You may not have realized it at the time, but if you played with LEGOs a lot as a kid you were giving yourself good training for the future of housing, when you'd be able to snap together your own family residence as though playing with a giant toy. A new German company called HIB-System is offering self-build kit houses that are purportedly as hardy and energy efficient as they are easy to assemble.
The HIB-System can be purchased in individual modules for customized design or buyers can choose from a substantial selection of pre-designed homes. Each block is made much like a structural insulated panel (SIP), with two plaster outer skins sandwiching an interior layer of insulation. In this case, the inner layer is either strandboard soaked in clay and ground mussel shells, hemp, pea shingles, or a high-efficiency insulating material called Homatherm. The customer has a choice of materials for the exterior facade.
The primary green aspects of this building design revolve around the use of non-toxic materials and a high standard of insulation. While HIB homes don't all achieve Passive House criteria—the green building standard that was developed in Germany where HIB is based, which mandates a completely leak-proof skin and promises an unmatched level of energy savings (we'll be featuring Passive House in Dwell's November 2009 issue)—they provide the option to bump up efficiency on a custom-designed home at an additional cost in order to meet Passive House standards.
The pre-designed options are architect-drafted and represent a number of different styles, modern being only one. Classic pitched-roof options are mixed in with low, boxy structures and cantilevered wings. The selection process is guided by family size and age. There are special designs for singles and others for families who want to share a duplex or semi-communal arrangement.
While the apparent ease of assembly and comparison to LEGOs makes it seem as though these might not stand up too well to the test of time and weather, the HIB-System is said to be sturdy in the face of severe storms. Check out a video here (it helps if you speak German) to see some of the scientific testing that's been done on this design.