Source: Archiblox Group
Modular homes are making a comeback around the world, and with good reason. They’ve come a long way since the days of learning algebra in a demountable classroom. With Australia currently in the midst of a housing crisis, perhaps prefab homes are our solution.
Australia has a checkered history with modular buildings. Surprisingly, as early as the 1800s prefab homes were shipped from England to Australia for the comfort of settlers. Modular homes again came to Australia’s rescue during the depression, housing the poor.
Today, Aussies would be familiar with the iconic ‘temporary’ classroom solution of the ‘demountables’. The ones built by the New South Wales government in 1965 were planned to last ten years. Today, there are still 6,000 of them in existence.
The modular building market currently represents 3 per cent of the $150 billion construction industry and is expected to reach 15 per cent by 2025. That means an extra $30 billion to the country’s economy, creating 20,000 jobs.
So, perhaps it’s time to put aside our obsession with bricks and mortar and embrace the modular home.
The Many Benefits of Modular Construction
1. Quality Construction
“The biggest advantage of a quality modular build is the use of DfMA design for manufacturing assembly,” says Troy Eiken, director of MMC Consulting.
Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) simplifies the design of a product. So, it’s manufactured and assembled more efficiently, quicker and at a lower cost.
“This usually ensures the project has been well considered, designed and built to a higher quality standard than a stick built home,” Eiken says.
Defects and rework are considerably reduced, as projects are built in a stable factory environment. Then there’s the weather.
“Offsite construction enables work to be completed regardless of the weather,” says builder Craig Millar, TLC Modular representative in Australia and New Zealand.
Onsite builds can experience delays in contractor payment, conflicts and skills shortages which can delay or even derail a project. A prefab build isn’t hampered by these issues, resulting in faster construction and quicker occupancy. This feature alone is sorely needed in Australian housing.
The 2019/20 bushfire season destroyed thousands of homes and even entire towns. Rebuilding these towns is expected to take several years but could be a lot quicker if the modular building industry was at a larger scale than it is currently.
The construction costs of building modular are reduced by 20 to 40 per cent. When the units are transported to the site, less labour is needed, so again, another cost saving.
“The setup costs per day, even per hour, are reduced,” says Millar.
By building in a factory setting, processes are streamlined, and technology plays a greater role. So, there’s less time wastage. Again, another saving.
That saving in time and money results in the lucky occupant moving in quicker, saving them a loss of money on rent.
Heavy machinery working in unfamiliar territory will always be a safety issue onsite. This hazard is reduced in a factory setting. Also, falls are greatly reduced as all construction is done not far off the ground level.
“There are less occupational hazards and incidents, so productivity improves, and it’s easier to maintain a permanent workforce,” says Sawer.
Air quality and temperature can all be tightly regulated and controlled in a factory setting, again, it’s the workers who benefit.
Research has shown that building modular homes to scale can reduce onsite waste by a whopping 90 per cent. Rubble, packaging, timber offcuts and excess plasterboard can be significantly reduced or eliminated by designing and building modular units.
There are other benefits to building standardised units. Instead of packaging, standardised, reusable containers can transport the modules. That means less landfill and less CO2 emissions.
The neighbours are happier too. There’s less noise and traffic because there are less construction workers on site. Lighting and heat energy is halved as there’s no need for amenities for the duration of the build.
“Modular building is cleaner and greener. There’s less waste and less disruption to the neighbours of building sites,” says Sawer.
6. Improved Logistics
Coordinating the delivery of different materials to a building site and storing them safely can be a logistical nightmare. Hiring security, fencing and sometimes even a container can be stressful and costly.
Modular builds have fewer deliveries to the site, so there’s less chance of damage or theft. Also, time can be saved by building the units while the foundations are laid.
The coordination of labour onsite is easier, as there are over 70 per cent less workers needed. That brings other advantages, such as less conflict, miscommunication and skill shortages.
7. Personalised to Suit You
Prefab homes are moving away from the standard, cookie-cut mould. While they all strive to be lightweight and easy to assemble on sight, they use different facades to stand out from the crowd. Different roofs and external cladding, windows and colour schemes can all make a difference.
The Future of Modular Homes
Australia’s population will grow substantially in the next 30 years. Between 2017 and 2046, it’s projected to increase by 11.8 million people. That’s equivalent to adding a new city, roughly the size of Canberra, each year for the next 30 years.
Prefab homes are the logical answer to our current and future housing dilemma.
Eiken says, “With the growth of modular and offsite construction will come scale. This will result in much more quality affordable housing for the market, and for this reason alone, it should be strongly considered.”