Industry looks to modular homes to solve housing crisis

03 May 2018

by Lee Wilkinson, director and housing specialist in our engineering and construction sector team

You stand in Sherburn-in-Elmet and gaze across the road and see the behemoth that is the L&G housing factory. The business, L&G Homes, will soon commence operations, at the 550,000 sq ft warehouse in the town, paving the way for one of the largest modular homes construction factory in the world employing around 400 people. And it’s right here in Yorkshire! Yes this certainly has got me excited.

While L&G are looking to tackle the chronic production problem of the UK housing industry by building thousands of modular homes, this production solution is becoming higher on the agenda of more than just the Yorkshire market. Across the UK, national and local housebuilders (and even the UK housing minister) have admitted that this could transform the market. At the Building conference late last year, Crest Nicholson announced plans for flat-pack housing. Urban Splash recently bought the operations of SIG offsite facilities and Berkeley is setting up a factory down South.

Over the coming years a large proportion of the UK workforce will retire - with the ongoing skills shortage, innovation is needed to provide the housing we need with the workforce we don’t have. A number of operators in the sector, such as ILKE Homes, Urban Splash and others, are currently ramping up their designs and getting protypes ready for mass production, with the aim of providing a significant number of houses each year.

The entire process of modular construction places significance on the design stage. The use of advanced CAD systems, 3D printing and manufacturing control systems are important for modular construction to be successful – so plenty of innovation. This is creating a new workforce for the industry, using different skillsets.

Modular buildings are argued to have advantages over conventional buildings, for a variety of reasons.

  1. The most obvious is time and therefore quicker return on investment. It is estimated that modular construction can reduce completion by 50% – handy if you need to deliver more housing;
  2. Weather resistant – construction in a factory doesn’t stop for the rain;
  3. Reduction in waste and reduced environmental impact; and
  4. Flexile to allow delivery in some places uneconomically viable for normal construction.

There remains a challenge, however, around transportation of building sections; the last thing we need to significant increases in heavy duty haulage on a struggling road network. But perhaps the biggest challenge is in relation to homeowner mortgages. There has been limited testing around whether a bank will lend money against a modular home at rates people can actually afford. And do they receive the same level of warranties that a normal house receives?

While the homes themselves may be of equivalent quality to their handmade counterparts, without intervention, marketplace factors may create hurdles for buyers or builders of modular homes. This should be considered as part of the decision-making process when exploring this type of home as a living option.

Modular housing is becoming an option across the country and with ILKE Homes about to start increased production and Citu preparing their own facilities in the centre of Leeds, it will soon become a fact that Yorkshire is making houses in factories. Time will tell if they solve the crisis but they will certainly help it.



Lee Wilkinson, director - engineering and construction

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