The Sweden prefab market leads the world for prefab uptake by a massive margin.
Eighty-four percent of detached homes in Sweden are prefabricated.
By comparison, Japan, which has one of the world’s most developed prefab manufacturing industries, builds 20% of its houses with prefab. Sweden’s unique construction sector characteristics make it quite different from the other prefab markets we’ve covered, namely Japan, the US, and the UK.
One similarity, however, is that Swedish prefab housing goes back to the post-war housing expansion and the 1960s.
Industrial capacity in Sweden emerged unscathed from WWII and the nation became a production center for Europe. Urbanization increased, culminating in the Million Programme. A country of 8 million would build a million new dwellings. It was the most ambitious housing program ever seen and developers turned to prefabricated elements to help surpass their colossal goal. (From 1965 to 1974, builders erected 1,006,000 dwellings for the project).
“The shortage of human resources was a serious obstacle to increased construction volumes and rising wages were instrumental in causing higher building costs,” write Thomas Hall & Sonja Videns in the Planning Perspectives academic journal. “Standardization and prefabrication were favoured by state support, prepared through a series of government inquiries.”
The Million Programme saw increased prefabrication of building elements and interior fixtures for apartment blocks, while most detached private homes, called “catalogue houses”, used modular factory-made components. When energy prices jumped in the 70s, manufacturers were also forced to make their designs and operations more efficient.
A lot has changed in 50 years, but speed and energy efficiency still make prefab a leading method of construction in Sweden.
The ability to assemble a house in less than a month is hugely advantageous in a country with one of the world’s shortest building seasons.
Lindbäcks, a major Sweden prefab manufacturer, builds components for roughly 20 multi-story residences (such as student accommodation, apartments, and seniors’ homes) per week.
Sweden prefabs is mostly timber-framed, which means they are not radically different from most mid-grade structures design-wise. However, when it comes to production, the process couldn’t be more different from the current industry standard of crews erecting stick-built house piece-by-piece. First and foremost, measurements and specifications are planned by computer.
Lloyd Alter sums it up well in an article on Treehuger.com:
“There are no drawings and no tape measures; it’s all automatic, cranking out a wall every seventeen minutes, including windows (in fact the windows are laid down and the wall framed around them) and insulation.”
Modern methods of construction such as these are just now coming to fore in the US, the UK and Australia.