The hunger and ambition of 26-year-old self-taught eco-homes builder Joseph Daniels is palpable.
Even during our relatively brief chat the 26-year-old makes it clear his aim is to create the UK’s first volume sustainable homes builder.
Plenty of people before him have tried and failed to create a system that can deliver a big-numbers housing method that’s sustainable for both the environment and developers’ bottom lines but also easy to construct and of a high quality.
That most famously included a 2015 development in Somerset built with the backing of TV presenter Kevin McCloud.
It featured 78 ‘super insulated’ homes built with triple-glazed windows that, although sold out, were dogged by construction quality problems.
Daniels says his approach will ensure both sustainable homes and high quality workmanship.
He has taken the structural insulated panel (SIP) familiar to many within the construction industry and shaken it up, creating a two-size SIP system that can be used on-site to create an endless variety of shapes and that can be ‘dropped in’ and facilitate affordable and speedy construction.
He is using a variation on the 4Wall system that offers the lowest Lambda-value PU injected foam, coupling it to the latest air conditioning and triple-glazed window technology to create what he calls the “perfect designed house in terms of thermal performance”.
Daniels is no enthusiastic amateur. His plans (and machine-gun fact-packed presentation style) have attracted significant institutional investment. This includes most recently £3 million from Conservative party backer and hedge fund speculator Lord Fink.
Called Etopia, it recently began breaking ground at its first site in Pryor Hall near Corby which it bought for £2.1 million. There it is constructing 31 houses and 16 apartments using its system.
Shell construction begins early next week. The homes will incorporate Daikin mechanical ventilation, heat recovery, air purification and solar power as standard.
A four-bed house is expected to sell for between £320,000 and £350,000, some £100,000 less than traditional bricks and mortar new-builds in and around the town.
His target market is young Londoners prepared to put up with a long commute in exchange for a foot on the housing ladder.
Etopia is also building a factory in Cheshire which will be able to make enough SIPs to build 2,000 homes a year, and Daniels says he expects to have built 21,500 homes by 2021 as production ramps up.
“It’s not easy but it takes someone hungry enough to actually make it work on a scale that is a viable,” he says.
“We’ve just signed a collaboration deal that will hugely scale the Etopia business although I can’t reveal any more details than that yet – watch this space.
“But I remember growing up and our home had no electric or heating and we lived in a single glazed house in November and it was extremely cold.
“I thought to myself; how on earth can we call ourselves a ‘first world’ nation when we can’t look after the basic needs of the people on the ground.
“I realised the built environment and its conventions were not very intelligent, so I set to work to create a plug-and-play smart system to facilitate a house that on all fronts looks at energy performance and also intelligent controls.”
Daniels has little interest in convention. His early life was spent in a low-income household in Essex being brought up by a mother with mental health issues and an alcoholic father.
After a brief dalliance with music production, Daniels says he wanted to grapple with something that ‘made more of an impact’ on people’s lives and, because he’d worked in air conditioning and the electrical contracting sectors when he was younger, chose the built environment.
“I realised that the way electrical cables are installed and the way aircon is not being used as a fruitful domestic system was not right,” he says.
“Our approach to construction using single insulated panels means we can build a 41 sq metre box on site with only a handful of people in less than three and a half hours.” – Daniel Joseph
“After that light bulb moment, I set out on a journey to learn everything I could about the world of architectural thermodynamics and electrics, learned how to use AutoCAD, and then set out to create a new building panel system.”
Daniels says he rejected the idea of an off-site-built modular system because Britain’s narrow urban streets make it impractical, and that he instead opted to create an ‘holistic building block’ that can be constructed anywhere.
“The way I look at it is that you need to be able to create a single methodology that creates a basic custom-designed panel that’s no bigger than one metre in length and apply the best of commercial-build technology to a domestic environment all done on site,” he says.
Etopia initially proved its sustainable homes concept in the education sector building schools using an early version of his system, but now has two other main avenues it wants to pursue.
These are to build its own high-tech housing developments where WIFI will be available to all ‘like in a Costa coffee shop’ via a partnership with Samsung, and also build for the affordable homes market, which he claims is a £44 billion opportunity.
“We’re also working with West Suffolk College to create an eco-modular element that will sit on the end of any construction engineering course to teach students about eco building and the kinds of methods we employ, which in time will close the skills gap in the industry,” he says.
It’s an example of Daniels’ holistic approach whether it’s rethinking home heating, ventilation, build costs, insulation or construction methods.
Asked how he manages to keep all these plates spinning, his response is characteristically direct. “A lot of self-discipline, hard work and knocking down doors is the quick answer to that question.”