Dreadnaught

Modular, factory-built houses (Home Truths, BBC The World of Business, radio, podcast)

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A BBC Radio programme on modular, factory-built houses. Quite interesting.

 

"Does the house building industry need to change? Manuela Saragosa meets the disruptors, the companies trying to transform how the vast majority of residential property is built. Across the country new factories are springing up - in a bid to manufacture our homes in much the same way as we do our cars. The risks are huge."

 

"Significant investment is required to get things moving and demand for these new homes has yet to be tested. But the disruptors claim that the house building industry must modernise or die. Productivity is falling and traditional skills are in short supply - something that is likely to get worse as immigration reduces. Other countries, too, already build huge numbers of homes off-site, claiming that this results in quicker and cheaper construction. So, just how many of the hundreds of thousands of homes that we need to build might end up being factory produced?"

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p06w8yvf

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THe 'Productivity is Falling' claim is interesting, I wonder how that was measured?

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Haven't listened to the programme so no idea, but usually when an economist or the like talks about “productivity” they mean profit or turn over per worker rather than number of blocks laid in an hour or whatever.

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I saw a tv programme a few years ago about a small housing estate going up in America. All roads and services laid then a small modular “factory” built and all “stick frame” houses constructed indoors and dragged onto the plots and connected up. The “factory” was dismantled and taken away. I was impressed.

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It would be interesting to see how big an impact on build costs bad weather has here in the UK.  It must hit jobs like brick and block laying a fair bit (-2 deg C here this morning and yesterday morning, so I doubt much mortar got laid over the past two days anywhere nearby).  The problem is that many of the additional costs incurred by delays in getting a house shell up and reasonably weathertight are hidden, and just assumed to be things that cannot be changed.  Having had a house go up in 4 1/2 days to weathertight (8 1/2 days if you include the 4 days spent laying the foundations and UFH the week before) than I'm convinced there may well be a significant cost saving, as well as a potential improvement in build quality and thermal performance, by building house components under controlled conditions, under cover.

 

I know that workflow on our build was barely impacted by the weather at all.  The only weather related delay we had was with the roofing finish and PV panel installation, as that wasn't part of the pre-manufactured part of the build.  All told that was delayed by around 4 weeks due to bad weather, not that it had any impact on work inside the house.  Supplying ready-made roof panels, as well as all the wall panels, could have eliminated the roofing delays we had, and saved money had it been a commercial build.

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I listened to the first few minutes and given the subject matter I thought it would have worked better on TV.

 

I always find describing the size of something in relation to Wembley a bit annoying too.

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Posted (edited)

I think it is a little disappointing in saying that modular homes are quite such a new thing, and there seems to me to be a fair bit of huffery-puffery going on. Not that penetrating an analysis for the In Business thread.

 

I think what is happening now is a popularisation rather than a whole new thing. This for example is from the Egan Report (1998):

 

Quote

Housing associations such as Southern Housing Group, Peabody, Hyde Housing Association and Guiness Trust are implementing lessons from abroad to improve the procurement of low-cost, high quality adaptable housing. For example, the Dutch Open Building approach is being demonstrated, offering tenants a wider range of choices of internal fit-out in both new-build and refurbishment schemes. Modular industrialised housing systems such as those used in Japan by Sekisui and Toyota are being trailed to reduce the cost and time of construction and provide tight quality control. This can deliver housing with zero defects on-site, removing the need for expensive and time-consuming ‘snagging’ and ‘making good’.

 

and

 

Quote

Volumetric Ltd designs and manufactures prefabricated units which can be incorporated in a variety of buildings, including Forte’s Travelodge, speculative housing and housing association developments, military accommodation, private hospitals and top of the range self-build houses. Advantages include speed of construction, lower cost, reduced need for skilled labour and achievement of zero defects. McDonald’s Restaurants have demonstrated an ability to construct a fully-functioning restaurant on site in 24 hours, using a very high degree of prefabrication and modularisation. The design allows expansion or even relocation.

 

Space 4 in Castle,  now owned by Persimmon, have been going for approx 20 years, with onsite construction from kits to weatherproof in a very few days years and years ago.

 

One difference now is that the prefabs are more like the systems pioneered by eg Whitbread or Hotels, where things come in as "rooms" or "quarter houses".

 

One downside is that they are turning high value jobs into low value jobs, by deskilling for factory manufacture. Good or bad?

 

But as to whether it will increase quality. Hmmm.

 

And I see no plans to tackle the Planning System, though Councils giving themselves permission can presumably wing it, and avoid Section 21 etc overheads.

 

Ferdinand

 

Edited by Ferdinand

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