Prefab and modular homes

Issue 20 Words: Angela Tufvesson

Forget the drab prefab homes of old. Today’s architecturally designed factory-built dwellings are quintessentially modern.

First constructed to accommodate post-World War II population boom, prefabricated housing provided fast, cost-effective homes in a time when design and aesthetics were of little importance. Fast forward half a century and the rebirth of factory-built prefab and modular housing has shown it to be a viable option for custom-built, environmentally sensitive design.

In the past five years the Australian prefab homes industry has grown by almost 10 per cent as sea and tree-changers, city slickers and apartment dwellers warm to factory-built housing. Prefab homes are constructed to near completion inside a factory and trucked to site, requiring only minor joinery and connection to utilities. Often classified as a sub-set of prefab, modular homes are comprised of individual modules – kitchen, bathroom, lounge room – selected to suit the preferred house size and floor plan. The factory-built modules are then assembled on-site.

Compared to a home built on-site, prefabrication can reduce construction waste by more than half. Designer Dick Clarke says this is because the construction process can be streamlined more efficiently. “Manufacturing off-site gives you total control of your material stream,” he says. “If you’re using a computer system to control the cutting and handling of materials, then the computer knows exactly what offcuts it has in stock. Rather than small offcuts being wasted, they can be stockpiled.”

Plus, end-to-end construction time of prefab or modular housing is much shorter than building on-site. Clarke says it can take as little as 10 to 14 days to construct a prefab home and two to three days for modular homes. Transport emissions from materials and tradesmen are reduced, as only the final product is trucked to site. This can also result in less trampling of and damage to the site.

Although the prefabricated industry is declining in post sub-prime crisis America, it remains a popular construction method in Japan, Scandinavia and the UK. And as the drab prefab stigma continues to dissipate, a growing Australian industry is set to increase custom options for design-savvy consumers

Above image: An Ecoliv display home in Wonthaggi, Victoria. Image by Warren Reed

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Cover of Issue 20
You can read more about Prefab and modular homes in Issue 20 of Sanctuary magazine.

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