Is modular construction the saviour of 2020?

On top of everything in 2020, the UK housing crisis is set to get worse before it gets better. In cities across the country, young people are unable to afford increasing rental fees or save to get on the home ownership ladder; the costs of rent or mortgage deposits are, simply put, out of kilter with living costs and earnings and the result is, more than half of people aged 18-24 and 18% of those aged 25-34 still live with family. Keith Richards

There is, undeniably, a private residential property crisis and the UK needs to increase its housing delivery by 24% a year to meet government targets. However, in such a difficult time for everyone, how can this be done safely, efficiently and with longevity for these young people whose lives are currently on pause?

Modular homes are quick to produce, and easy to fit. They are delivered 50% faster than traditional construction methods, cutting costs by around 35% for housebuilders and property developers. What’s more, offsite manufacturing saves both embodied carbon emissions and operational carbon emissions, ensuring BREEAM, WELL and other energy efficiency standards can be met.

Various property sectors have agreed and with the government still planning to fund over 100,000 modular buildings in the UK by the end of the year, it would seem that Knight Frank’s survey is right to suggest that modular housing will considerably impact the construction sector in the next five years. But are our industries ready?

In truth, there is a huge skills shortage within the UK construction sector, with fewer and fewer people getting into the industry and, it seems, many eastern European operatives migrating back to their homelands in the face of Brexit. Government and the industry need to rise to these challenges and the obvious options are to spend more money on recruitment drives, training and up-skilling; or, we look to cost-saving measures like modular housing initiatives. Companies, schools national and local governments are financially overstretched and funding for training is in short supply at this moment, so modular building is gaining in prevalence and popularity.

From its earlier days associated with budget hotel and student residential construction, modular building has evolved and improved, to become a mainstream part of the industry. Pre-fabricated pods for bathrooms are a longstanding feature of sites around the country, on projects with repetitive floor patterns. There are also various recognised methods of producing modules of much large scale; from the remote fitting out of redundant shipping containers as for example, hotel rooms, which stack together before creation of an applied shell, to factory formation of rooms, or apartments, or any module in between. All for transportation, lifting and placing on site for rapid creation of entire buildings, once the key ground works and structural aspects are completed.

Other systems are formed in modular panels built to high tolerances and high quality, in factory settings. These too, erect quickly to form housing shells, and promote rapid construction of dry environments ready for first and second fix trades, fitting out and finishes. They can be designed to be easy to handle and construct, with largely dry trades, of a size to suit rapid handling and construction, very well suited to forming housing for the young market that make up the majority of the customer base for ‘first time buyer’ or private rented accommodation.

Modular housing can be built on brownfield sites, sites which are often overlooked due to the extra costs it takes to develop these areas into thriving residential schemes – modular construction, with lower costs, can make these sites viable. The value of this cannot be overlooked; as industrial land uses fall into obsolescence; modular construction can be part of the solution to providing a new and effective life for redundant land, in what may otherwise become sterile sites laid to waste on the fringes of towns and cities.

At the same time, modular housing construction, in whatever form, helps to overcome the nationwide problem of limited housing supply, quickly, efficiently and cost effectively. And with the enhanced opportunities for quality control, some of the poor workmanship ghosts of house buildings’ past can perhaps be laid to rest. This has to be a win-win situation from any angle, helping as it does, the local and national governments to hit targets and provide reasonably priced and decent quality housing for those who need it, on a suitable timescale.

As the industry develops further, creativity will improve and we predict that modular housing will soon form the backbone of the UKs new built housing stock.

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Image by AI Leino from Pixabay

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