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A modular solution to the housing crisis

modular solution

modular solution

Countries all over the world are facing a housing crisis, with a massive shortage of homes to meet the needs of expanding populations. About 1.6 billion people live in substandard housing and 100 million are homeless, according to United Nations statistics.

While traditional construction methods struggle to swiftly supply the volume of homes needed to address the global housing crisis, Australian modular building company, Fleetwood believes that the answer, in part, could lie in modular homes.

Fleetwood Australia’s Head of Design and Estimating, Katrina Knight recalls a time where modular building was used largely for demountable, temporary classrooms in schools. Since then, modular has grown into an industry that looks to the future – building greener homes that could be part of the long-term solution to the housing crisis to help people and the planet.

Delivered up to 50% faster than traditional building methods, modular homes are built in parallel with land preparation activities. Installing prefabricating homes on site takes a few days or months, rather than the months and years demanded by more conventional building methods.

The modular solution offers permanent and multi-storey high-rises assembled in the same timeframe, leaving many hailing prefabricated buildings as a vital key to the future and addressing the gripping global housing crisis.

The scale of the housing crisis

Globally the United Nations Human Rights estimates 1.8 billion people do not have a home to live in. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reveals that over 110,000 people are also homeless in Australia. Population growth, increased construction costs, inflation, living below the poverty line and the pandemic pressures have placed millions of people worldwide at risk of losing their homes.

“During recent decades, the percentage of the urban population living in informal settlements with insufficient security or tenure has grown. Homelessness has been on the increase and the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in increasing housing insecurity for many”, cites the UN report.

The agility and advantages of the modular building method

Modular construction offers plenty of advantages over other building methods, making it a great solution to meet today’s challenges. From significant cost savings to shorter building timeframes, there are many perks of the modular manufacturing and building homes within a factory.

The controlled environment and standardisation of the build allows automation to speed up build time drastically, whilst avoiding weather delays or on-site impacts that can slow down the project. This makes the modular method particularly agile – adept at supporting disaster-relief efforts.

Fleetwood has responded to numerous flood and fire events, also supplying quarantine accommodation to support crisis events.

In early 2022, Katrina recalls severe flooding that hit many parts of Queensland which left many school buildings damaged, requiring them to be demolished and rebuilt.

“Our team partnered with Qbuild and the Department of Education to restore Rocklea State School after the flooding. We installed emergency classrooms on the school oval using raised blade pile footings to combat the flood-affected soil. The 18-module structure was craned onto site in only two days – an impressive turnover that can only be possible with modular.”

This emergency relief project is just one of many that demonstrate the flexible nature of modular construction. In the context of the housing crisis, this rapid build time could help understaffed construction companies close the housing shortage gap.

Modular buildings are easily reconfigured, uninstalled, refurbished and transported, making them ideal for supporting governments, housing developers and community organisations to address crisis events and changing population growth patterns with more flexibility.

A greener solution designed for people and planet

Offsite manufacturing leaves a much smaller footprint when it comes to carbon emissions, pollution, workers safety, construction waste and offers low amenity impacts during installation. This is a crucial factor to consider. A United Nations Environment Program report states that the building and construction industry is responsible for 38% of global energy-related CO2 emissions.

The engineering used in prefabrication construction can deliver modular homes at a higher standard of sustainability, providing savings of up to 70% on energy consumption compared to the average Australian home.

Research has also found that modular construction is both more efficient and produces 90% less material wastage than traditional builds. Transport movements associated with modular building, decrease by 80% compared with traditional construction, minimising community disruption and emissions.

“Modular really is the future for building, especially for housing, schools and healthcare,” Katrina said. “These are sectors that usually need big projects turned around very quickly and that are built to last, and that’s what modular offers. We’ve come to the rescue when schools and community facilities have been struck by natural disasters. Australia’s extreme climate puts residents at risk of seasonal fire and flooding. No other building method can rapidly provide the volume of homes to respond to the increasing to extreme weather events associated with our climate emergency.

Collaborating to solve the housing crisis one piece at a time

“Modular companies are starting to give back to educating the industry by working with universities and partners. The tertiary curriculum in the design, engineering construction space is starting to address the change with increasing student exposure to modern methods of construction and off-site manufacturing.”

Passionate about driving industry to solve the biggest challenges in the construction industry – Fleetwood have partnered with industry association prefabAUS to run a design challenge for University students. The Fleetwood Challenge Cup is developing some of the freshest thinking to address the current housing crisis.

Collaborating with ten other modular design firms, Fleetwood recently participated in a Modern Methods of Construction Design Sprints Workshop hosted by government to foster industry-wide exploration of the role modular could play in solving the housing crisis and modular providers involvement in the solution.

The housing market and the construction industry will take time to recover and catch up to demand. Alternative building strategies can help speed this process along, though. Modular construction has the potential to become the new normal for housing construction due to its sheer efficiency and ability to build and hold stock ready for installation rapidly.

Even if home prices cannot be reduced right away, modular construction can get more homes built faster than traditional construction. Over time, this will bring down the cost of new homes as supply catches up to demand. Adopting modular construction today is crucial to repairing the housing crisis, one piece and one home at a time.

“We are pleased to play a key part in solving the housing challenges of the future,” concluded Katrina.