We didn’t always know that the earth is round, and pigs didn’t smell. But in the UK, we do know the word ‘Prefab’ has brought instant negativity for decades, reminiscent of the deliverance plan to address the UK’s post-Second World War housing shortage, some made of wood, some made of pre-cast reinforced concrete and poorly built, resembling perhaps your Grandfathers old shed, to last just 10 years in operation. Yes, just 10 years, they were never built to last folks albeit we have some of the greatest engineers that ever existed.
Ladies and Gents, please let me speed up to the 21st Century.
Could I even be bold enough to suggest we drop the description as Prefab in the United Kingdom, and replace with OFF-SITE instead? Where often these modern methods are guaranteed for circa 60 years and built to exceptional high standards. The Baltics, Scandinavia, Japan and the USA have all mastered in differing ways what seems some Brit’s are still struggling to comprehend is a viable option to build on 'mass scale'. The positives are obvious from quality, speed of build, to prevention of trades tripping up over each other on site and allows consistency in time and cost parameters established at the outset therefore greater control and less maintenance. Investors desire the fact that completion of the project is up to 50% quicker and more control over quality, after all its a factory-controlled environment, the traditionalist ‘Red Brick Brigade’ don’t wish to even think about all the modern methods available throughout the world which clearly work. At our last event, with our good 'innovation led' friends Mace Group, we conquered a few myths on Modular Construction joined by our forward thinking British based property developers, contractors, project managers, investors and architects guests. Our next event will focus on which mortgage companies are happy with modern-day Off-Site Construction and indeed the issue over attaining investors to invest in the first place to provide development finance (Equity&Debt). See here a project our UK Delivery Partner created that attracted 6 separate well known mortgage companies for 9 apartments. If the cost of money funding the project is good, combined with investors taking modular seriously, and lenders accepting homes to be mortgageable then we have a winner.
There are many solutions for faster quality build, all of which need to be considered very carefully including Volumetric and Panel Modular.
Residential and Office Tower Blocks in Modular are being built here in the UK up to 29 storeys, and growing, using different Off-Site methods available. One example by the developer Pocket Living click here is a truly ground-breaking project for the UK. Some projects may not suit modular if designed for traditional build already but where there is a will there is a way combined with starting the process far earlier with Modular in mind. We are currently tendering for thousands of Bathroom Pods, the remainder of each project is using other Off-Site Solutions and some traditional build even but purchasing pods to add value to the process. With one less big thing to worry about, the prevention of various trades tripping up over each other on a very busy complex construction site. For full Volumetric modular, where facade solutions go up more or less the same time as the modules this will save months alone when building, all suppliers including MEP, Groundworks etc suitably organised naturally..
And whilst a small handful of UK companies including an Insurance Company promising to "revolutionise housing" by investing in factory-built homes the exact completion time for the majority of these factories are yet to be revealed despite 'bravado' in the construction news and at conferences, still not proven nor able to deliver huge numbers of homes - they are well behind schedule that's for sure and no homes completed as yet the UK is well behind. Modular will not solve the UK housing crisis alone, it needs much more serious investment, help from outside of our quaint well established Island and significant training to correct our dire skills shortage. Most homes are built by the big house builders who have their own preferred way of working with proven sub-contractors for many years which is understandable in a sense but where is the innovation? The solution is not only huge investment in factories and production lines, it's a change of British mindset totally which requires confidence that future demand will be at least steady, which in the booming-and-busting British housing market is hard to find. Outsourcing outside the UK is evidently a faster robust solution where best quality proven Off-Site has been available for decades. We all welcome credible UK Modular Factories, there is plenty of room and we have already met 2 that are part of our key strategy moving forwards, we just wish there were a lot more significant serious players in the market that have facilities in full production now.
Our rough maths equates it would need 30+ mega factories to hit the governments ridiculous unachievable targets to build 1 million new homes by 2020 to help towards solving our Housing Crisis.
When I quote ‘mega’ I mean not British size factories as they are currently, they are dwarfed by what is available in the Baltics alone, we know at least 10 firms that can produce 80,000 square meters of homes each per annum. What is viable is working with our UK Delivery Partners to work seamlessly providing mass housing solutions working in collaboration, utilising our great British workforce, complimented with a foreign product which adapts to UK construction standards. The majority of enquiries we are currently getting the past 2 months are in India, Uganda, Georgia, Uzbekistan and Sweden, reliant on local partners, building absolute thousands of houses between them utilising our Off-Site Supply Chain predominantly in lightweight steel frame, and including an integrated structural system that is seismic resistant, thermally and acoustically insulated, and is based on a set of structural panels. Each element is made of a 3D structure in high resistance steel, defined by two flat meshes robustly interconnected by multiple perpendicular bars. The insulation plate is in the space between the steel meshes and has the specifications that are suitable for the project needs. This system is put together on site by means of the application of two layers of micro concrete of a pre-determined thickness, either by pneumatic spraying or by pouring it into the formwork.