19th January 2017

The rise of modular building – what are the potential impacts on the UK construction industry?

As every construction company knows, building projects take time, planning and detailed resources. Constraints on time and budgets means that companies are under increasing pressure to find ways to deliver their projects leaner and faster.

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The growth of offsite construction, or modular building is something that a number of constructions companies are looking at in order to deliver these savings and as an alternative to traditional building methods.

Of course modular building isn’t something new. We probably all have a relative somewhere who lived in, or knew someone who lived in a prefabricated building after the Second World War. Back in the late 1940’s prefabricated buildings were an essential route to getting the UK’s housing stock back online after the bombing suffered in many of the UK’s large cities. So why hasn’t this form of house building taken off in a much bigger way now?

One of the obstacles to modular building at the moment is the perception with which prefabricated buildings are viewed by the general population who remember the cold, drafty properties of post war Britain and images of dreary looking temporary homes. But, times and innovation have changed a lot in the world of modular construction. We are constantly seeing new modular homes and buildings cropping up in prime locations. These are often bristling with high tech appliances and finishes and are a world away from the post war efforts we often remember.

For construction companies there are a number of benefits in considering modular construction. Take the good old British weather for example. With modular construction, the majority of the main construction is carried out in a factory or other inside location reducing the risk of time slippage on the project especially during the winter months. The average house building project in the UK is estimated to take 18 months to complete. With the equivalent modular build, that time can be reduced to as little as 10 months from arrival of the modules on site to completion of the interior fit out.

One side effect is that there could be an impact on the construction labour market. We do not know what the effect will be on trades such as bricklayers, carpenters, electricians and others who may be affected if modular construction becomes the new standard for house building. How will they fit into this new way of building? We don’t know yet but it could be a huge opportunity for these trades with more skilled trades being required if modular building takes off. The biggest hurdle is still public perception. A recent survey carried out by RightMove.co.uk showed that 73% of people would prefer, if given the choice, to live in a detached house apart from any neighbours. Could this mean a lack of market for any modular apartments built? In reality probably not. One prime market would be densely populated areas that suffer from a lack of housing? These are all things that the industry will have to face as time goes on.

With the government committing to build one million homes by 2020, it’s clear that a number of different solutions will have to be considered in order to meet that target. Modular construction could very well be part of the solution but time will tell. 


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