LONDON -- Call it the ultimate Do-It-Yourself project: download blueprints for a two-bedroom, two-story house from the Internet -- for free. Take the plans to a 3D-type precision printer to have designs of the house's pieces cut from plywood. Gather some friends and assemble the pieces like a jigsaw puzzle -- without the need for professional construction crews.
That's the challenge from WikiHouse, an online coalition of design specialists, engineers and architects who describe themselves as a non-profit project developing hardware and software freely shared with the public.
"There is a cost savings in what's called sweat equity -- which is if you can do some of the work yourself, you are not having to pay someone to do it," says Alastair Parvin, one of WikiHouse's co-creators.
To prove their point, WikiHouse assembled a version of its 730-square foot home in London, on the grounds of the London Building Centre. The group posted a time lapse video showing how less than two dozen volunteers -- with no professional building experience -- assembled the home in eight days.
Architects and designers, however, did take part in this house's assembly. "It's not easy," Parvin says, advocating that WikiHouse offers amateur builders the opportunity to bring in a consultant architect to assist with parts of the build -- instead of hiring one full-time at greater expense. WikiHouse supporters say anyone with enough skill to put together a typical IKEA product can handle a WikiHouse.
All of the pieces of the house are labeled or numbered (see the printout here). Printout instructions guide would-be builders on how to fit the pieces together, WikiHouse designers insist, with nothing more than staples and screws. Even the project's ladder and hammer are print-out layers of plywood, assembled together.
"If the hammer does the job, what's wrong with it?" asked Sean McKeon, a professional builder taking a tour of the WikiHouse, as he gave the hammer a soft tap on a wall.
The London Building Centre's "model home," was a popular attraction at London Design Week. Organizers say the structure cost less than $81,000 to build. However, the volunteer builders did have to modify the WikiHouse designs to add rain screens and a waterproofing seal to protect the house from England's rainy weather.
"The key thing, of course, is building it properly," warns John Bonning, Commercial Director of the London Building Centre. Bonning says would be homebuilders should check into local zoning and planning laws prior to construction.
WikiHouse says it will make the WikiHouse 4.0 files available to consumers by January. However, consumers will have to find a Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine - cutters that use computers to cutout housing pieces with digital precision -- to ensure the parts' slots, wedges and pegs fit together properly. CNC machine distributors in the United States say while CNC machines aren't as common as regular cutters at hardware stores, they are easier to find than 3D printers.
WikiHouse co-founder Parvin says these homes are eco-friendly: running on low-voltage power; using low-energy lights that can be controlled by cell phone; housing a ventilation system made from recycled soda cans.
But can they stand up to extreme weather like strong winds -- or worse? That part of the ongoing projects is still being tested, Parvin says. What's important, he adds, is that WikiHouse is using technology to put the power to build sustainable, more affordable homes away from professionals who normally construct them, in the hands of the people who would live in them.
Follow Alphonso Van Marsh on Twitter: @AlphonsoVM