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Is modular construction the answer to the housing crisis?

With the UK in the midst of a serious housing crisis, there is an urgent need to build affordable homes quickly. According to research conducted by Heriot-Watt University and published in May 2018 by the National Housing Federation, England is short of four million homes. To meet this shortage and cover future needs, we would need to build 340,000 homes per year until 2031. In 2017/18, 220,000 homes were built.

 

What is Modular Construction?

 

Modular construction involves the manufacture of pre-fabricated units, or modules, in an off-site production facility. The modules may be bespoke for individual customers or produced in large quantities for housing developments. Once completed, they are transported to and assembled on site.

Individual homes are made up of several modules which can be supplied to varying levels of completeness. They can arrive on site fully fitted out and with all services installed and ready to connect.

There are many advantages to carrying out construction in a factory environment rather than on site. Waste is reduced, pilfering of materials is eliminated and weather is no longer a factor. Quality management is better with work carried out more accurately and efficiently. On site, the workforce is reduced, as are vehicle movements, noise, dust and pollution. This means a big reduction in the impact on local communities.

Modular houses are more environmentally friendly than site-built homes and are a uniquely sustainable form of construction. They are designed to be relocated rather than demolished and are made with a large proportion of recyclable materials.

How can it help the housing crisis?

 

The use of modular construction in the UK has largely been confined to non-residential applications such as schools and hospitals, or to one-off homes for individual buyers. Its popularity for housing in the UK is less than in other countries, due partly to associations with post-war pre-fabs and also to a preference for traditional brick-built houses.

Unlike the earlier pre-fabs, modern modular homes are designed to be permanent and could, potentially, make a huge contribution to solving housing shortages. The key benefits are the speed and cost of construction. Modules can be manufactured simultaneously with work on site, cutting overall programme times by as much as 50%. The savings made can reduce construction costs by around 40-50% compared to traditional methods.

 

The future of modular construction

 

There is clearly a need for the UK to embrace the advantages of modular construction. Unless we do, the housing crisis will not be solved anytime soon and further generations of young Britons will struggle to find affordable homes. Future immigration and shortages of skilled construction workers will only add more pressure.

 

It is unlikely that widespread adoption of modular technology will take place in the short-term without government intervention. Approaches to housing design and development are generally very conservative. Some modular houses are even having brickwork fascias added on site to satisfy customer tastes. If the true benefits of modular construction are to be realised, there needs to be a concerted effort to change consumer attitudes, coupled with government action to make it mandatory for councils to include a proportion of modular homes in their planning.

Author

Owen Dearn

Senior Consultant

Owen joined X4 Construction to specialise in placing project managers, site managers and estimators on a permanent basis in the South of the UK. He operates across a range of sectors and works with main contractors, sub-contractors, developers and consultancies...

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