The Prefab debate: The opportunities and threats of modular building for Australia’s construction industry

Modular homes are on the rise in Australia, with more and more buyers turning to prefabricated options rather than the typical onsite build.

At present, five per cent of all homes are modular but that is expected to rise to as much as 25 per cent by 2025.

Is this the inevitable future of construction in Australia? Or is it a fad that will never live up to benefits gained from building onsite?

Here are the pros and cons of both in what is shaping up to be a huge point of debate in Australia’s construction industry.

Offsite construction: the pros

The obvious benefit of prefabricated homes is the cost. Fewer materials are needed, less materials are wasted and not as many workers are required to get the job done, which delivers the consumer enormous cost savings.

The cost savings keep on coming as well, with most prefab homes being designed with energy efficiencies in mind. They stick to strict guidelines set by the Australian Building Codes Board that cover off integral components, accessories and fittings to reduce the volume of energy used and water wasted.

For those in a hurry, prefab homes tick all the boxes as well. The pieces of the construction puzzle are already built before settlement so they just need to be shipped and put together, a process far quicker than a traditional stick build.

Offsite construction: the cons

Prefab homes are cheaper – depending on where you live. If there are access issues to your land or if you live remotely then the transportation costs can spike sharply. The assembly is a precise process as well. If this is not done to the letter, extensive damage can be done that cannot be rectified on the fly like a traditional build.

Land prices dictate the level of savings you receive as well, which could mean you have to look outside of your preferred areas for the right price. The more sought after the land, the higher the price. In popular regions to cost of land and a prefab house can be higher.

Utilities are an extra cost that need to be factored in as well, as you will need electricity, plumbing and sewerage hooked up to the new home.

Onsite construction: the pros

When it comes to flexibility and customisation of the property, this is the only way to go. While there is a vast range of options available in prefab designs, there are still limits in place. Building the property onsite gives you complete control over what is included and the overall layout and design.

If you are planning on going big, then this is the better option. On-site builders have better control over scalability and building the large-scale project that has been requested.

With onsite construction, the job is 100 per cent complete. Extras like landscaping, driveways and garages may not be included in a prefab setup, providing yet another extra expense.

Onsite construction: the cons

The overall project quality will vary depending on the quality and attention to detail of the builder. An error here, a mistake there can compound and result in a disjointed final product. There is an element of risk here that is not present with prefab designs.

The weather plays its part in the timeframe of construction as well. The already longer construction time can balloon out if there are extended periods of inclement weather.

More time building with more workers on site brings its own cons as well. There will be more mess, more muddy footprints and tyre marks and more inconvenience on the locals by having more workers and trucks making more noise over a longer period of time.

There are many clear benefits for both sides of the debate, but ultimately the decision comes down to the individual. If a client wants to customise above all else, a traditional build is best. But if cost is the primary concern, prefab presents an option that allows for style and substance at an affordable price point.

Prefabrication at DesignBUILD

If you manufacture materials or systems for use in modular and offsite construction, we would love to speak to you about exhibiting at DesignBUILD. Contact the team today to discuss opportunities to reach construction professionals with buying power.

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