MMC editor Joe Bradbury catches up with offsite expert Brian Maunder, Totally Modular to discuss the current state of the industry.
The housing sector looks bleak; a recent landmark review from homelessness charity ‘Shelter’ stated that we need to build three million social homes to solve the housing crisis – a shameful blight on our country in this, the technological age. Fuel poverty statistics increase unabated, with more than one in 10 households now living in fuel poverty. Regardless of your stance on how we get the job done, one thing we can all agree on is that we need to build more homes.
We need to build more homes to free those trapped in the private rental market and reverse the decay of social mobility in this country. We need to build more homes so that the estimated figure of 320,000 homeless people in the UK today decreases, rather than increases, as it is doing currently. We need to diversify the types of houses we build and how we build them because miles and miles of characterless new builds (some lacking in even the most basic fire protection) will not do. Spuriously ticking the affordable housing box via a loophole isn’t good enough. Britain deserves better.
A major review by housing charity Shelter, commissioned in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster, suggested that an additional three million social homes and an investment of £214bn in a 20-year housebuilding programme is needed to solve the housing crisis. Specifically, the report called for 1.27 million homes for those in greatest housing need, 1.17 million homes for younger families who cannot afford to buy and 690,000 homes for older private renters struggling with high housing costs beyond retirement.
How can we change it?
Modular and volumetric building has been gaining momentum over the last few years and now it is widely accepted that the future will need to incorporate more modular technology to meet bustling demand. Recently, the Government pledged an extra £5 billion to build 25,000 more homes by 2020 on top of their housing target and 225,000 in the longer term, utilising offsite at the core of each build programme. But it still isn’t enough.
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MMC Magazine headed over to the Black Country to meet with Totally Modular Sales Manager Brian Maunder for a tour around their factory and a talk about the industry.
Totally Modular builds houses in a factory and transports them to site on an articulated lorry, where they are craned onto pre-laid foundations. The houses leave the factory virtually complete and can be already fitted out with kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms; they can even have built-in furniture, so are ready for occupancy.
All that needs to be done on site is lower the house onto its foundations and connect it up for power, gas, water and sewage. This usually only takes a few hours and then they are ready to hand over keys to the front door.
The houses are built around a strong steel space frame and can be clad in virtually any building material including brick, render, timber or a mix of these. Thus, they can be designed to match existing local houses, appear traditional or be at the cutting edge of a modern architectural style. They are double-glazed and highly insulated as standard so that they meet the most demanding energy efficiency requirements.
Totally Modular makes houses in several different sizes and layouts. They can be detached, semi-detached or terraced. Further, the company also applies the same design principle to building modular apartment units which can be stacked to create blocks of flats.
Brian also took us over to Dudley College to see ‘advance II’, a new Centre for Advanced Building Technologies. Advance II provides skills development in high level Building Services Engineering, Civil Engineering, Construction Design and Building Information Modelling. It is the first of its kind in the FE sector offering students training in the latest construction techniques.
Much of the curriculum is driven by both industry needs and the Government’s agenda on low carbon – both for new build and retrofitting of existing buildings – to meet targets. The new materials, products and technologies involved mean new skills are required.
- Q) Brian, what is the biggest misconception surrounding offsite construction?
- A) That it costs less! Modular construction isn’t a cheaper alternative to traditional build, and should not be pitted as such. This type of thinking is actually preventative in delivering more homes using modern methods of construction.
Modular construction is an important part of the solution to how we tackle the housing crisis. We cannot meet demand with traditional methods alone – neither should we aim to.
We should build more homes offsite because it is the right thing to do. Because it generates less waste, takes less time, requires fewer materials, and creates healthier and more efficient homes. Offsite is better for our environment… and the environment affects us all!
- Q) In what capacity will modular building best serve to tackle the housing crisis?
- A) By increasing speed of delivery and improving the quality of homes there will be a lot less snagging issues. Modular construction is safer too, with less risk of accidents in factory compared to building sites. Less wastage also means better green credentials, and as only ground preparation is done on site it offers less local disruption. Offsite is the perfect method in which to innovate and move forward; it is much easier to implement technology such as Solar PV battery storage into a run of houses made in factory than on-site.
- Q) What obstacles do we need to overcome in order to deliver the homes sorely needed in Britain today?
- A) The culture of traditional delivery needs to change. Basic ignorance about modern materials and methods that can be used is sadly still rife. Social housing providers are still struggling to commit. Financial modelling is not taking account of the total benefits available or attributing any cost savings as a result of cost certainty, lack of weather delays etc.
The industry needs to stop trying to push offsite as a cheaper alternative and start educating people that offsite construction needs to happen more, it is the conscious and responsible thing to do for the people of our country, and the wider world overall.
There’s room for both traditional and modern methods of construction within the market. They must support one another, not compete. Britain needs healthy homes. Offsite is a big part of the solution.
Meeting with Brian was refreshing. There’s nothing negative about deeply embracing a problem and trying to understand how we fix it. From my own personal experience as an editor within the construction industry I have witnessed a lot of false positivity surrounding modular construction – which only serves to hold us back as a sector.
E3G and National Energy Action revealed recently that there were over 17,000 deaths due to cold housing conditions last winter and almost twice as many people died compared to the previous winter. Last winter’s excess winter mortality in the UK was the highest since 1976. There are an estimated 250,000 people homeless in Britain today. People are dying in cold homes and on the streets and yet we can create an air tight houses en masse in a matter of days within a factory.
Its time people started putting their money where their mouth is and commit to making things better. Construction needs to change… and begins within.