HPH315 : Simplifying the delivery of high performance, sustainable homes – with Mike Jacob
Mike Jacob explains how Kiss House is using timber component based production to deliver homes to the Passivhaus standard.
Interview with Mike Jacob
Mike Jacob's journey from project manager of quirky conversions and renovations to co-founder and director of Kiss House happened organically, and stemmed from his ongoing desire to do things in a better way. He continued developing his education and qualifications, learning more about sustainable architecture at the Centre for Alternative Technology, and working for a Passivhaus startup.
Kiss House “brought itself into being”
After a decade spent delivering one-off, complex housing projects, Mike and his colleagues felt that there must be an easier way of transferring their lessons learned into a vehicle that could benefit more people, rather than starting from scratch each time. In doing so, they saw the benefit of scaling up a business that had a repeatable housing product, which felt like it had been individually designed, but without the risk, uncertainty, and stress that often goes along with that.
A bespoke house that a colleague had designed for a private client, started to get enquiries because people thought it was a configurable, repeatable house. This kickstarted their thinking that this could be their vehicle for transferring their lessons learned, and began exclusively working on Kiss House.
It was important for their designs to have an identity
The Kiss House design is a contemporary, cuboid, minimal piece of architecture, drawing on their previous experiences and inspired by landmark projects from the 20th century, to offer more of a mass customisation approach to housing. Although the company is still in its relative infancy, as they develop new housing types they intend to stay within a kind of aesthetic language, being contemporary in nature.
The custom build style alleviates many of the risks
In Mike's experience, many of the truly bespoke projects tend to come unstuck and have tensions for a number of reasons. Often this will happen when trying to incorporate high levels of energy efficiency, and can either end up with compromises on the architecture or the performance.
The Kiss approach aims to be a simple, stripped back, clean lines aesthetic, with uncompromising performance. It can be configurable to an extent, but is ideally suited to a custom build market. Moving forward, they will be building a portfolio of individual Kiss houses that all have commonalities, and beyond that they're having conversations with local authorities and developers who are interested in different typologies, all recognisably Kiss, for delivery of housing at scale.
Each house will be built to the Passivhaus standard
Together with developing their system, they have developed the architectural language for that system which enables them to have a much more flexible kit of parts approach to housing typologies that are more site specific. They are also working hard to ensure that each house will be Passivhaus certified.
They will have their own manufacturing facility in the UK
Mike explains that by vertically integrating themselves with their manufacturing partners, they'll be able to de-risk the supply chain wherever they can. They'll be bringing as much in-house to their manufacturing facility as possible, including the manufacture of the triple glazed windows, to become a one-stop shop for their housing product. And by being more in control of their supply chain, they're able to offer a better service to their customers.
“We've tried to come up with something that addresses all of the pain points, or as many of the pain points as we believe are there, so that our customers maybe even enjoy the experience!”
The ambition is to use only UK grown timber
Currently, the only imported material they use is sheet timber, which they use sparingly and are trying to find workarounds for. They are trying to galvanise the domestic supply chain and are looking at ash and beech for things beyond the structure, such as for furniture and flooring.
Working with the Bio Composite Centre at Bangor University for the last couple of years, Kiss House are also looking to bring to market a UK manufactured natural fibre insulation.
The house is partially pre-fabricated off-site
The kit of parts is manufactured at their facility in the south of England, and is made up of two different types of columns, along with cassettes and panels of various shapes and sizes. They are manufactured digitally on a semi-automated basis and to high levels of precision. The components that leave the facility are insulated, and sometimes with internal lining boards and external cladding. These are then transported to site, where they are assembled without the need for a crane or scaffolding. A typical house would take just a few days on site before it's airtight/weathertight, and then a further 4-6 weeks for the fit-out stage.
The first house will be a demo
Mike explains that they're currently manufacturing their first house, which will be a demo house built at the factory. Their first live projects will be delivered on site as soon as they can get them through the planning system, where they've been experiencing horrendous delays.
It has taken plenty of perseverance to keep going against the odds!
Having lost around two years because of things like lockdown and planning delays, it has been a challenging journey to get to where they are today. However, they, and their patient investors, have kept faith and are at an exciting growth stage where they are joining forces with their manufacturing partner to embark on a new round of fundraising.
Find out more
Check out our previous podcast with Mike Jacob: Does Hiring a Project Manager Save Money?
Visit the website of Kiss House
Follow Kiss House on Twitter
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About The Author
Lucy Cowell is owner of the Virtual Assistant company Quantum PA. Being immersed in the world of architecture for over 20 years and since working with Ben Adam-Smith, she is now determined to build her own house one day too!