Overcoming resistance to modular construction


Modular construction means that homes can be built faster, with less waste and in a way that's kinder to the environment. It’s a building method that uses prefabricated sections assembled on-site, yet, despite its numerous advantages, it still continues to face resistance, from lingering quality concerns to logistical hurdles, but thankfully the industry is overcoming these challenges and paving the way for a more efficient and sustainable future for housing, writes John Ridgeway.

This type of construction has been around for centuries so it is difficult to understand why there should still be any kind of resistance. There is evidence, for example, of modular construction principles being used as early as the 17th and 18th centuries, particularly in America and Australia. This involved prefabricating sections of a house for easier transportation and assembly on-site.

And the first documented example of a prefabricated home dates back to 1837 when a London carpenter, Henry Manning, built a house in pieces and shipped it to his son in Australia for assembly. This demonstrates the early use of prefabrication for long-distance transportation.

Today, according to Fortune Business Insights, the global modular construction market size is estimated to reach USD 131.58 billion by 2027. Grand View Research further supports this trend, projecting a 7.5% Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) for the market over the next seven years.

Currently, the Asia Pacific region leads the way, with a significant presence in countries like China and Japan. Europe and North America are also experiencing notable growth, driven by factors like urbanisation, a skilled labour shortage and a growing need for affordable housing solutions – so what can be the problem.

Why the resistance?

Apparently, a lingering perception exists that modular homes are less well-built or durable than traditionally built homes. This perception is often rooted in past associations with temporary structures or mobile homes. Some people also believe that modular homes offer a limited range of designs and styles compared to traditionally built homes. This perception might be due to a lack of awareness about the growing design flexibility offered by modern modular construction companies.

Furthermore, modular construction may not always comply with existing building codes designed for traditional construction methods. Obtaining permits for modular homes can be a complex process depending on the locality. This can be a major roadblock for builders and developers.

The size and weight of modules can also pose logistical challenges in terms of transportation and placement on the building site. Depending on the location and infrastructure, transporting large modules to 

the construction site can be difficult and require specialised equipment.

As with many things in construction, money plays its part. Appraising modular homes can be more complex than traditional homes due to a lack of readily available comparable properties. This can impact the value assigned to a modular home and potentially limit mortgage availability.

Additionally, in some areas, there may be a lack of familiarity with modular construction, leading to resistance from potential buyers or communities. Public perception can significantly influence the market acceptance of a new building method.

How the industry is moving forward

Thankfully, the modular construction industry is actively working to overcome these challenges and achieve wider acceptance. Advances in technology and manufacturing processes are allowing for higher-quality materials and consistent building standards in controlled factory environments. This is leading to more durable and energy-efficient modular homes.

Modern modular construction companies are also offering a wider range of design options and customisation possibilities. This allows for architectural creativity and caters to diverse style preferences. Furthermore, industry collaboration with government agencies is working towards more standardised regulations and permitting processes specifically tailored to modular construction. This will make the process smoother and more predictable.

Alongside this trend, lenders are becoming more familiar with modular construction, with some institutions offering specific financing options for these homes. This improves access to financing for potential buyers. Educational campaigns are also raising awareness of the benefits of modular construction, including faster project completion times, environmental benefits and cost-effectiveness. This fosters greater public acceptance and combats negative stereotypes.

All this means that the resistance to modular construction is gradually diminishing as the industry addresses concerns and showcases its numerous advantages and the global market, as already mentioned, is projected to experience significant growth in the coming years.

Highlighting the global reach of modular construction

There are certainly many examples to showcase how modular construction is gaining traction across the globe. In Amsterdam, the Netherlands, a seven-story student housing complex was recently built using modular construction, completed in just 12 months. This project demonstrates the efficiency and speed of this method for multi-unit housing developments.

In San Francisco, California, a high-rise hotel was constructed using modular units. This project highlights the ability of modular construction to cater to more complex and high-profile building projects. In China, modular construction is being used extensively for affordable housing projects. The rapid delivery time and cost-effectiveness make it a suitable solution for meeting the growing housing demand in urban areas.

However, the future success of modular construction will rely on continued collaboration between various stakeholders. Collaboration, in particular, between the modular construction industry and government agencies can lead to the development of standardiased regulations and streamlined permitting processes specifically designed for modular construction. This would significantly improve the efficiency and predictability of building modular homes.

Educational campaigns aimed at architects, builders, developers, financial institutions and the general public would also raise awareness of the benefits and advancements in modular construction. This would help break down existing stereotypes and promote wider acceptance of this building method. Continued research and development in areas like prefabrication techniques, sustainable materials and digital design tools can further improve the efficiency, quality and environmental benefits of modular construction.

Modular construction offers a compelling alternative to traditional building methods, promising faster completion times, improved quality control and reduced environmental impact. While there are some remaining challenges related to regulations, market acceptance and financing, the industry is actively working towards solutions. As these challenges are addressed and the benefits of modular construction become more widely recognised, we can expect to see this building method play an increasingly important role in shaping the future of housing.

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