- Modular housing identified as a potential tool for providing social housing.
- Modular construction is swifter, cheaper, and more flexible than conventional methods.
- Prefabricated homes may play a big role in addressing homelessness.
Recently, the New South Wales (NSW) Government assembled a task force to explore the feasibility of modular housing and its potential for delivering urgently required social housing.
While modular homes have been trialled at a smaller scale at various locations across Australia, they are not common, mainly featuring in the regions.
According to a report commissioned by the Housing Industry Association (HIA), part of this is that Australia’s regulatory framework privileges traditionally constructed buildings.
Additionally, financing modular homes is challenging, as most lenders do not recognise alternative construction methods.
Still, modular homes have been largely overlooked by the general public.
What is modular housing?
Modular homes are built using separate ‘modules’ in a centralised factory where all construction elements are completed before being transferred onto a plot of land.
“Modular dwellings constructed by TR Homes feature concrete floors like traditionally built ‘homes on site’ and are usually transported in large sections that are bolted together on location,” TR Homes sales and business development manager, Nathan Hollis exclusively told The Property Tribune.
“The centralisation of the building process allows for a much higher level of quality control and a much more efficient construction process.”
Nathan Hollis, TR Homes
One major perk of modular housing is that it can better service customers in regional or remote areas where site builders are scarce due to geographical or economic concerns.
Hollis states this is their “greatest competitive advantage” as they provide regional home buyers with as many design options and quality finishes as a traditional site build.
“This underpins TR Homes’ core mission to ensure every Australian, no matter where they live, can enjoy the benefits of high-quality home construction.”
Advantages of modular housing compared to standard builds
Modular homes are built in a factory. Unlike conventional sites, this means builds will be unaffected by external factors like weather.
Nevertheless, like the rest of the construction industry, the modular home industry has been impacted by supply chain and labour constraints, meaning that completion times are currently above average.
TR Homes predicts that this will level off in the coming 12 months.
Part and parcel of enforcing high-quality standards is oversight by a construction manager.
“The factory environment modular homes are built in means that the facility construction manager can guide and supervise the tradespeople in a controlled environment,” Hollis said.
As modular homes are factory-built and transported to the site upon completion, less waste and site disruption are produced compared to their site-built counterparts, making them more sustainable.
Sustainable features can easily be added to modular homes, like solar power can be easily added during the design and building process as well.
Along with being built to code, modular homes are constructed with enhancements to ensure sturdiness. For instance, they can withstand severe weather conditions, including cyclones, a necessity in the northern regions.
Servicing remote locations cost-effectively
The costs for onsite builds can easily spiral in remote locations because you have to pay for higher delivery costs and the builders’ travel and accommodation expenses.
Modular homes are mostly completed within the factory, so they are cheaper to install than traditional on-site homes.
Consumers can freely observe the construction process
“When your dream home is being built, it’s natural to want to keep an eye on the progress. Often, conventional building sites don’t allow for this to happen, but with modular homes, clients are welcome to visit their homes at the factory throughout the construction process,” Hollis said.
Modular homes offer customers more flexibility than volume home builds.
Modular builders usually present customers with various home designs, working with clients over time to ensure that the home’s design meets their requirements.
This is particularly important for individuals living in bushland sites featuring extended land spaces.
Unlike traditional site builds where existing homes need to be demolished, requiring home buyers to source alternative accommodation, modular homes allow them to live on their land while their home is built and moved to the site.
Are modular homes reliable?
Although much has been said about the upsides of modular home construction, one of the biggest questions remaining is whether they are just as reliable as traditional homes.
To answer that question, Hollis responded by saying “unquestionably yes”.
“Modular homes are subject to the same regime of building standards as any other housing construction type, and in some locations, such as remote locations in cyclone zones, they are the favoured form of construction.
“An excellent illustration of this was Cyclone Seroja, which devastated the northwest coastal town of Kalbarri in May 2021. In this case, modular homes were left standing while traditional site-built homes were severely damaged or destroyed.”
Can modular homes make a meaningful impact on homelessness?
Western Australia has been dubbed the ‘rough sleeping capital of Australia’, with over 2,300 rough sleepers being recorded according to 2021 census data.
With rental vacancies at all-time lows and home prices at all-time highs, it is critical that social and affordable homes be delivered swiftly. Thus, the paramount question is whether modular homes can be used to the homelessness epidemic.
“Yes, in fact, this is already occurring in our experience – especially in regional and remote Australia where access to traditional site builders is almost non-existent or highly constrained,” Hollis said.
“One significant advantage of modular housing is that construction times are, on average, significantly shorter than traditional onsite construction.
“Although current supply constraints are producing challenges, the factory and site-building elements of the construction process of an average home are between 16 to 24 weeks.
“It is important to note that this precludes the pre-contract stage, where local government and other approvals need to be obtained, as well as modifications to features and design requested by an individual client.”
Indeed, there have been other instances of prefabricated houses being used to make cost-effective, high-quality social housing in WA.
The My Homes initiative is one such example, using prefabricated walls and floors in their builds to produce homes more cheaply and quickly than conventional housing.