The United Kingdom has a housing scarcity problem. According to The Guardian, in 98 percent of Great Britain, Covid-19 front-liners cannot afford to own a home. Lindsay Judge, the Resolution Foundation research director, stated that this had been a problem for decades and young adults have to live in low-quality accommodation with high rentals. The pandemic has worsened the situation. She adds that the demand is higher in major cities.
The Centres for Cities research and policy charity agrees and points out that one of the biggest challenges of the UK is its chronic housing shortage. The Centre notes that the shortage is in the most unaffordable cities and, therefore, that is where the concentration of building must be. Some in the industry say that to meet the housing demand, the government must achieve its aim of building 300,000 new houses each year. It only builds an average of 160,000 every year.
The National Housing Federation (NHF), representing housing associations across the country, states a need for new skills and construction methods. It suggests modular housing methods, which entail building homes in factories and assembling them on site. These have high standards, are cheaper, and are faster to build. The NHF cites data from the National Audit Office showing that modern methods of construction (MMC) will enable the government to build four times more houses with the same on-site labour.
Base Quantum lists the benefits of modular housing. First, building a modular house is quicker by half than building a traditional house. This will fast-track the construction of houses needed by the country. Despite the speed, the quality is high because the modules come from factories with more monitoring and quality control. This also makes the entire construction process much safer. It is cheaper than traditional construction because of the factory production. Labor is also cheaper because the assembly requires fewer skills. Finally, it has a lower carbon footprint with the use of sustainable materials and an energy-efficient design.
According to Base Quantum, the government only builds 15,000 modular houses every year. It recommends an increase to provide high-quality, affordable housing for more people.
Ongoing Modular Research
Since May 2020, a six-year study began to analyze the benefits and challenges of MMC, such as modular building and its effect on the housing market. Homes England, the agency assigned to support developers in meeting the government’s aims to build enough new homes, provides funding while the MMC Research Commission does research. It covers planning issues, pre-manufactured value, site description, the pace of building, costs, labor productivity, construction logistics, waste levels, quality, safety performance, energy efficiency, lifecycle, economic rationale, sales performance, social value, and wellbeing.
According to the research team, the National House Building Council has accepted the offsite property assurance scheme. The Building Research Establishment (BRE) developed standards for modular housing to address the concerns of insurance companies, mortgage lenders, and warranty providers. The researchers declare that some of the modular houses have warranties covering 60 to 100 years.
The research will continue even after all the planned houses are up. They will gather data on sales performance and after-sales feedback from the homebuyers.
Steel-framed houses like the FastFrame premium steel frame houses have similar benefits to modular houses. They also contribute to faster build-times since prefabricated steel frames come from a factory offsite and with assembly on-site that does not need a framework.
They are cheaper because they lower labor costs by 10 to 20 percent. Further financial returns come from the durability and longevity of steel with a lower need for repairs or replacements. It can withstand rusting from water with some special coating and will not lose integrity and strength with fire. Steel does not crack, split, warp, expand, or rot. It can withstand mold, mildew, pests, decay through time, and natural disasters.
Steel has high strength, and less steel is necessary to support the same load compared to timber. This lowers cost further and simplifies and streamlines design because of fewer structural supports. That strength also makes houses with steel frames safer for their residents in case of earthquakes and hurricanes.
Steel is also sustainable. Its offsite factory manufacturing process using computer modelling before fabrication uses less raw materials and generates less waste. It performs highly in the circular economy because it lasts long and is endlessly recyclable. In the UK, constructional steelwork has a 60 percent average recycled content. There is a 99 percent recovery rate for structural steelwork in UK demolition sites and a 96 percent recovery rate for all steel construction products. This is much higher than other construction materials.
Housing Planning Based on Sustainability Goals
There are possible sustainable, quick, and affordable solutions to the UK housing shortage. Hopefully, with inputs from both the government and the private sector, this will be resolved soon.