Elements: innovative and sustainable ways to build and live

A ready-made house straight from the factory to your plot. Impossible? The building pioneers at Elements prove it can be done – if you work with modules. Add to that a fully integrated energy system that generates its own power and it’s clear that this is what the circular economy is all about.

In the Elements factory in the Dutch town of Breukelen are row upon row of steel frames: the structure for modules that are pieced together like Lego to build new homes. Marsja Akkermans, a member of the Elements board, shows us how the frames are turned into ready-to-use building elements. The walls consist of layers of magnesium sulphide board (MgS) and insulation. Pipes, wiring and smart heating elements are built into the floor. Each module is a standard building element for a new home – all ready to click into place on location.

Standardisation of housing construction

“The lack of standards in traditional construction is a constant source of problems. There are real advantages to using standard building blocks,” Marsja explains. “It cuts waste in the production process, because you can base your purchasing on standard sizing. And all the building elements fit together flawlessly and they’re designed around the home’s energy module. The energy module is the heart of the living concept at Elements.”

As a student at Delft University of Technology, Robert Sijtsma, the founder of Elements, managed the energy contract for the student house he lived in. He soon realised that none of the utilities providers had the full picture of their customers’ energy supply – they only know their own piece of the puzzle. Robert was inspired to design his own ideal energy system and tried to sell it to contractors and developers. When it didn’t take off, he decided he’d “simply build the house to go with it too”. And so the idea was born for a house made of standard building elements with its own power supply.

Sustainable living with an all-electric energy system

Elements homes are built around an integrated all-electric energy system. All the different parts ‘talk’ to each other. The system uses innovative solutions for heat and cooling storage, electricity, hot water and fresh air ventilation. It provides optimum sustainable energy and water use and comfort, which makes the Elements homes virtually suited for self-sufficient living.  

The house gets its power from solar panels on the roof. Usually, any surplus energy generated is delivered back to the grid, but not here. In an Elements house, it is stored  in the home as heat and cold storage using lithium batteries. Or you can use your electric car as a battery when it’s connected to a charging station.

The heating and cooling system is a key part of an Elements home. The energy you generate is used to heat or cool the liquid in the underfloor heating and cooling installation. And there is a ventilation module that draws in air, heats or cools it to the desired temperature and then blows it back out again, allowing the system to precisely regulate the climate in the house.

Radically different from traditional building

“This energy system has to be fully integrated into the house to work,” Marsja elaborates. “The house is literally built around the energy system. That makes it radically different from traditional new-build, where they design the house first and only then start looking at the power supply. What we do is the exact opposite.”

At Elements the entire home is seen as one product and their unique product development process brings together a range of specialisms. Architecture, energy use, comfort, convenience and design combine to create the whole. The Elements team don’t see themselves as architects or contractors, but makers of homes. Integrating different building disciplines sparks constant innovations beyond just energy efficiency. The result: a self-sufficient house that caters to the needs of the occupants and the environment.

Sustainable and circular living

“Having their own energy supply makes our homes highly sustainable and circular,” Marsja confirms. “They’re also very low-maintenance thanks to materials like plastic window and door frames. And because we use virtually no concrete, our carbon footprint is small. Concrete production is one of the main sources of carbon emissions in the construction industry.”

The circular and sustainable Elements living concept caught the attention of Age Vermeer, former director of Dura Vermeer construction company. He came on board in 2018, bringing with him his knowledge, experience and network. A year later, Marsja joined to lead the sales side. “I had worked at a bank in cash management for twenty years. I decided it was time for a bold move and studied building. With his vision and ideas, Robert convinced me that I could have a fresh start at Elements. And it’s worked out perfectly – I’m totally in my element here.”

A home placed in a day

A customer comes to ask about a new-build and hears he can get the key to his fully finished house within ten months. It would be much sooner if the permits didn’t take such a long time. The Elements architects get straight to work on a design and the team offers to help the customer buy a plot of land. As soon as the design is final, production will start on the building elements and energy system in the factory in Breukelen. The elements will be placed on the plot in one day. After that it takes around four and a half weeks to assemble and finish the house.

The first two Elements homes will soon be delivered in Almere. That’s also where the model home is located, where Robert lives. Another ten homes are already on order for this year, and no less than 24 for 2021.

Marsja: “Sales are going very well. Customers feel that we really listen to what they want. They come to us when they’re looking for a builder. Some already have a plot to build on. When they come to Elements they realise that although the product is standardised, we can go a long way toward designing a home around their specific wishes. On top of that, we offer lots of innovative and sustainable gadgets other homes don’t have, like a system that allows you to move sockets and light switches around easily. The price is a factor too – building with Elements is cheaper than traditional methods. When they see the advantages of the energy system and the ability to live self-sufficient, it really is a very attractive package.”

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