Imagine a world where, instead of taking months of serious hard work on site, new build homes were simply shipped in and put together within half a day.
Sounds a little out there? Not to one UK house builder it doesn’t.
Last year Berkley Homes purchased a 16,000 sq ft site in Ebbsfleet, Kent that they’ll be using as a pre-build property factory. The company say this will allow them to create 1,000 new homes every year. Once the homes are finished, Berkley plans to transport them to their site by crane and have them fully installed in time for lunch.
But the Surrey-based company aren’t the only ones looking to prefab homes as the future of their business.
Over in the North West, Urban Splash made headlines last year for bringing such properties to Manchester and Liverpool, selling 35 of their 43 houses in Manchester within a single financial year.
Now, experts are watching closely to determine whether prefabrication really could spell the next wave of success for a UK house building industry that has been rocked by recessions and ongoing reports of a nationwide housing crisis.
Prefab homes: The future of UK house building?
Whilst all eyes will be on the likes of Berkley Homes and Urban Splash to see whether factory-built properties really can revive the industry’s ailing fortunes long-term, some industry commentators have already pointed to the immediate benefits of switching to an off-site construction model.
Most estimates suggest that prefabricated properties can be produced within half the time of a traditionally built home, a figure which certainly sounds promising when you consider the UK government’s target to produce no less than 300,000 homes per year.
Meanwhile, a report by Systemic and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation found that off-site construction can produce far more environmentally-friendly homes than traditionally built ones.
What does this mean for UK tradespeople?
Whilst a move to prefabrication may pay dividends for those at the top of the food chain, the big issue we’re concerned with most is what impact this will have on the country’s legions of skilled tradesmen.
Those in favour of off-site building point to the fact that it will help alleviate a growing shortage of qualified professionals, reducing the number of skilled workers required to complete the construction of a new build property.
In the long-run, however, should prefabrication really prove to the answer to the industry’s prayers, it’s likely that we’ll see the majority of dedicated tradesmen plying their trade in factories, with only a handful remaining to carry out on-site installations.
The move isn’t likely to affect those involved directly in a home’s construction, either.
Over in Peterborough, nHouse have set up a factory to pre-build 4,000 homes per year, complete with fitted bathrooms, kitchens, lighting and other fittings, meaning everyone from plumbers to electricians and kitchen fitters could also be impacted.
The argument against
That said, it may not be time to pack up tools and bid farewell to your on-site mates just yet.
Critics are quick to remind us of other times in history when factory-built homes were touted as the future of house building, and even quicker to remind us that such lofty claims failed to manifest.
Given its fast turnaround times and relatively affordable pricing, prefabrication was first set to be the next big thing in the post-war decades of the 1950s and 1960s, before Labour Deputy Leader John Prescott tried to bring it back in the late 1990s.
At that point, the idea failed to take off largely thanks to the recession, though other factors – including the fact that housebuilders didn’t want to build homes faster than they could sell them – certainly came into play.
Meanwhile, Mike Leonard, Chief Executive of the UK Building Alliance recently told The Guardian that by eliminating the need for a skilled, qualified workforce, housebuilders investing in pre-fabricated homes ran the risk of poorer quality homes.
“What you’re getting with off-site is not superior,” he said. “It’s imported, and is costing British jobs.”
Will prefabricated homes prove to be the saviour of house building? How do you see off-site construction impacting your work as a tradesman? Join in the discussion on Facebook and Twitter, or get involved in the comments section below.