The Australian construction industry is worth around $150 billion annually yet modular housing makes up less than 3% of that figure. In direct contrast, more than 70% of all new housing in Sweden is modular! Is it possible the Swedes know something that Australians don’t?
There’s no question that Sweden has a much colder climate than Australia. For months on end, the ground is covered in snow and ice… hardly conducive to getting outside with a hammer and saw. But then again, working out in 40 degree heat (104F) is hardly conducive to productivity either.
Sweden has a population of close to 10 million and a land area of 450,000 square kilometres. That’s a population density of 21 people per square kilometre. Australia has a population of around 23.5 million and a land area of 7,750,000 square kilometres. That’s a population density of just three humans per square kilometres. Logically, that means that Sweden is going to have more tradespeople per square kilometre that the average Australian home builder will. Modular housing is also much more popular in Asia and North America than here in Australia. So why hasn’t modular housing been a greater success here?
One reason is undoubtedly the perception that modular housing is low – or at least lower, quality. Another is the belief that the design parameters are restrictive, given that the modules need to fit on the back of a truck. But perhaps the major reason is that here in Australia, where we can build all year round, there are few if any apparent savings in cost between on-site and modular housing.
Housing affordability is perhaps the greatest social issue Australia is facing. This is especially true in Sydney and Melbourne with their dubious distinctions of the 5th and 6th most expensive cities to live in globally! Can modular housing make a difference by lowering the entry costs for first home buyers? A new body, The Australian Research Council Training Centre for Advanced Manufacturing in Prefabricated Housing has just been established. The centre will be structured around four key programs:
- Innovation in design and enhancement of end-user experience
- New advanced building systems, automated off-site construction and assembly techniques
- New materials, light-weight composite structures and systems for modular housing
- Supply chain and financing options
The homes shown here are excellent examples of how ‘modular’ should no longer be associated with low quality, repetitive design. These fully customised homes can be built, delivered and be habitable in just 10 weeks from signing of contracts. Construction is unaffected by weather, there is no theft of materials and wastage is absolutely minimal. Since ‘time is money’ , 10 weeks versus the typical 26 weeks to completion certainly has a financial benefit. And for a home renovation, it can make the difference between a few days of inconvenience when the new module/s get installed and months of stress trying to live around tradespeople and part finished works.
If the centre achieves it’s objectives, modular housing will become a major component of the new home market, especially for public housing. According to Dr. Tuan Ngo, who will steer the centre, we can expect to see:
- Construction up to 90% faster than traditional methods
- Total costs reduced by up to 50%
- An increasing supply of affordable and end-user focused residential housing
- 100% re-use of componentry
- The recycling of 80% of site waste
- A reduction in transport, labour, and site preliminaries by 70%
- The expansion of export opportunities
The new centre is aiming for a tripling of the prefabricated housing market share to 10% or $15 billion in the next 10 years and the creation of 20,000 new jobs by 2025.
It’s all about perception rather than the money. If you believe that certainty and quality can be factory delivered, there’s sure to be a modular home in your future. What do you think?