Modular homes are nothing new – prefabricated houses were put up across Britain as a temporary solution to the post-Second World War housing crisis and were meant to last no more than a decade. Yet for over 70 years, thousands of families have continued to call them home. They offered not only cheap rent, but unheard-of luxury to men returning from the war and to their families, who had been bombed out of their homes during the Blitz and ended up in overcrowded houses with no electricity or plumbing.
Today the interest in off-site construction is driven by another factor – a shortage of skilled labour. Whilst most problems seem to be blamed on Brexit at the moment, this one seems justified as the UK relies heavily on EU workers from member states to plug the industry’s skills gaps. Whatever happens in March this year or possibly March next year, we may not be able to rely on the traditional influx of EU workers, so attention is again turning to the benefits of modular homes;
- Factory skills are generally much quicker to deliver than on-site apprenticeships for example
- Women might be more likely to take on a job in a factory than on a construction site. At the Swedish modular homes company Lindbäcks’ factory, where the timber beams are fed into machines that align and fasten them into frames, around half the staff are female
- Off-site housing can be made wind- and weather-tight more rapidly because they have been assembled off site, thus minimising the risk of damage from the elements during the building process
- The more precise nature of the factory manufacturing process & much improved quality control methods should mean fewer snagging defects
- Cross-laminated timber, which is increasingly common in modular homes, provides a building material that is not only strong but is more sustainable than concrete
However it may be government policy that restricts the growth of off-site construction, no matter how good the opportunities or the lessons from other EU countries. By not incentivising the sector to build on publicly owned land, the volume house builders have the advantage & their financially focused business model may struggle to solve the increasing housing shortage.