Modular Homes – The Way Forward or a Fad?
The role of modular homes

There are many things we’re used to buying packaged off the shelf these days but never would we have imagined living in a time when houses would form part of this list. Yet with the growth of modular homes in the last few years, it could be argued that the experience is very similar. With the many advantages of prefabricated homes, it’s no wonder these dwelling types have been so widely used internationally, with further growth projected over the next few years.

So are these dwelling types a fad that will eventually die out, or are they likely to become the default choice for new homes? We spoke to some industry experts to discuss the benefits, challenges and overall outlook for the modular homes market…

Benefits of Modular Homes

Although once viewed as the cheaper, lower quality alternative, the benefits of modular homes have been more widely acknowledged over the last decade. According to Laurie Raikes from Anchor Homes, a designer and builder of modular homes, “A modular home can be built in a fraction of the time it takes to build a traditional home. The speed of construction, cost effectiveness and improved quality control due to construction managers being able to watch more closely over the build have all helped to make them an appealing option”.

In addition to the construction benefits, for architects the plus side these present is that design can usually be carried out at scale, with one design being replicated across multiple projects, leading to increased efficiencies.

Modular Homes have also been deemed as a more sustainable option to traditional building. When we asked Susannah Schulz from Lockhart Designs for further insights, she advised “As I looked into sustainable building, I realised just how much waste could be saved by building a modular home. But it’s not just the build process either – as modular homes tend to be smaller in size, they offer energy savings for the end consumer too since they’re easier to heat and cool. If they continue to grow in popularity, I’d say the task at hand for architects designing them would be to come up with an end-product that still weaves in elements of creativity & uniqueness within the smaller space and somewhat rigid design.”

But there are still challenges…

Despite the many benefits of prefabricated homes, it raises the question on why these dwelling types are not on every corner and street in Australia. According to Laurie, there is still a challenge with how they’re perceived among clients. “We still see clients whose first comment is ‘Wow! This is a real house!’ as soon as they see a display. Although perceptions have changed, I think there is still a way to go in people becoming comfortable with prefabricated homes.” In addition to the challenge with perception, another drawback has been governance – for example, in some new land estates, when a home is built on a new block of land, restrictive covenants can stipulate it must be on a concrete slab. While such challenges haven’t been significant enough to completely deter growth in demand, increased education, and easing of government restrictions may help give the industry a boost.

Impact of recent events 

COVID-19 been the catalyst for many changes, so it is possible the modular home market may see changes as well. Within the market itself, Raikes has highlighted that the way people view modular homes is also changing. With so many people spending more time at home, expectations of how rooms and living spaces are used have been reimagined:

“In recent years, the majority of new homes built have been open plan designs, based around one large living zone for a typical family home. But with extra activities such as work, study and exercise now being undertaken at home, the need for more clearly defined spaces has increased, and a second living room is more desirable than ever.”  - Anchor Homes Blog 25 July 2020

Modular homes have also been a way for bushfire affected communities to get back on their feet quicker by acting as a temporary accommodation solution. Whether or not we’ll see a surge in demand remains unknown, but one can assume that the events this year have, at a minimum, shown governments and businesses the possibilities and uses of modular homes as a means of disaster response and recovery. 

What do architects need to keep in mind? 

Whether modular home design is already part of your service, or your firm is considering exploring this space, the growing popularity of modular homes still carries the same Professional Indemnity Insurance and Public Liability Insurance implications for your business.

The very advantage of modular home design for architects can also be the biggest area of risk - when designs are done at scale and the same design is used to construct multiple units, one small mistake in the original paperwork can end up in flaws across multiple projects, leading to costly litigation if they eventuate into a claim. It’s important for architects designing modular homes to take greater care in this space, and also ensure their Professional Indemnity coverage extends to this activity. 

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