Can modular housing turn the housing market on its head?

Times are changing fast in housebuilding. New technologies coming on stream and added pressure from politicians and communities to provide many more homes for sale and rent is forcing the industry to re-examine how it does things.
Enter stage right, the new generation of modular construction. Bearing little resemblance to the pre-fab homes of the post-war years, aside from the ability to be built quickly and help resolve a new housing crisis, modular homes are precision-manufactured high-tech products. It is perhaps no surprise that the traditional building industry has been slow to adopt the technology although it is strange that the radical shift in architecture and design has not triggered a corresponding shift in traditional construction techniques.
But perhaps the time has now come for those traditions to be overturned, or at least significantly challenged. Quite how modular homes are constructed can vary significantly from pre-fab units delivered to site for first fix to completely finished homes delivered to straight site – these just need connecting to services. And costs are similarly low stress – the latter type of volumetric developments can see two- and three-bedroom houses built for between approximately £50,000 and £60,000.
One developer – Eco Modular Living – claims its houses can be 25 per cent cheaper than traditionally constructed dwellings, delivered to site in just six weeks. They offer houses that can be leased and bought back after a number of years or moved to another site if needs be.
Clearly, this kind of low cost/high speed/high-quality offer has the potential to completely revolutionise the housebuilding market. More homes can be built, more quickly for less cost and in a way which can suit local communities much better. This flexibility also offers the potential for difficult sites to be developed by giving developers more scope to do the necessary preparatory work.
Environmentally, the credentials of modular homes appear impressive and, built on a large scale, would allow the country to edge closer to its stringent sustainability criteria. Planners appear happy with the look of the home, waste is dramatically reduced on site as is the potential for injuries to construction workers.
It may seem far-fetched at the moment but the time is surely coming when hand built homes will be reserved for high-end, bespoke developments. The movers in the market currently are not the traditional big name builders – Legal & General, Urban Splash, Places for People and a joint venture between Swan Housing and Basildon Borough Council to name a few at the forefront of modular developments.
Necessity is the mother of invention, as the saying goes. It is perhaps no surprise that social landlords, under considerable budgetary pressures, as well as newcomers to the industry should be leading the charge in this field – with their focus on delivering social objectives, they rather than traditional housebuilders may be the ones who turn the housing market on its head.