Are Modular Homes The Future?

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Mud may be glorious if you are a hippo living in a hot country, but less so when oozing from a building site next to your property.  In such circumstances, it may be heartening to hear of an increase in off-site construction, with its potential to speed up building work considerably.

Social, economic and environmental changes have reversed many of the pros and cons of on-site versus off-site construction. Traditional methods of building in situ are giving way to alternatives where component parts are manufactured off-site, transported and fitted together on-site. 

Unlike mobile homes, on wheels and ever moveable, these properties can put down roots on arrival or, in the case of Green Unit ARC buildings, you can build a permanent structure that can be relocated, or added to simply by creating new sections or linking buildings together. 

small versionIn many instances foundations are still required but with the rest of the building being manufactured off-site the full build can be achieved in half the time of that of traditional construction methods.  Some Modular builds like Green Unit’s ARC™ are constructed on lifting frames (which avoids the need for costly foundations) and can be sited on pads or piles, on an existing slab or even on a flat roof.

Until recently, a quick build was not necessarily attractive to property developers.  They built to sell on the open market, finding buyers took time and a quick build could mean supply outstripping demand.  Now in the UK we have a much-publicised housing shortage and a government target of building 1 million new homes by 2020.  Off-site construction is suddenly attractive.

Environmental factors are also influential.  Off-site construction offers advantages over traditional building methods both in terms of using sustainable materials and producing a more energy efficient home.  Timber is capable of absorbing up to 90% of atmospheric pollutants, and timber panels are a key component of off-site construction. The industry has invested in developing sustainable building materials with greater insulating properties.  These reduce the energy costs (financial and environmental) of central heating in winter and air conditioning/ventilation in summer.

Until recently, much off-site construction took place outside the UK.  The carbon footprint from transporting property parts to the UK could off-set any environmental gains, as well as driving up costs.  Now, modular home factories are springing up in the UK, meaning much reduced transportation.  Indeed, the government has earmarked funds to support the development of off-site construction; alongside its aim of diversifying the house building market (currently just ten companies build about 60% of new homes). [Housing White Paper]

And what of the solicitous house buyer who, having addressed his neighbour’s exposure to mud and the wider world’s exposure to environmental damage, turns to his own needs?  He can eagerly anticipate:

·         Savings in time and money.  An off-site build can be as much as three months quicker than a traditional build, which has a knock-on effect on costs.  According to one developer, you can save as much as 3% of total costs [variohaus.co.uk].

·         No weather related issues during the build from rain, frost and snow as the property is mostly built in a factory.  Once settled on its foundations (if foundations are needed), all that remains is sealing sections together and connect plumbing and electrical lines.  Again, in the case of some modular buildings the majority of this work has taken place and only final connections are required.

·         A finished product of a uniform quality, as most of the building is done using state-of-the-art machines manned by qualified engineers.  Little, if any, risk of shoddy workmanship.

·         High grade building materials resulting in:

o   A durable property.  Legal & General Homes Modular manufacture homes in timber panels which come with a 10 year warranty and 60 plus year design life assessment.

o   Green Unit ARC™ buildings come with a 10 year warranty and an estimated 100 year life expectancy.

o   More efficient use of space.  External and internal walls are thinner than in a traditionally built house, adding as much as 6% to the living space.

o   Better sound-proofing, high-performance insulation and lower heating costs

o   As much or as little input as the buyer wants into the property’s design and specification: they can commission anything from a house that is ready to move into, to a “bare bones” property giving them free rein over all but the basic structure.

Clearly a modular home constructed off site is an attractive proposition for anyone – so much so that even the UK Government appears to be coming round to the idea!