After hearing, reading and writing(!) so much about modern methods of construction (MMC) over the years, on behalf of some of the most progressive housebuilders in the country, a recent invitation to explore a whole range of modular housing solutions in one place was truly unmissable.
That place as it happens was Gateshead, where housing disruptors Home Group have just unveiled an audacious live research project into the relative short and long-term benefits (and potential drawbacks) of the most prevalent MMC solutions currently on the market.
Launched at last month’s Innovation in Housing conference, Gateshead Innovation Village (GIV) is a development of 41 near-identical properties, built to the same footprints and specifications. So far, so standard. They all feature renewable technologies, including ground-source heat pumps and solar Photovoltaic (PV), and incorporate complex monitoring systems to evaluate the buildings’ performance over time.
The only significant difference between the homes at GIV is the materials used during fabrication, and their method of assembly. Five distinct MMC and modular techniques have been employed on site – from leading suppliers Ilke Homes, Intelligent Steel, Premier Modular, Xella and Simply Modular – alongside a ‘control’ group of traditionally-constructed homes.
The first phase of Home Group’s audacious experiment (working closely with partners Homes England, BRE and Gateshead Council) is nearing completion. The one-year build process, co-ordinated expertly by Engie, has already demonstrated the vast time savings on offer through MMC (we’re informed on our exclusive tour of GIV that many of the homes spent just six weeks in their respective factories, and took only one day to assemble on site!)
But it’s the next phase of the project that could deliver the crucial outcomes.
Home Group’s recently-commissioned YouGov research has uncovered some worrying public perceptions around modular housing, which could potentially hamper the widespread adoption of such techniques. From 2,000 UK respondents, 52% of adults said they wouldn’t choose to live in a modular home – despite only 11% being able to recognise existing modular house types.
When the residents of GIV move in this month (remember – barely 12 months since the first foundations were laid on site), they will likely be experiencing a modular home for the very first time. They will be encouraged by Home Group to provide as much detailed feedback as possible about the build quality, design and overall liveability of their new home.
These learnings, coupled with detailed analysis of each building’s performance data by researchers at Northumbria University and BRE, will aim to provide the long-term statistical and anecdotal evidence required to turn public perceptions and kickstart widespread demand for modular housing.
It’s hoped that the project’s findings will give insurers, warranty providers and mortgage lenders confidence in the long-term efficacy and viability of homes built through MMC – helping modular finally become part of mainstream housing provision.
The legacy of ‘post-war prefabs’ casts a heavy shadow over modular’s aspirations and there’s undoubtedly a communications challenge to get everybody on-side with MMC.
But projects like GIV can only help us on that journey and I look forward hearing/reading/writing(!) about its findings in due course.
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