New pre­fab boom on hori­zon as builders go mod­u­lar

This week’s hous­ing white paper opened the door to pre-fab­ri­cated homes. Sharon Dale re­ports.

Yorkshire Post - Property - - PROPERTY NEWS -

THE TERM “pre­fab” is tainted by its as­so­ci­a­tion with damp and mouldy prop­er­ties orig­i­nally com­mis­sioned by Churchill as a tem­po­rary fix for the post-war hous­ing short­age.

Now, faced with a 21st cen­tury hous­ing cri­sis, the gov­ern­ment is once again em­brac­ing fac­to­ry­built homes. This week’s white paper en­ti­tled “Fix­ing our bro­ken hous­ing mar­ket” re­vealed sup­port for off-site con­struc­tion. This shift in strat­egy comes af­ter great strides in the sec­tor, where new ma­te­ri­als and tech­nolo­gies have vastly im­proved the qual­ity of the prop­er­ties, now re­branded as “mod­u­lar homes”.

Pre­fab­ri­ca­tion, aka mod­ern meth­ods of con­struc­tion, has been tried and tested on com­mer­cial build­ings and by self-builders. While it is not al­ways cheaper, it is far quicker and more re­li­able than tra­di­tional brick and block builds, where project de­liv­ery times are af­fected by skills short­ages and the weather.

The gov­ern­ment back­ing for the nascent in­dus­try is wel­come news for in­vest­ment and in­sur­ance gi­ant Le­gal and Gen­eral, which has just opened the world’s largest mod­u­lar homes con­struc­tion fac­tory in Sher­burn-in-El­met, near Selby.

The fac­tory is now build­ing pro­to­type show homes and has am­bi­tious plans to pro­duce up to 10 prop­er­ties per day from 12 pro­duc­tion lines, which adds up to more than 3,000 a year.

The dwellings will be con­structed from cross­lam­i­nated tim­ber made by glu­ing to­gether sheets of tim­ber. The fac­tory will have its own lam­i­na­tion plant, with large CNC ma­chines used to cut wall and floor pan­els with open­ings for doors and win­dows. CLT can be used to build ev­ery­thing from fam­ily homes to flats, which can be flat packed and as­sem­bled on site or built and craned into po­si­tion. Ac­cord­ing to Le­gal and Gen­eral, CLT is al­ready the fastest-grow­ing build­ing ma­te­rial in cen­tral Europe and Ja­pan.

This week’s hous­ing white paper prom­ises fi­nan­cial sup­port for mod­ern meth­ods of con­struc­tion from its Home Build­ing Fund and its in­no­va­tion and growth fund, while mak­ing public land avail­able for the pre­fab projects, en­cour­ag­ing plan­ning per­mis­sions and putting pres­sure on banks to lend on mod­u­lar schemes.

Lack of land in ur­ban ar­eas has led to in­no­va­tive plans to build homes that sit above ground level in city and town cen­tre car parks. JLL has iden­ti­fied al­most 10,500 ur­ban car parks in the UK as suit­able for ac­com­mo­dat­ing 400,000 homes with no loss of park­ing spa­ces.

ZED Fac­tory has just built a pro­to­type of a pre­fab house on stilts over a park­ing bay at the build­ing sci­ence cen­tre in Wat­ford. The ZEDPod costs about £65,000 to pro­duce and is en­ergy self-suf­fi­cient thanks to photo voltaic pan­els and bat­tery stor­age.

Pulse Mod­u­lar Homes is work­ing with North Lin­colnshire Coun­cil to build a five-storey block of flats on a steel podium above a car park in Scun­thorpe and is keen to ex­port the idea to Leeds.

The com­pany’s co-founder David Brown says: “We can com­plete projects in un­der half the time of a tra­di­tional build with a higher level of qual­ity. It should also be 10 per cent cheaper.”

He de­scribes the apart­ments as “car­a­van-style” pods with cladding that will be craned onto the site. He adds that sci­en­tific tests show that car fumes won’t be an is­sue for res­i­dents

The de­vel­op­ment is a joint ven­ture be­tween the coun­cil and Pulse and Pulse’s fund­ing has been pri­vately sourced. Find­ing a lender to sup­port non-stan­dard con­stric­tion projects is dif­fi­cult.

“Bor­row­ing is a prob­lem for schemes like ours but we are pleased that the gov­ern­ment has pledged its whole­hearted sup­port for off-site con­struc­tion.

“That should make a big dif­fer­ence,” says David. He adds that find­ing a mort­gage for mod­u­lar homes should not be a prob­lem as long as they have an NHBC war­ranty.

Jonathan Mor­gan, of Leeds city liv­ing spe­cial­ists Mor­gans, be­lieves that util­is­ing car parks is “def­i­nitely an op­tion for Leeds but will re­quire part­ner­ships.”

Charles Calvert, head of JLL’s res­i­den­tial team in Leeds, adds: “It will take many years be­fore off-site con­struc­tion makes a big dif­fer­ence, but the gov­ern­ment is spot on sup­port­ing this sec­tor.”

It will take years be­fore off-site con­struc­tion makes a big dif­fer­ence.

Charles Calvert, JLL Leeds.

ZEDPODS: Homes above car parks are pos­si­ble, as ZEDFac­tory has shown with its new pro­to­type, one of many in­no­va­tive ideas.

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