modular homes the future of construction?

Learn what prefabricated housing and modular builds are as we investigate the slow growth of this new manufacturing and building process capable of producing a habitable home in just a few days. 

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what is a prefab home?

Prefab homes or modular buildings are made of prefabricated parts that are manufactured off-site in controlled working environments and can be constructed within days or weeks.

The modular approach allows for much more flexibility in the construction process. There is less need to organise a workforce on-site for an extended period of time, battling weather and logistical problems as the majority of the work is already completed, all that is left on site is to put the pieces together.

modular building animation

The modular building process by Daan Snels

should I buy a modular build?

We surveyed 500 jobseekers on randstad.co.uk, asking that very question, would you buy a modular house? 

38% said no suggesting a strong distrust of the modular build design, with 19% questioning the quality of prefab designs. Where only 15’000 of the 200’000 houses built every year (Pinset Masons report 2017) are modular, a 19% result of not knowing what a modular house is, can be expected and speaks to the new innovative nature of pre-fab homes.

However, a lack of awareness or full understanding is what can hamper progress and investment in what could potentially be the future of construction. What this article will highlight, are the pros and cons of pre-fab construction and modular houses to allow you to decide for yourself whether your future home should or would be pre-fabricated.

what can a modular home offer me?

customisation options.

Modular building offers a simple and planned approach to a custom build. If you are in the market of building your own home, traditionally you would need to be looking into housing blueprints, organising a contractor, architect, a full team around you to complete an effective build. With this, of course, comes costs and time and often a lot of stress.

Companies that organise a full modular build handle all this for you. Imagine ordering a custom wardrobe that the company will fit for you in your house, or simply an IKEA cabinet but you don’t construct it yourself unless you want to. This is what HufHaus offer, a range of architectural marvels with pre-made designs and options standardised to high energy efficiency ratings.

cheaper build costs for affordable prices.


By achieving low price points from prefabricating structures off-site and creating an overall faster build from easy to construct modular pieces thereby requiring fewer workers and time to build, these savings can be passed onto the buyer. 

Swedish developer BoKlok created a homeownership concept working collaboratively with IKEA and Skanska, recently signed a deal with Worthing council to build low-cost housing consisting of 162 apartments available from 2021.

This is the start of a trial for 500 homes in the area all fully fitted with IKEA kitchens, flooring and tiles. Being a low-cost solution allows for more innovations in small room technology such as a partnership with Ori robotics in space-saving storage solutions.

 

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what can a prefabricated home offer me?

build a house in 3 days?

One of the key features of the modular design is speed. Going back to basics, construction is similar to LEGO or Mechano where all the pieces come in ‘a box’ with instructions where a team of 3 can build it. They don’t often specify the age range of the build but you get the idea.

Obviously, this comes with the lead time of manufacturing the pieces to put together which depends on an operation of scale. So the larger the business the more pieces made the cheaper the parts and the faster production would be. In Sweden where 84% of detached homes have prefabricated elements, manufactures such as Lindbäcks Bygg can produce over 25’000 square feet of turnkey housing. That’s 1’500 apartments a year from affordable housing to retirement homes without looking like mass-produced clones.

M.A.DI homes.

Touted as the ultimate in versatility, adaptability and sustainability M.A.DI. homes use standardised materials in a modular foldable system that simply unpacks on-site requiring minimal construction in as little as 2 days. 

The Italian company offers a range of four designs from 34sqm to 86 promoting the versatility of the modular add-on system to simply attach on another room, the possibilities ‘are endless’. Even the foundations are versatile, with screw piles if you fancy a move further up the mountain you can simply fold up your house with minimal damage to the ground beneath like football boots on mud.  Add some solar panels and a battery and you can even live off the grid in your eco-friendly triangle dwelling.

modular building animation

Lindbäcks Bygg modular building manufacturing production line

but I don’t live in Sweden, what would a UK modular house look like?

As mentioned before, the cost is dependant on the manufacturing process; the more builds the cheaper the manufacturing. Many developers, for this reason, can be turned off by the initial investment. Costly to run and requiring a high volume to justify, pre-fab builds in the UK require investment on a national scale to see returns across the country, it’s just getting over that initial hurdle. 

In 2018 Berkley Homes announced their aim to build 1’000 modular homes a year from their new Ebbsfleet factory in Kent. Leeds saw the insurance company Legal & General open their factory in 2016 aiming at 4’000 modular homes a year. Progress is slow but happening, embracing new ways to build can only be a positive step to benefit both new home buyers and the country.

two houses built in a day!

But modular builds are out there and growing in numbers. In 2018 ilke homes launched their range of sustainable homes in Doncaster costing a fifth less than other new builds. This British modular homes business installed two houses in just a day after their journey from the Homes factory in Harrogate and were put on the market at the same price as a traditionally built house but with half the heating costs of the average UK home.

"Our mission at ilke Homes is to address the UK’s chronic shortfall in affordable housing, creating consistently high-quality, energy-efficient modular homes at scale to the people that need them most… Using precision engineering and inspiring design, we look forward to working with our partners to create future homes for families across the UK”

Björn Conway, CEO of ilke Homes

ilke Homes - Modular Home Installation Timelapse

a tenth of average UK home running costs.

With customisation options, ilke also offer a carbon-free upgrade with factory-installed photo-voltaic panels reducing running costs to a tenth of the average UK home. And with over 100 possible flexible variations of build in both the private and public sector, modular houses open the doors of what is possible at an affordable price, presenting the average consumer with designs traditionally reserved for seasoned architects to build their dream home.

"The homes can be installed at a rate of up to six homes per site per day, meaning you could save as much as six months on a 50-home development"

Björn Conway, CEO of ilke Homes

buying a pre-fabricated home in the UK.

cons.

land ownership.

A lot of the disadvantages of buying modular will centre around the planning permission, land ownership and connection of utilities. Which are all valid reasons why, if you were to import your Italien M.A.D.I house and plant it on a cliff in the Scottish highlands, it might be difficult to install. 

high upfront costs and lack of finance options.

Another factor can be the price. Although the manufacturing process is cheaper overall with lower build costs at the final stage. If you were to buy your HufHaus and again get it imported over to your coastal lookout they would want you to pay for the construction costs before you move in with the option for a payment plan for the full house costs. This presents greater upfront costs, meaning a cheaper interest rate but a lot to swallow initially. 

However, both of these factors assume the only way to buy modular is to do it all yourself and assume the role of a project manager. Today, as seen from companies like ilke homes, you can move into a modular home, customising the build and options provided from discussing with the developer and estate agent, just like you would a new build of traditional design. And still, get the same mortgage and options, even the help-to-buy scheme at the time of writing. Really a lot of these discussions around the benefits and fears of pre-fabricated builds are based on antiquated assumptions and old designs that are no longer a factor. 

buying a pre-fabricated home in the UK.

pros.

energy-efficient, sustainable builds. 

From the very start, a modular build has the advantage over a traditional build to use sustainable materials easily sourced in the factory and assembled using precision engineering to meet more stringent guidelines of heat retention and durability. By creating an airtight seal on the modular components with the latest technology of windows and easy access to cavity insulation; claims from ilke homes to reduce energy bills by 20% can easily be achieved just in the manufacturing. 

fast construction.

To be able to move into a habitable home in under a week from construction is miles away from the current average of six months of a new build, even with the latest construction technology. In the UK, this level of turnaround presents so many opportunities to both design and live in your new home adding more freedom to one of the biggest life decisions you'll ever make. 

affordable luxury living.

When most people think of affordable living they think of a cheap poorly constructed house -  all things that you accept because you cannot find the £200k+ to secure a new home. Both short term in the buying price and long term in the energy bills, pre-fab homes can be cheaper or more that you’ll get more for what you pay for in these efficient builds. 

When you think of what a modular block of flats could look like, on the basic side of design, quickly and efficiently constructed, cheap rent or purchasing can easily be achieved. With still the option for luxury apartments, simply by adding modules to the design on certain floors. 

choice.

A key factor is also choice, both in the flexibility of design and the all-inclusive package. The ability to choose to customise multiple aspects of the building design or simply to choose a package that has all the options you like in it, tick and box and buy a fully-fitted house. 

Where the UK is filled with houses built in the 60s, 80s or older requiring refurbishment and redesigning at every step, fixing the ageing problems of houses over time, modular housing paints a clean slate. Having the ability to design every aspect opens up the opportunities that before might not have been possible in a small village in Sussex for example.

modular house vs. traditional house.

Buying a new house is an important decision, and sometimes you can feel like you’ve been forced into a decision to pick what’s left or available. To design your dream house would be ridiculous, you don't know an architect or where to start, but you’ve got ideas and you’d like to try. 

There is no definitive answer to which is better or worse, or right for you, that’s something you’d need to decide based on your life. But by having all these new options today, the ability of choice and freedom of thought means we are losing more limitations of what is possible every day. There are no significant differences in build quality of modular houses and traditional builds and like with all developments it will depend on who is building them and where they are made. But as we see the technology improve and investment increase expect more options in what your new house could look like, ever-improving materials, ecological factors and clip-on extensions.

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glossary.

Hufhaus

- A modular building design company creating luxury unique buildings based on innovative architecture and sustainable quality standards updated and followed for over 100 years.

Turnkey Housing  

- A fully renovated home or apartment building that an investor can purchase and immediately rent out.