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Sustainable design

Prefab and modular homes reduce building costs

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Prefab and modular homes are coming into their own as technology, new materials and design allow for faster and cheaper construction. And one advantage is that there are newer building materials available that have much better insulation properties than traditional building materials, meaning that the cost of running the new build will be lower.

Most people are familiar with the high cost of building. It’s traditionally been more expensive to build, than to buy a lived in home. Additionally, the cost of accommodation that is necessary as you wait for the new home to be built must also be taken into consideration. If that was not a factor, the costs of building vs. buying an older home align more closely. Then again, the type and size of the home you build or buy also has to be taken into account.

Going modular

The latest trend in money-saving new builds is going modular. A modular home is built at the factory in ‘modules’ of contained space. For example, the bedrooms may be contained in one module, while the living areas are in another.

These modules are transported to the building site, where they are easily joined together or connected by walkways, also known as breezeways. Many are constructed so owner-builders can do the do the work themselves, thus saving costs again. Because the modules are smaller than the home as a whole, they are easier to transport and put into place. Each module is finished; that is, it contains all the fixtures and fittings that the room or rooms need. Cupboards, built-in wardrobes and often appliances are all included where appropriate for the module.

Prefab homes were once considered the poor relation of the traditional homes erected by building industry tradesmen. They were accepted as being fine for a temporary home or a holiday home where the lifestyle is ultra casual, but not for a ‘real’ home. This idea has now changed, especially overseas, which over previous decades has continued to refine and improve the quality of low cost modular homes. In fact, million-dollar homes are designed and built on the factory floor in Germany, then taken to the building site where they are put together, sometimes in as few as three days.

The benefits of modular homes

  • Today’s modular homes can be custom designed by architects to suit specific locations. This means any block of land, even those with challenging geographical features, can be utilised for a modular home. Steep blocks can be built upon with little worry about getting the building into place. And because they require very little actual site construction, sensitive areas can have a home without disturbing the environment.
  • Better still, some of these homes can actually be dismantled within a few hours and taken to another location. So if you move, it’s possible to take your home with you! Such homes can be very affordable, or they can be a little more expensive, depending on your budget, location and required lifestyle.
  • Most modular homes make extensive use of green technology with passive heating and cooling – large windows and sliding doors oriented to the prevailing breeze. The frames are strong but light. The wall panels are of composite materials that have a higher thermal mass than timber and many other traditional building materials. This means that the insulation qualities are much higher, so your home is both warm in the winter and cool in the summer, requiring only minimal use of heating and cooling appliances.
  • Another benefit of modular homes (something you can appreciate if you’ve ever waited for a standard build!) is the speed at which they can be built in the factory and erected onsite.
  • Since nearly everything is done at the factory, quality controls can more easily be put into place, making the modular home one that fits together properly, as well as being top quality when finished.
  • The sizes of these homes are made to industry standards. This ensures there’s no wastage or off-cuts in materials – saving on materials, as well as pricing!

What are modular homes built from?

Most modular and prefab homes use aluminium frames, which are both light and strong.

One company builds the module walls from expanded polystyrene enclosed between manufactured wood cladding. Made from Australian plantation timber, the cladding is made of compressed 50% recycled timber and sawdust treated with magnesium oxide. The latter not only provides extra strength and durability, it also offers resistance to UV radiation, mildew, fire and water – making it an ideal medium to build a home. Once the home is up you would not know it from any other much more expensive home.

Other companies use polymers reinforced with glass fibres. Commonly used in the marine and aeronautical industries, this material has high durability and strength even in extreme conditions. It also has low maintenance needs and is very light. This makes sense when you consider planes and boats must be capable of withstanding the worst nature throws at them. A home built of the same materials is therefore sure to be strong and durable.

Ideal for remote locations

Modular homes are ideal for remote locations where it is difficult to get builders and other tradesmen to work, who may be required to camp onsite because of the distance. That may not be feasible and even if it is, can add a great deal to the cost of the home. Because the primary part of the modular home is already built, the main requirement is to transport and erect it at your location. A short time – compared to building it onsite – and ready to connect plumbing and electricity.

They are also eminently suitable for smaller suburban or even space-constrained city centre blocks. But while modular homes are popular for all these reasons, they don’t have to be small. This is the beauty of them. They can be enlarged at the beginning of the build, or later on, by adding more modules – always assuming it is proportional to the size of the block

Building a modular home is not only quick and convenient, it makes use of environmental benefits such as energy efficiency and sustainable living. This type of housing is now popular in many overseas countries and is becoming more so in Australia, as people begin to realise the many advantages.