14th February 2019
Prefabricated Homes

It’s a ‘prefab’ Jim, but not as we know it!

Prefabricated homes, commonly referred to as ‘prefabs’, played a major part in delivering homes to deal with the post-war housing shortage. The wartime coalition government under Churchill pledged to build 500,000 prefabricated houses with a planned life of up to 10 years. However, only around 150,000 were actually built, but a number still survive. They are testament to the durability of a series of housing designs and construction methods which were originally intended to have a far shorter lifespan.

Back to the future

The continuing housing crisis means that the UK needs to increase the current housing stock by between 240,000 and 300,000 new homes annually (to put that in perspective, that’s roughly equal to a city with a population the size of Nottingham). At present, the build rate is falling short of this target, due in part to labour shortages. So, modular homes could once again provide the answer.

Modular makes good sense

Houses made in factories and then delivered in sections that are assembled on site are becoming increasingly popular as a way of addressing the need for more homes. Manufacturing costs are lower, and it’s been estimated that prefabs can be ready for occupation in less than half the time it takes to build a traditional home. Firms making them are quick to point out that today’s prefab homes are built to high quality standards, and erecting them creates less noise and air pollution on site.

There are other advantages too.

  • Unskilled labour can be employed in modular housing factories and trained on the production line. This could be part of the answer to the industry’s current skills shortage.
  • Producing the components in a factory means that weather bombs or a repeat of the Beast from the East will have less impact, reducing the days that are often lost when more traditional outdoor construction methods are used.
  • Ecologically, modular homes use less power in their construction, and can be designed to meet the requirements of a greener approach to the environment.
  • The flexibility of prefabricated units means that they can be adapted to suit a wide range of design preferences and budgets.
  • Price is a key benefit – a factory in Yorkshire plans to build fully-fitted three-bedroom homes with a price tag as low as £65,000, although that figure excludes the cost of land, assembly and on-site service connection. However the final price still looks very favourable when compared with other construction methods.
  • Major names are entering the market. The insurance company Legal &General has built a huge factory outside Leeds where it expects to build around 3,500 modular homes a year, and has announced plans to open similar production sites around the country.

Councils leading the way

Homes England has supported Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council with a pilot modular housing scheme. The initial development consists of four modular semi-detached two-bedroom properties, and seven more sites have been identified. A spokesman for the Council was delighted to report that build time was reduced by around 10 to 12 weeks. For councils with long housing lists, this level of reduction can be really significant.

A model of how prefabricated construction could help build the communities of the future can be found at Etopia, a village to be built in Corby. The first four modular homes are expected to be completed by the end of March, and will be fitted with energy-saving technology and smart home equipment as standard. They will also have a system that allows them to generate and store their own electricity.

The future looks increasingly modular

Currently, the industry is experiencing an ever-increasing demand for new methods of construction which will aid faster and less expensive development. Modular homes could certainly be the answer to that. As ever, land availability could be an issue and it’s clear that more needs to be made available across the country to ease the housing shortage.