longhorned Beetle is a large wood-boring insect native to China, it will chow down on any wood remotely soft. Now, thanks to softwood pallets there are large colonies in the USA, Canada, Europe and elsewhere.

    The only answer to these pests are hard-wood or concrete.

    Then there is the bureaucracy. They are the architects friends who seem to have but a single purpose in life - to generate business for architects. Then there is the construction trade who think everything but everything is beyond the intending home building plebs. Seemingly only the building trade can employ unskilled labour and produce a building.

    Unfortunately, these designs in wood are impracticable for my part of the world, well entrenched as it is with Asian Longhorned Beetle, so we create in concrete. I have constructed three buildings, now, one being my home and the other two what government calls 'mini-hotels' (which have over thirty rooms each.

    Being a pleb builder, I studied very hard. I did unusual things such as making all 'techno-structure' (pipes, wires, etc) accessible with the minimal of bashing concrete - unlike professional builders who bury all such infrastructure under mounds of concrete. I used insulating concrete forms (ICFs), factory made rebar forms, welded window inserts into which windows (or doors) can fit knowing the frame is dead square.

    Even crazier, according to the local 'construction experts' was my use of large-diameter plastic pipes as concrete forms instead of using tatty-looking things made from wood and nails. I simply split piping longitudinally and used packing bands to hold them together whilst the concrete dried. Strangely several 'professional;' builders are now copying my technique in the area.

    My first mini-hotel used containers (surplus or 'hot' units costing me USD$300-400 delivered) and it took an engineer to explain to the planners that a container will support many, many times their weight and that my height of five-seven containers wasn't a challenge.

    I wish Wikihouse every success, however I fear they will best succeed in places such as Africa for 'advanced' countries throw up to many obstacles to make this practical. I must admit, there are many authorities in Canada, outside the larger cities, who will happily accept DIY home plans, and offer technical help in making the plans meet 'code'.

  14. Dan Atkinson
    Thumb Up

    Potential in post-disaster recovery

    I see this sort of technology really making its mark in the wake of the next Katrina-esque natural disaster where homes where large numbers of new homes will need to be built very quickly and cheaply.

    1. Tom 13

      Re: Potential in post-disaster recovery

      The next Katrina-esque natural disaster has already happened. It was called Sandy. You don't hear much about it because having hit the NE, there's not such a ripe field of fire to denigrate Republicans. This CNC process would never pass muster in NYC or Boston.

  15. Marvin the Martian

    Pencilled notes? Seriously?

    What boggles my mind is the hand-pencilled numbering on the parts. If you're CnCing anyhow, why not have the machine mark the number in it...

    If only to avoid typos and misreadings of other people's hand etc.

  16. Nick Pettefar


    Crap houses built of shit materials might be all well and good in America but we want proper brick houses or at least concrete ones over here. Can't we get a 3d-brick printer?

  17. irneb

    Design self or Choose from pre-designed?

    Which one? If the later, then it's not much different from what you can get from a "normal" developer selling house plans. Hopefully those plans comply with local law / situation / material availability / etc. And hopefully the site you're choosing does not have extra requirements.

    If the former, how are stuff like local authority rules to be applied? Apart from materials requirements, what about basic stuff like minimal room / passage sizes, ventilation, natural lighting, fire escape lengths, etc. Some sort of approvals done for the self-designer? Or is it left up to them to sort that SHT out themselves?

    Not to mention, in nearly every country you have minimal requirements for the designer. E.g. here a junior Architectural Technician (registered with the local Arch. Council) is needed at a minimum. Then for double story up to 500 sqm a "Senior" Tech. (i.e. 10 years experience), then for anything larger / more complex a registered Architect. And then for any suspended floors you require a structural engineer to (at least) sign off the design. That's "law", else you will not be allowed to even start building the thing.

    Then also the council submissions - that in itself is 10x more work than an estate agent's red-tape, and one mistake means do over from beginning again. At best takes 3 months over here, up to several years or more if some special requirements are needed like height restrictions, appearance requirements, heritage council approval, road furniture modifications (i.e. driveway entrance), sewer / storm water / water supply / electrical connections, building line / servitude relaxations, re-zoning, consolidations, notarial ties, etc.

    And that's not even taking into account anything for the "new" green building council approvals. And no, that is not simply a matter of if your materials are "green" or even environmentally friendly. And in some cases this approval becomes a requirement, not just a nice to have. It includes many other aspects like: Is the design made to minimize use of artificial heating / cooling? What water usage is needed? Electrical requirements? Lighting, natural / artificial? Insulation? Re-usability of construction? Environmentally sensitive area? Transport implications? Even if materials are "eco-friendly" what are the transport impact on them (sometimes a non-eco-friendly material is actually preferred due to this)? Etc. And all these require studies by a registered "Competent" person to calculate them - no thumb-sucking!

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