Small homes have become increasingly popular in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Now, South Africans have access to an off-the-grid, eco-friendly mobile home.
For some, going tiny could be an adjustment but for others, the PanGoPod might just be the perfect solution for additional accommodation.
The Biodiversity and Development Institute (BDI) designed off-grid eco-friendly mobile homes which are bigger than a caravan but smaller than a park home. Director Pete Lever of the BDI, designs the pods and builds them with technical assistant, Hendrik Louwrens.
Pete who is also an ecologist, has spent much of his career doing fieldwork in remote places, where accommodation, construction, and services are challenging. And while living in the USA for eight years, he saw tiny homes and mobile housing on a different scale.
“When I returned to South Africa in 2013, I started thinking this could be a solution for some problems in South Africa (service delivery, building in remote places, and need for social mobility). We designed the first prototype pod in 2017 and started construction in 2018,” he says.
The BDI is focused on biodiversity conservation but are mindful that the challenge cannot be tackled without confronting development issues in a sustainable way.
The PanGoPod offers the following benefits: reduced environmental footprint, freedom of movement, a safe, secure and weatherproof shelter and a healthy, beautiful and nurturing space.
According to Pete, its long-term vision is to provide an environmentally-friendly off-grid housing option to help address the housing and development crisis in South Africa.
“We need to improve the image of mobile housing and make it aspirational, which requires taking on some middle-to higher-end projects.”
Functionality and who it caters for
A typical PanGoPod is 7.2 m long, 2.5 m wide, 3.3 m high, and weighs 3.5 tons. PanGoPods are customisable and flexible in their application and can be detached from its trailer.
Pete says the pods could be designed as site offices, homes, retail spaces, pop-up kitchens or restaurants, work spaces and laboratories. Both mobile and robust and environmentally-friendly.
According to Pete, pods can cater to different stakeholders like farmers and business owners who want a mobile retail or work space. He says as the business scales in size, they hope to bring the cost down for a viable alternative to informal housing.
“Pods can help people live or work in a self-sufficient and environmentally-friendly manner off the grid, potentially even in remote places that currently lack services or prohibit on-site building,” Pete explains.
He says they could envision the wine industry using pods for many applications. “We could design pods as mobile tasting rooms and retail spaces that might be moved around to festivals, shows, and pop-up sites.”
A silver bullet
“I wish that I could say that there was a silver bullet to solve construction and housing problems for South Africans, and that the PanGoPod was it.”
According to Pete, tiny homes have become extremely popular and successful in New Zealand, Australia, USA, and Canada but remains an untested concept in South Africa.
“We think that a diverse segment of our population could benefit from the flexibility in design and application of pods, their extremely robust construction, and their mobility, off-grid capacity, and green credentials.”
Public response and cost
According to Pete, the feedback from the public has been both overwhelming and encouraging. “Everyone who steps inside our prototype is amazed at just how spacious it feels and how all the amenities are catered for.”
Though, he admits sales have been difficult to secure. But he says the BDI has only been marketing the pod intentionally for the last three weeks.
The starting price on the “shell” option is R340 000 and goes up to R565 000 for a fully-functional “plug-and-play” option.
“However, we prefer to produce a custom design and quote based on a client’s needs since many of the options, finishes, and additional items can be upgraded, downgraded, or changed to better fulfil a client’s requirements,” he says.
Are pods the future?
According to Pete, PanGoPods and tiny home living are not for everyone though. “Living in a tiny home requires a lifestyle adjustment, rather than just a down-sizing.”
He says for many people who don’t need the benefits of mobility, traditional building approaches will be cheaper and possibly more appropriate.
“But, the prospect of living off-grid and in a sustainable manner, where one can “just roll up” is very exciting and something we whole-heartedly love,” says Pete.
Contact the Biodiversity and Development Institute on 074 528 5664 or firstname.lastname@example.org