Özdemir and Sheena Keskin have spent 15 years developing the Termo House. They say the fast, easy-to-build and eco-friendly system will provide low-cost housing for millions around the world.
A large blue lorry container stands in the corner of Sheena and Özdemir Keskin's small suburban garden. A piece of weathered larch-lap fencing has been placed against one side in an attempt to blend it into the surroundings. This incongruous box is the makeshift workshop from which the other unlikely structure in the garden was conceived: a modest, concrete single-storey dwelling called the Termo House. It's the prototype of a system that, the Keskins hope, will revolutionise housebuilding.

The Termo House system is faster and cheaper to build than conventional houses. Its construction needs no plant or scaffolding, it's quakeproof, floodproof, and it even complies with the Building Regulations. It is so simple to build that "13-year-olds can start work after five minutes' instruction," according to Özdemir. "All you need is a screwdriver, a pair of pliers and a spanner." "It's my baby," says Özdemir. This sums up the couple's passion and commitment to a project that takes up every spare moment and, so far, has cost them £30 000. The rest of their time is spent running a structural engineering business, where Özdemir takes care of the structural side and his wife Sheena acts as the QS.

The Keskins' brainchild has been in gestation for 15 years. Özdemir is Turkish, and has been involved in construction from the age of seven. The idea began as a desire to improve on the building techniques used traditionally in Turkey, based on rendered hollow clay blocks.

Özdemir wanted to find a way of using simple formwork methods to build safe, energy-efficient buildings that would endure the extremes of the Turkish climate. But within Turkey, this dream seemed impossible to fulfil. Attitudes there are so entrenched, they make UK construction seem positively liberal. So, the Keskins were left to develop the Termo project on their own.

In 1994, the couple started to develop the idea in the UK. One of the first ports of call was materials firm Hydro Aluminium Alupres. The response from them was: "Get this project on my desk now!" The result was a delivery of six tonnes of standard aluminium sections, which the Keskins paid to have welded together to form the U-sections to make wall panels. Other companies provided the rest of the materials to complete the prototype.

The Termo House is moulded by pouring or pumping concrete into a formwork of aluminium panels. These panels are designed to bolt together easily and because they are small, infinite design permutations are possible. A structure of up to three storeys can be built and the roof area used as living space if required. Insulation boards, electric and water conduits and receivers for doors and windows are all incorporated in the aluminium mould.

Once the formwork has been erected it takes half a day to fill it with concrete. After two days' curing, it takes three more days to remove the formwork. Özdemir calculates that a team of four or five people could complete a 100 m2 single-storey house in 10-15 days. Almost no training is required and savings of up to 40% are claimed on superstructure costs.

The system has other advantages besides ease and economy of construction. The high thermal mass of concrete helps the building maintain a constant temperature, reducing reliance on heating and air-conditioning systems. A U-value of 0.28 W/m2°C is claimed for the wall construction; this meets the proposed revisions to Part L of the Building Regulations. The insulation thickness can be increased to comply with the enhanced U-values proposed under stage two of the Part L changes.

The internal concrete walls offer good soundproofing and can withstand a lot of abuse compared with stud and plasterboard. Their finished surface is smooth enough to take textured wallpaper, although a skim coat might be needed where a perfect finish is required, such as painting directly onto the wall surface.

The main obstacle the Keskins face is a lack of funding to take the project forward. It has the support of BRE, and the Department of Trade and Industry was impressed enough to award it a £35 000 grant from its SMART programme, which is intended to help inventors become entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, most of this money will be swallowed up gaining independent certification for the insulation.

Sheena recently approached a PR firm for help. "They wanted £1000 before they even did anything," she sighs. But she remains philosophical: "We can't solve the problem in one day." The couple hope that a partner – ideally a consortium of contractor and client – will come forward and help with a pilot project, so that the construction and use of a whole building can be monitored and Building Regulation approvals gained. Once this happens, the system could be licensed or franchised.

For now, though, the Keskins are sustained by their vision of the future. "The system is good for my children and my grandchildren," says Özdemir. Given a little help, the Termo House could spread beyond the confines of the larch-lap fencing to provide simple, low-cost housing for millions around the world.

Putting it together

Aluminium beams act as a former for the reinforced concrete floor slab. This slab can be constructed conventionally on footings, or using miniature piles if ground conditions are unstable. Aluminium shuttering panels are attached to the floor and bolted together to form the walls. The panels come in three widths – 100, 175 and 300 mm – to allow for room sizes or the whole building to be varied in the same increments. Insulation panels are installed against the shuttering. A second leaf of shuttering is then installed to form the inner part of the wall. The shuttering for the internal walls is constructed in the same way, but without the insulating panels. Wall panel sections are designed to take conduits for wiring and socket boxes and openings for doors and windows. Ceiling joists are bolted to the wall panels and Eternit wallboard placed on top to act as the shuttering for the ceiling and to form the finished ceiling surface. Fibre-reinforced concrete of grade C30 can be either poured by hand into the shuttering or pumped. Insulation boards are placed on the ceiling and a further layer of concrete poured on top. The roof can be left flat or a pitched roof installed, using a metal or timber frame.