In July, Futurespace ran a profile of Ecofloat, a non-traditional houseboat company based in Hertfordshire run by Mike O’Shea. Using homebuilding techniques instead of traditional boatbuilding methods allows Mike to build energy-efficient homes with modern floor plans and very easy access to the water.
I got in touch with Mike again to find out some more about the process and the details of building these unique homes. One of the biggest differences between the Ecofloat homes and any other sort of habitation is that they are prefabricated in a factory. In his own words, while Mike ‘“use(s) a lot of modern timber engineering that you would find in a contemporary house’” the process differs from what most families call home because he is able to “ship complete homes that have been built in a workshop.” Additionally, “the homes are strong enough to be craned around;” a necessity to get them transported to their final destinations.
The technical difficulties aren’t limited to transportation. Among the challenges O’Shea notes are a need for flexible service connections to allow for vertical movement of the boat on the water, dealing with the huge amount of reflected UV radiation, and movement of the structure from both passing maritime traffic and strong winds.
Mike doesn’t build everything himself, but everything is done under close supervision..An offshore engineering company manufactures hulls to his designs, and the superstructure is fabricated by teams of specialist subcontractors in O’Shea’s workshop under his watch.
Some of the most frustrating challenges faced by land-based builders and architects involve dealing with building and planning regulations. By prefabricating houseboats, Ecofloat is able to sidestep many of these challenges. Mike always builds to meet or exceed the typical standards set for terrestrial homebuilding, but is not bound by the same regulations. He does have to comply with specific regulations, such as gas line installation , and in navigable waterways like the Thames he needs to obtain a Boat Safety Certificate.
The dream of prefabricating homes has been embraced by architects around the world for generations, yet it always seems slightly out of reach. It is refreshing to see one small company succeeding at it in an entirely unconventional way.