As housing took centre-stage during London’s last mayoral election, it became apparent that efforts to solve the undersupply of new houses would become a focus for all levels of government.
While many developed nations face rapidly-inflating property prices, they’ve hit UK city-dwellers particularly hard. About half of Londoners rent rather than own, costing them two-thirds of their salaries on average. Both the new mayor and his former opponent agreed on this: a massive spike in affordable development is crucial. Prefab construction could cut costs for both public housing associations and private developers by a quarter or more.
Ministers just announced plans to build 100’000 modular homes to tackle the crisis, as reported by the Telegraph. PM May aims to build a million new homes by 2020 — an ambitious goal, but not impossible if planners expedite manufacturing using in-factory construction.
Modern prefab construction is far from the postwar temporary housing that often comes to mind.
Today’s materials and designs are especially well-suited to the kind of development many believe is the key to fixing the current situation. Shelter, the country’s largest charity that researches and advocates housing policies, called garden cities and new towns crucial for increasing supply in a report published in 2013. With university apartments and townhouse complexes taking just a couple of months or less to build with prefab, builders could reduce labour costs for these ordinarily time-consuming projects significantly.
“Ministers were said to have been impressed by the fact that some of the new generation of prefabs could be put up on site in as little as 24 hours, as well as the potential cost advantages,” the Guardian reported.
The UK won’t be alone in implementing modular tech on a mass scale.
Some places already have developed prefab markets, like Sweden, where 84% of detached homes use prefabricated timber elements, or Japan, where consumers prefer prefab.
Other countries are also trying to increase their markets actively. China aims to have 30% of projects built with prefab in an attempt to reduce waste, build faster, and boost demand for its huge steel industry.
Prefab products can be indistinguishable from traditionally-built houses, and in many cases, architects use modular to try innovative new designs. Individual buyers and private developers feeling left out by the local market could likewise benefit by considering this fast-growing option.
How much time and money can the government save using prefab construction?
The time and money the government saves depends on which materials they choose. Each has advantages and disadvantages, but UK developers will most likely use light steel gauge framing and possibly some steel containers.
When one Australian developer decided to use modular containers for a 2160-square-meter apartment complex, he saved 40%. Total interior and exterior materials cost US$461 per square meter.
Labour costs were almost negligible as the structure was assembled in 7 days.
The cost of shipping, a sticking point of modular containers, was just under $50,000. This project is a mid-market example, and costs can get much higher or lower.