In a time of general gloom and depression, it is nice to have something good to write about on the housing front. Something, in fact, quite exciting.
We all know we need more housing, and we all know that traditional builders are not really the ones to provide it.
Slow, expensive and more interested in building ‘golden bricks’ for foreigners, they are more often the problem rather than (as politicians have fondly imagined) the solution.
So what is the solution? Well, it could be modular housing.
What is modular housing?
Modular housing is where houses are built in a factory and then assembled on site. It sometimes gets a bad press as people inevitably think of post war prefabs. However modern modular housing can be very high spec and not tatty at all.
Here are some of the advantages of modular housing:
- It is easier to control the materials used (and there is less scope for materials to ‘walk’ off site)
- It is easier to inspect and control the quality standards
- Properties can be built a lot quicker
- Work on site is minimised – in many cases this is just preparing the foundations, and
- Less man power is needed – which could be important after Brexit stops cheap labour coming in from Europe
Not exactly new
I have written about modular housing before and it is a technology which has been around for a long time. Witness this Grand Designs program from 2004. And of course, those post war pre-fabs – which lasted much longer than anyone expected.
However, in the past, most providers seemed to be on the continent, in places like Germany and Finland. Now, at last, something is being done in this country. Just outside Leeds in fact.
The Innovative Insurers
The business is called Legal & General Modular and is part of the Legal & General Group – best known for insurance.
However they have now set up a massive factory which we are promised, is able to deliver up to 4,000 housing units per year. All high spec. All environmentally friendly. All in a fraction of the time it takes to build a traditional house and at considerably less cost.
The first properties have now come off the production line and can be seen in this article in the Guardian. I must say they look pretty nice.
Now you may consider insurance companies to be merely money grubbing parasites and view with suspicion anything that they do. However, there are actually quite a few advantages to this development being run by insurers:
- They can afford to do it
Very few businesses, I suspect, have the wherewithal to set up a factory on the scale of the one outside Leeds and bankroll it until it starts making money.
A big insurance company is one of the few.
- They know the things that go wrong
As an insurance company which has paid out for thousands, millions, of claims relating to housing, they will know a thing or two about the problems that occur and what they cost.
Useful knowledge for a business going into building
- The have an incentive to make problem free homes
As insurers, they will also want to minimise claims. If all buildings were high spec with not a lot wrong with them, insurers would make a lot more money. Claims cut into their profit.
It’s a lot more incentive than traditional builders have.
Caring for the environment
Another thing I like a lot about the Leeds project is that, at least from their website, they seem to be very concerned to create an environmentally friendly product.
The main building material is wood, and as this TED talk (available on their website) shows, wood is a great building material and considerably better for the environment than concrete or steel.
And why shouldn’t an insurance company be as concerned about the environment as you and me? Its bosses presumably have families and don’t want their grandchildren or great grandchildren living in a climate change created desert.
I think it’s a great project and I wish it all the best.
If it succeeds it may kickstart more of the same, Which would be great for our economy. Good luck to them.
Tip – if you are unemployed in Leeds – they are hiring. Take a look.