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Housing needs a radical rethink for the 21st century

...and Kionnali thinks it's got the solution: meet 'Roamstead'

Hello there,

Bloomberg today reports that the UK will have a shortfall of almost 100,000 homes per year, and will need to build almost 400,000 annually, over the next five years.

With that in mind, there’s a timely theme to our two startups this week. They’re both tackling challenges in the housing market around the world in different ways.

We’ll have another for you on Thursday, and today we have Kionnali.

I’ll be honest, I wrote more than I usually do about this one, so more of the article is reserved for our paying subscribers. Join them to get:

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– Martin

Kionnali thinks it’s got the solution to the 21st century’s housing challenges

What does the future of housing look like? 

Given the changes we’re already starting to feel in the climate, tomorrow’s housing could be very different to what we see today. It potentially could look like what Kionnali is building.

While today’s homes are made up of a physical structure and then a bunch of different and very separate systems inside (electricity, water, internet etc), this Aberdeen-based startup has other ideas.

“We're trying to see an entire building as an ecosystem,” explains co-founder Corrin Fox

“From the construction of the building, to the systems that operate it–utilities, energy, all that stuff–and then all the way to the user experience of living in the building and how the user interacts with it.”

What this looks like in practice is modular buildings that can be delivered to a location fully constructed, and be available for immediate use. Because it’s modular, Fox says a full-size unit is the size of a three-bedroom house but can also be smaller.

And because the buildings can be moved, they open up what Fox describes as “a new paradigm in how people experience the built environment.”

“They can operate super-efficiently and run off-grid indefinitely. So you open up a whole other way of operating a building, of it actually being a flexible asset.

“It can flex to demand and make use of underutilised land with no impact on the land. You can have a building there for six months, take it away and put sheep back on the next day. And it doesn't really make any difference.”

“The way we build right now is very much rooted in the early 19th century. We're trying to move that into the 21st century.”

Tying in with the idea of the home being one integrated system, it will come with a mobile app that allows residents to control different aspects of the house and its utilities in one place.

What’s the market for this?

Kionnali’s first product is Roamstead, a self-contained housing unit initially aimed at the rental market, with a particular focus on holiday rentals in rural areas.

It aims to take the pressure off local housing in areas where Airbnb holiday homes have reduced the available housing stock.

For holiday homes, the startup plans to partner with landowners such as farmers to place these homes where there’s demand.

“They will provide the land for rent at the market rate, and then we can offer a development on that field that people can then rent,” says Fox.

“We're bringing income to the people who own the land, and market rate housing to people looking for housing, and we can put them in beautiful locations.”

Kionnali plans to offer Roamstead units for sale, as well as via a subscription package that would include the home and all utilities for a single monthly payment.

Fox says they have received interest from people in cities looking to settle down somewhere rural but who can’t afford house prices there.

“There are all these beautiful, small villages across the UK that have seen the population tailing off and ageing over the last 30 years. We're trying to bring some new life into those areas through a really flexible option.”

Housing fit for a hostile climate?

A timely part of Kionnali’s pitch is that the Roamstead concept is an answer to providing houses in areas blighted by the floods and wildfires that are increasingly ravaging our environment.

Because the homes are designed to be moved without much disturbance, they could be relocated if the area they’re in becomes dangerous. 

Fox even sees potential to place them near eroding cliffs, where planning permission would normally never be granted but there’s a beautiful view. As the cliff erodes, the homes could be moved back gradually over time.

Taking this idea further, Kionnali even envisages a version of a small house that is also an electric vehicle, powered by the same batteries as the house.

This wouldn’t be aimed at long-range travel, more for short distances for local relocation.

The story so far

Fox, who has a background in automotive engineering, has co-founded Kionnali with Avriel Skolnick who has a background in environmental science.

As Fox tells it, Skolnick came to a realisation that housing can be a key front in making a positive impact on the environment and looked for a way to make it happen. 

After conducting research, Skolnick found that while there were people rethinking housing, she couldn’t find anything that was both scalable and sustainable. 

And so she teamed up with Fox to find a solution.

“We started talking about how the way we build buildings right now is almost pre-industrial. You're still bringing materials to site and cutting it to length, and building things brick by brick,” explains Fox. 

“We wanted to figure out a way to take the best of sustainable technologies and ecosystem design and apply that to modern manufacturing, and supply chain management, and build a scalable technology product that could then get those innovations to as many people as possible.

“We feel like the best way to change the world is through technology. If you look at the way things like the iPhone or the Model T, there are innovations in manufacturing and design, but they've created societal change and infrastructure change and change to the built environment. 

“So just by creating better solutions, that's for us the best way to get those ideas out to as many people as possible.”

Skolnick and Fox are joined by three others in the Kionnali team, along with university partnerships that bolster the headcount to, Fox says, around 10 people full time on the project.

Go deeper on Kionnali

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