Is modular construction the answer to the housing crisis?

The UK’s housing crisis is no secret – it has made headlines now for years. Ever since levels of housebuilding began to slow down in the 1970s, the country has been heading towards issues of supply and demand where housing stock is concerned. One solution being suggested to the housing crisis is modular construction. But does modular housing actually offer a way out of the current issues?

What is modular construction?

It is essentially creating a building – in this case, a home – from elements that have already been built to size off-site in a factory. When these components are ready they are transported to the site of a home where regular foundations have already been built. There are obvious advantages to modular construction, in particular less time required on-site and the opportunity to find ways to speed up the construction process in factories. This has already been tested out on a smaller scale, with projects such as a modular construction test site in Tower Hamlets London, which is due to complete an additional 200 homes this year.

Why is change so desperately needed?

Recent decades have seen the cost of a home increase by much more than wage growth, leaving many people with no options when it comes to getting onto the housing ladder. Being stuck in a cycle of paying high rents often means no opportunity to save for the deposit necessary to purchase a new home. The other alternative is a low deposit mortgage but this can come with high monthly payments that may not be affordable for many. Social housing construction has simply not been a priority for recent governments and, as a result, only 57,00 new homes were built in 2019-2020, around 90,000 less than actually needed. Current levels of home construction achieve around 190,000 new properties every year, which is far short of the 300,000 a year necessary to avert the current crisis by 2030.

Is modular construction the answer?

There are many advantages to modular construction that means it could offer an alternative to the slow pace of build that has been the reality in recent years. Construction times for modular homes are much shorter than traditional buildings, taking around half the time. Many also cost significantly less. There are measures that can be implemented to ensure that modular construction reaches the standards set for buildings – and often this can be checked in the factory. Modular construction also has many advantages when it comes to helping meet net-zero targets for sustainability. There are sustainable and more environmentally friendly materials available to modular construction and the process of building itself can be made less damaging off-site. Especially when it comes to social housing – where there is a huge, pressing need – modular construction could make a big difference. However, the key will be overcoming the reservations of social housing providers stuck in traditional construction mindsets.

Modular construction could potentially be one answer to the housing crisis – but that will depend on how open developers are to making it happen.

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