Modular construction set to reinvigorate the economy
The UK construction industry has been urged to play its part in the ongoing 'war effort' against coronavirus. As construction continues during the current lockdown, it must face the coming threat as the demand for new homes disappears and the building market begins to shut down.
But Mike Leonard, currently visiting professor in manufacturing and construction at Birmingham City University, is urging the industry to look forward to the future as the UK seeks to exit lockdown and rebuild the economy. As in past economic shocks, getting Britain building has the multiplier effect required to help kick-start an economy flatlined by the Covid-19 crisis.
Generate an uplift
According to research by the Building Alliance and Birmingham City University, building 215,000 homes in the West Midlands over the next decade could generate a £39 billion uplift for the regional economy.
There's currently a backlog of nearly four million new homes in the UK. To meet it would require building 340,000 properties annually over the next ten years. To meet building regulations with the required speed and sustainability, the industry is turning its attention to modular construction. It could have a huge role to play in meeting net-zero build targets and generating employment in the post-Coronavirus world.
Then there's the multiplier effect as local labour and British manufactured materials combine to create modular housing that generates regional economic growth.
Consistent build quality and quality control are critical to delivering a high volume of modular buildings to meet the UK's housing needs. Build and fit-out can be undertaken simultaneously, meaning that HVAC technologies can be hooked up quickly on site. Innovations such as integrated heating, cooling and hot water systems can be prefabricated to reduce waste and meet zero-carbon energy requirements.
Up to 50% quicker to build than housing using more traditional techniques, modular construction is lower impact and higher quality than more traditional methods.
Modelling by the University of Liverpool shows that modular housing using renewables and the latest battery technology can actually achieve beyond zero outcomes with homeowners being paid by the National Grid.
Using the latest smart home technology to control individual radiators and storing renewable energy in battery arrays will help to build the sustainable homes of the future. But that takes sustained investment in generating green electricity without which modular homes that are 100% electric can seem expensive to run.
And while traditional construction techniques can be adapted to new technologies, it's both more costly and difficult to do so. If the UK is to achieve net-zero 2050 targets and bounce back after the Covid-19 economic shutdown, the modular construction industry shows a potential way forward.
In the current crisis, Leonard is asking the construction industry to step up and do whatever it takes to save lives and play its part in fighting the invisible enemy. He suggests that skilled staff, premises and transport be put to good use in protecting the public. Essential workers should still be available in an emergency to deal with water leaks and heating system failures.
Whilst he recognises that things will get worse before they get better, Leonard acknowledges that the construction industry has always been known for its resilience. It will be critical in the months ahead, he says, that the industry plans now for the future and positions itself at the heart of the economic bounce. That could mean investigating modular construction techniques or fast-tracking new entrants into the industry so that Britain's building sector can help to drive the economic recovery.