Damp, cold 'Fernhill special' catalyst for Árbol prefab homes

Dec 11, 2023

Árbol eco homes was formed from frustration with New Zealand’s poor housing standards and construction methods.

Founder Marcus Allen moved to Queenstown in 2020 with his wife and young son Hedrix, after working on and off in the region since 2016.

“We lived in a Fernhill special - a damp, cold and mouldy home. My son was six months old and was getting respiratory problems. When we moved on from there, it was to a house that was code-minimum, which was costing us about $1,000 a month to run in winter," Marcus says.

"Seeing the detrimental impacts of a poor performing home, and knowing there’s a better way of doing things, was a major motivator to start this business.” 

Marcus experienced firsthand how much better things could be while working as a carpenter on Camp Glenorchy (now The Headwaters Eco Lodge), created by US philanthropists Debbi and Paul Brainerd. The project was a test-case for building sustainable commercial accommodation, melding Kiwi expertise with international environmentally conscious construction standards, and aimed to inspire others to follow its lead.

Árbol designs, builds, and fits out energy efficient, environmentally responsible prefabricated homes, all on one site in Cromwell, aiming to maximise liveability and longevity of materials, while minimising waste and disruption.

All their dwellings are at minimum 40 percent more insulated than New Zealand building code standards and are fitted with uPVC low-e double glazed windows, creating an airtight building envelope with reduced thermal bridging - easier to keep warm in winter and cool in summer.

They’re fitted with a Mechanical Heat Recovery Ventilation (MHRV) system to filter fresh air and retain about 90 percent of heating energy.

“You’re getting a comfier living environment because you’re maintaining a healthy ambient temperature without having to continually heat with a heatpump or fireplace. Energy bills are expensive, and people probably don’t even consider they’re not even living in a warm home. You’ve spent all this money, but your home is only warm 25 percent of the time. That draft you feel when you put your hand near a closed window, you don’t get that with our homes, and you don’t get the condensation on the inside,” Marcus says.

Árbol designs, builds, and fits out energy efficient, environmentally responsible prefabricated homes, all on one site in Cromwell (Image: Supplied).

With timber being a crucial component of construction and such an important part of our natural environment, it is fitting that the company name Árbol reflects this being Spanish for the word ‘tree’, and their abodes follow this trend with native New Zealand tree’s – The Rata, Pohutukawa, Beech, and Totara.

But Árbol goes above and beyond liveability as it aims to create real change within the industry that includes external cladding for example, made from recycled Australian power poles and other FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified timbers, plant-based paints and oils, Terra Lana NZ wool insulation and wool carpet, all of which have environmental benefits and fewer toxins than other products, making for healthier homes for humans. Waste at their facility is also separated into eight types of recyclable material for landfill reduction of over 70 percent better than typical on-site building.

Árbol priorities local suppliers where possible, like Cromwell based NZSIP which allows for lighting fast construction times of 12-14 weeks with the highest insulation levels and structural integrity.

Prefabricating on the one site, rather than building homes in situ, has many other benefits for the industry. 

“It’s a controlled environment, so no down days for bad weather, and you get a better product faster and the disruption is minimised. If you look at Ladies Mile, for example, when work starts there, the first residents will be living in a construction site for years, with builders coming and going, and all the noise and waste and everything else,” Marcus says.

All Árbol dwellings leave site with a Code of Compliance Certificate issued by Central Otago District Council, valid nationwide. Árbol also manages the on-site consent process. The company employs 10 people and can complete 16 homes per year but plans to double that production in the coming years. It’s also expanding to stackable units, with an eye to helping Queenstown’s housing crisis.

"Ultimately, we want to make a difference, both locally and in the industry. That’s why we’re here, we’re passionate about change and improving standards,” Marcus says.

Their clients have resonated with their attention to detail, quality, and comfort:

“Super happy with the end result, great work team” – Brenda Griffin on her recent delivery of an Arbol Pohutukawa two-bedroom home to Alexandra.

“Had such a wonderful first night in the house last night. We're totally stoked. Such a beautiful dwelling. Thanks for such an amazing product, you guys should be very proud!" – Grant Norbury

So, if you’re ready for better living, plant roots together and be part of the change, connect with Árbol today.



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