Richard Hyams 10 August 2020

A modular solution to the housing crisis

A modular solution to the housing crisis image

The COVID-19 pandemic has made clear the absolute importance of safe shelter for all. So, it is positive that the initiative which housed 15,000 homeless people in hotels during the lockdown has received further funding. However, the desperate need to find safe, affordable and sustainable accommodation for the homeless population persists.

The Government has long promised new, affordable homes, but target after target (the latest of which is 300,000 of affordable homes per year) is yet to be met and the effects of COVID-19 on housebuilders risk progress being slowed further still. So, now is the time to look to new solutions. Modular construction, a model increasingly being adopted by all three listed house builders, Persimmon, Taylor Wimpey and Vistry, offers a solution with speed, sustainability and safety at its heart.

Efficiency is of the essence

With the homeless population rising and the need for more affordable homes growing ever more urgent as a result, the speed with which housebuilders can deliver accommodation has become increasingly important. This is just one area where modular offers major benefits. As modular homes are pre-designed and pre-packed, homes can take as little as three days to assemble and require a smaller, semi-skilled workforce with months, rather than years, of training to carry out construction.

Moreover, modular construction is not subject to the usual, often uncontrollable pressures to which most traditional construction entities are subject. In fact, the modular building process is far less labour intensive, not impacted by weather and conducted off-site allowing for a far more cost-effective process.

Reused, repurposed, relocated

With the building and construction industry responsible for 39% of all global carbon emissions, the significant task of delivering the homes the UK desperately needs must be matched with a commitment to sustainability. Positively, the modular building process is far more environmentally conscious and sustainable as compared to traditional building methods.

With manufacturing offsite in controlled factory conditions maximising efficiency, the installation and assembly process require 90% less vehicle traffic than traditional construction. Furthermore, most modular buildings require less energy to run, as they comply with the latest L2 Building Regulations governing the thermal efficiency of buildings.

As a result, it takes up to 67% less energy to produce a modular building and with life-cycle costs factored in, modular buildings can deliver a lifetime energy saving of up to 90%. As projects are built in factories, they only build as much as they need, reducing project waste by up to 90%. Moreover, in many cases modular buildings can be reused, repurposed and relocated. This means that energy efficient homes can be delivered with ease to meet national carbon-zero initiatives.

Safer workers and safer environment

However, delivering homes to provide shelter to the UK’s homeless population in the era of COVID-19 clearly presents new challenges, observing social distancing chief among them. Unlike conventional building methods, modular construction offers a safer process for both the workers and the environment. Critically, factory building allows social distancing to be safely practiced and monitored, meaning that this sector can operate effectively even as COVID-19 safety precautions remain in place.

In the longer term, the fact that the modular process is carried out offsite using specialist machinery in controlled factory environments not only reduces waste and environmental pollution, but the risk of slips, trips and falls. Onsite activity is also far lower, ensuring health and safety can always remain a top priority.

A modular solution to the housing crisis

An estimated 62,280 homeless families, including 120,000 children, currently live in temporary accommodation. While, over one million households are on social housing waiting lists. The effects of COVID-19 risks these numbers climbing higher still.

Modular construction offers one of the best development solutions to the current UK housing crisis. With vast improvements in speed, cost-efficiency, waste reduction, sustainability and health and safety standards, the opportunity to deliver the affordable homes the UK urgently requires must be seized now and at scale.

Richard Hyams is founder and director of astudio

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