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Mobilising Housing Supply: How we can use modular construction to combat crises in housing

Tuesday 1 June 2021

The Irish Government’s enhanced Help to Buy scheme is due to end at the end of 2021 despite the ongoing need for the supply of affordable housing. With 30,000 new homes needed per year just to keep up with population trends, Dwayne McAleer, Managing Director Kajima Ireland, shares his thought on how modern methods of “modular construction” could be the answer.

Modular construction is not only a fast and cost-effective way to help address Ireland’s overwhelming demand for affordable housing, but also eco-friendly, and more agile than compared to traditional building methods. Built in highly controlled factory environments and then assembled on-site, the construction process for homes can be rapidly sped up by modular construction enabling the widespread rollout of affordable homes.

Modular already has a strong track record in the healthcare sector, where such methods have met demand for expanded hospital capacity far faster than traditional approaches have historically done. Ireland’s largest ward extension, for example, was delivered at South Tipperary General Hospital in fewer than 12 months, and with modular reducing onsite building time by more than 75% compared to traditional methods, large-scale housing supply via modular construction could be similarly delivered at speed.

By their very nature, affordable housing schemes should be as cost-effective as possible so that savings can be passed on to the occupants. This is a challenging situation, but one which modular is well-placed to rise to, and because modular buildings are manufactured in a controlled factory environment, with an efficient assembly process each project is able to use material recycled from another. This method ensures optimal use of resources, not only reducing the costs of production but also allowing developers to deal with any supply chain issues directly from the factory floor, helping to mitigate delays which would otherwise become expensive as progress on an onsite project stalls.

In addition, thanks to the opportunities for recycling made available in its factory setting, modular can produce new builds with a significantly reduced carbon footprint. By limiting onsite build time, modular schemes avoid much of the air and noise pollution that can be associated with some traditional methods. And with lifetime energy savings of 90% compared to traditional builds, the environmental benefits of modular construction can last as long as the structures themselves. This means, crucially, that cost-effective construction need not sacrifice sustainability.

Furthermore, their adaptability means that modular structures built for the purposes of social housing are not confined to this function for their entire lifespan. Indeed, modular houses located in an area of decreasing demand can be transported and repurposed to provide, for example, additional healthcare capacity – I believe this feature of modular buildings will make them a valuable asset as the country faces further challenges in the future.

Capable of delivering solutions at pace and scale, keeping both costs and emissions low, and offering flexibility for future initiatives, modular can facilitate an effective response to the current housing crisis, while also providing indispensable support in the struggle against other challenges – from Covid-19 to climate change.

A myriad of pressures have squeezed Ireland’s housing capacity to its limit. Modular construction may, thankfully, provide a multifaceted solution.

Kajima is currently developing 8 social housing sites in Ireland as part of the TORC consortium by way of PPP and is planning on commencing its first Irish social leasing project this month.

Source: The Irish Times