10th April 2017 • Fiona Corbett
With skills shortages and housing shortages prevalent throughout the construction industry, modular housing is being determined as the answer to the residential construction sector’s issues. Why is modular dominating and is it a step in the right direction?
Pre-fabricated construction may currently be the talk of the industry, but what exactly is it?
Permanent modular construction is an offsite based construction method which allows several components to be manufactured off-site in a climate controlled, factory-like setting. These pre-built, pre-designed components are then assembled on site in order to reach project completion, leaving you with a ‘modular’ or ‘pre-fabricated’ home. Unlike traditional construction methods, this is an approach which places the manufacturing, planning and design stage at the core of the overall success of the project.
Due to the fast and economically efficient nature of modular housing, the method is being put forward as the answer to the UK construction industry woes; including the lack of skilled construction professionals and the urgent need for more house-building nationally. In fact, modular homes can be completed in a matter of weeks, whereas on-site residential construction can often take a number of months.
It’s understandable to see why modular housing is having such a moment, but in what ways is the construction industry embracing the approach and can it really bridge the gap between the biggest problems facing the construction industry currently?
“Off-site construction could provide a huge opportunity to increase housing supply and we want to see more innovation like this emulated across the house-building sector.” - Housing Minister, Gavin Barwell.
Residential development’s do need a bit of work if ambitious numbers of new homes are to be met throughout the UK over the next coming years, as Gavin Barwell mentions above, innovation is necessary in order to increase housing supply successfully.
In light of this, some of the UK’s leading housebuilders have pledged their allegiance to modular; the answer to the innovation needed within construction? For instance, Berkeley currently holds a target of building 10%-15% of all its houses using prefab techniques in the near future. Not to mention both Taylor Wimpey and Persimmon also considering new modular developments.
Modular isn’t just catching the eye of residential developers; recently, financial services giant Legal and General have pledged to build the ‘largest modular homes construction factory in the world’, jumping into a £600m build-to-rent plan. Unmistakeably, pre-fab housing is being seen as a method with huge financial gain in the long term.
The scale of these planned modular developments suggests that it’s time to take modular seriously.
So, it’s clear that modular is a hot topic of conversation in the industry and looks to be a real feature of the industries plans to resolve housing shortages, but what does it mean for the built environment and residential sector? Is it a positive development?
Advantages As previously mentioned the build time on modular developments is significantly shorter than that of usual residential projects; this is a huge benefit when it comes to producing as many new homes as possible in short amounts of time, especially if uniformity is the necessary ingredient in a residential project. This is ideal when it comes to building housing for affordable renting schemes.
The use of construction technology which is improving by the day is also ensuring that the design stages of these projects are hugely successful. A great example of this is BIM, which is minimising risk of design errors during the manufacturing process and encouraging efficiency within construction innovation.
Reduction and total prevention of some on-site health and safety risks are also put into place as off-site settings can be much safer. Disadvantages Modular housing has been the cause of some controversy recently, which has spurred some questions about the eligibility of modular towards answering the construction industries concerns. Firstly, what does it mean for jobs within the traditional construction industry? Of course, there will always be a need for professionals within the built environment, not to mention that skills shortages are dominant, however, is modular likely to impact the way that the sector operates and the way that professionals work?
Another criticism that has been suggested is that modular homes have been known to have a shelf life of around 60 years in the past, over half the average lifespan of a traditional new-build. Due to the speed in turnaround and uniformity of modular developments, they have often been criticised as taking away from a builds architectural flair.
Modular housing is definitely a key trend in residential development currently, as it’s beginning to be taken more seriously as a possible answer to the industries current struggles. Although there are a number of advantages and disadvantages towards modular developments and there are a whole host of mixed opinions on the matter, it seems as though pre-fab won’t be going anywhere and may go some way in aiding skills and housing shortages.
In what direction do you see modular housing heading in? Tweet us and let us know your thoughts: @ThatcherAssoc.