As I write this post, I can hear the construction operatives, electricians, MVHR installers and kitchen fitters hard at work in our offsite factory, putting the finishing touches to the first batch of modular homes we’re building with tier one contractor, Wates Residential. Very soon, these prefabricated homes – complete with fitted kitchens, mechanical ventilation systems and bathrooms – will be making their way to Wales, where they’ll be craned into position for our client, Cardiff Council.
Prefab homes. The solution to the housing crisis
I’ve worked at Beattie Passive for just over a year now, but I’m still amazed at how quickly our modular homes are constructed. From my office window, I watch them progress from skeletal timber frames to airtight structural thermal envelopes and beyond in just a few weeks.
I have no doubt; this is the future of UK housing.
And it’s not without precedent. In Sweden, 84% of detached homes are prefabricated in some way, shape or form. In Germany, around 20% of houses are built using Modern Methods of Construction (MMC). And in Japan, around 15% of all homes (a whopping 160,000 houses) are built in factories. Clearly, offsite construction is already a well-established, mainstream approach in many countries.
Other nations are also accelerating their adoption of MMC. Savills report that Singapore has ramped up offsite construction to such an extent in recent years that 20–33% of all new homes are now built using MMC. China has set a similar target, with plans in place to construct 30% of all buildings offsite by 2026. Strong growth is also anticipated across Europe, in the US and in the Middle East, especially in Saudi Arabia and Dubai.
The lingering stigma of prefabricated housing
Unfortunately, in the UK, many people still associate modular homes with the ‘prefabs’ of the 1950s and 1960s, which were built to replace housing lost in the Blitz. Prefabs were only built to last 10 years and the quality varied, to put it mildly. As a result, there’s still a stigma around factory-built housing. But let’s be absolutely clear, today’s modular homes are worlds apart from the 156,000 prefab homes that were constructed in the aftermath of the Second World War.
Back then, speed was of the essence. Soldiers were returning from the front line and almost 2 million homes had been damaged or destroyed in bombing raids. Sir Winston Churchill originally planned to build 500,000 prefabricated houses in the 5 years immediately after the war. When the Housing (Temporary Accommodation) Act was passed in 1944, it aimed to deliver 300,000 prefabricated homes within 10 years, with a budget of £150 million.
To say things have moved on since then is an understatement. Speed is still a major advantage of prefabrication, but the factory-built homes of today are precision engineered and built to last. In a factory setting, production can be closely monitored and this improves quality control. At Beattie Passive, we take this approach a step further, because we build to Passivhaus standard – the world’s leading standard in energy efficient design. With Passivhaus, there are clear benchmarks in place (airtightness must be < 0.6ACH@50pa for example) and we test regularly. Our modular homes are designed and modelled in the Passivhaus Planning Package (PHPP), and this lets us predict a building’s heating, cooling and primary energy demand in advance.
Prefabricated homes and climate change
You may be surprised to hear that modern factory-built housing is now considered to be superior to traditional site-built housing in many ways, with fewer snags and defects. But it’s the energy efficiency of our homes that has really captured the zeitgeist. With climate concerns deepening and fuel bills soaring, our modular homes promise low bills and low (or net zero) operational carbon. An independent lifecycle analysis on one of our Passivhaus Plus certified schemes found the whole life carbon impact of the project was 78% lower than a traditional build, resulting in an estimated saving of 5,189 tonnes of carbon – that’s equivalent to 12,067 barrels of oil. The cost savings of the project are expected to be in excess of £17 million (compared to a like-for-like masonry build with average energy consumption).
In addition to the operational carbon and cost saving benefits, Passivhaus also promotes comfort, health and wellbeing. Every Beattie Passive home is fitted with a Mechanical Ventilation and Heat Recovery (MVHR) System, which improves interior air quality, filters out pollen and other allergens, and extracts odours. Another lesser known but significant benefit of Passivhaus is the low sound transmission, which is up to six times better than Building Regs. And don’t forget, our homes are also relocatable, so they can be picked up and redeployed as required.
Prefabricated homes – closing thoughts
The future of UK housing lies in modular homes, constructed offsite to Passivhaus standard. Today’s prefabricated homes are the epitome of precision engineering, built to last and designed to meet the highest standards of energy efficiency. With climate concerns becoming increasingly urgent, factory-built homes offer a sustainable and environmentally friendly solution, promising net zero carbon and significant cost savings. As the rest of the world embraces offsite construction, it’s time for the UK to shed the lingering stigma of prefabs and embrace a modern, innovative, and sustainable approach to housing. We believe this is the beginning of a transformative era in UK housing, giving hope that we can finally end the housing and homelessness crisis, while also making the transition towards a greener and more sustainable future.
For all enquiries, call Beattie Passive on 01953 687332 or email firstname.lastname@example.org