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Modular homes – the solution to the housing crisis?

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Posted by Andrew Dudley on 20 March 2018

Andrew Dudley Social Housing Sector Lead

We continue to face a growing housing crisis and industry experts are divided in their opinion of potential solutions. Modular housing is one such potential solution.

Modular homes are built in “modules” off site at factories and then transported to and assembled on site.  They are placed on existing on-site foundations and their assembly involves clipping the modules together, connection to pre-existing services and the practical completion of exterior and roof structures.

Arguably the biggest advantage with modular housing is the speed and efficiency in how it can be delivered. Modular homes are much quicker to construct in comparison to traditional build homes with some developers offering practical completion on-site in as little as two weeks.

The homes can be assembled with relative ease and do not face the same challenges as the traditional housing market such as the shortage of skilled workers (caused by an ageing workforce and an exodus due to Brexit) and the British weather!  They are also considered much more cost efficient as the modules are assembled on a production line.  Modular homes are also considered to be much more energy efficient leaving a much smaller carbon footprint.  

Cheaper, greener homes assembled quickly- all good news, right?

Whether modular housing is the solution or part of the solution to the current housing crisis, remains to be seen and there are some challenges.  Whilst designs on a production line may seem like a good idea many registered providers and developers have their own requirements and bespoke housing offering and this may require investment in an off-site production facility.

Berkeley Homes, which currently builds 4,000 homes a year, is planning to create a factory in Kent where up to 1,000 houses and apartments will be produced annually which will then be craned on to sites.   The regulatory position is also far from established.

Modular homes require building control sign off but inspectors have to take extra precautions when signing off. Building regulations continue to change.  The evolution and technology seems to be moving much faster than the regulation.  This uncertainty poses an issue for the already risk averse finance industry. There is also a misconception that modular homes lack the quality of traditional homes due to the “cheap” build cost.  It is also unclear whether all new home warranty providers will embrace modular housing. Some people have also argued that the UK is not equipped to deal with and deliver modular housing unlike some of our European counterparts and we lag behind in terms of production and delivery.

Despite the challenges, there is growing interest in modular housing and there is no doubt that prefabrication is undergoing a revival.  As well as Berkeley, several other developers including Legal and General and Urban Splash have launched prefab’ homes divisions. Wolverhampton Homes, in partnership with Wolverhampton City Council will be delivering 23,000 modular homes as part of a pilot scheme.  

Also, recently, Tide Construction submitted a planning application for a 546 unit modular high rise in Croydon.  Does this mean that the housing industry is changing?  It is too early to say but whatever happens, industry professionals will be keeping a keen eye on such pilot schemes.

About the author

Andrew Dudley

Social Housing Sector Lead

Andrew specialises in property development and stock transfer for Housing Associations.

Andrew Dudley

Andrew specialises in property development and stock transfer for Housing Associations.

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