Prefabricated or 'modular' homes are making a comeback. This time around, however, architects and designers have made a couple of modern improvements and have given them a new name: flat-pack homes. With these properties now faster and easier to build than ever, they could even solve the UK's housing crisis.
How they work
The principle is simple. Providers assemble large sections (‘modules’) like walls and flooring in one of their factory facilities. These are then transported to the building site where they’re slotted together, either by the buyer, independent contractors or employees of the provider.
The idea is that you save time and money as the tricky bits are done in the dedicated factories rather than on-site. Plus there’s less hanging around for materials and contractors to sort details once the build begins.
Pros and cons
Because of these efficiencies, you’ll find costs are up to 25% lower than on conventional self-builds. They also produce less waste and are faster to construct, typically taking just two to three days. Many providers are pushing these limits further by designing compact micro homes. Italian architect Renato Vidal, for example, produces flat-pack micro homes that cost just £24,000 and take only six hours to put together.
The main downside is the same as for any mass market product, whether it’s high-street fashion or Ikea furniture – namely, that there’s not as much you can tailor to your individual needs. You’ll also find that costs may vary depending on where your provider is based. With many currently overseas in Sweden and Germany, you might find that shipping fees begin to mount up.
For those keen on the idea, the first thing to find is a plot of land to build on. You can search available land via some online agents, or dedicated sites like PlotBrowser and PlotFinder. If the land you choose doesn’t have it already, you’ll have to get planning permission. That involves a submission fee, which varies depending on the type of application, and a wait of around 12 weeks for approval. You’ll also need to investigate the costs of connecting utilities. If you’re moving to the country, there’s a higher chance that you’ll have to pay for extra pipe or cables to get you on the grid.
Thanks to technological improvements and new building techniques, prefabricated houses have come a long way since the 1960s. By providing quick-to-build, energy-efficient solutions to the country's housing shortage, flat-pack homes may well become a significant feature of the UK property market in years to come.