Prefabricated, modular construction — residential and commercial units built using assembly-line techniques in factories and then assembled at a job site — is gaining traction, driven by a shortage of housing, high housing prices, and a shortage of skilled labor. A time of disruption may be on the near horizon.
If you build it, they will come
- Prefabricated construction techniques were popular in post-war Britain and America, but faded over time as housing demand eased
- Today modular and prefabricated methods are seeing new popularity, driven by new techniques, high home prices and a shortage of skilled and unskilled labor
- The ability to build quickly and affordably use assembly-line style factories and fewer workers is generating savings for builders and homebuyers alike, and sparking a shift in the industry
Modular construction and prefabricated construction aren’t new ideas, but they’re undergoing a renaissance that appears positioned to transform the building industry.
It’s a shift, according to worldwide management consultant McKinsey & Company, being driven by improvements in technology and materials by changing market forces and a shift in perception. The result is a tsunami of new interest, an opportunity for builders and homebuyers alike to reap significant cost savings, and the emergence of a potent tool to help address the housing shortage.
Modular construction, also known as a prefabrication, involves producing the various components of a dwelling off-site in an efficient, assembly-line style facility, and then assembling the components at the location where the structure is required. The emphasis is on speed and efficiency while maintaining quality and utility.
It’s a method of construction that gained decent traction in the U.K. and North America in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. Demand for the speedy delivery of homes soared as soldiers returned home. Factories that had operated to supply the war effort were suddenly idle, providing available and scalable manufacturing capacity.
But as the surge in demand waned, so too did reliance on prefabricated methods.
Today, McKinsey & Co., says, there’s a renewed “wave of attention and investment,” driven by a variety of developments. Smaller, more environmentally sustainable units are in demand by mostly younger, socially conscious, buyers, and those units, aptly suited to prefabricated methods, help improve accessibility by bringing down the price of construction, by spurring construction of more units over a shorter time frame and by requiring smaller, more affordable, land footprints than conventional construction.
Simultaneously, digital tools have emerged that allow the fast, efficient design of prefabricated modules, and have optimized delivery of ready-to-assemble components to job sites.
And there’s been a shift in perception. No longer are prefabricated homes viewed as a poor-quality option. There’s a focus on value, yes, but also on presentation, functionality, and sustainability. Look no further than the emergence of portable homes, and ADUs, or accessory dwelling units — smaller, alternative living structures located on the same property as a conventional single-family home. They’re also known as granny flats, in-law suits, and laneway houses, among other names. They’re typically smaller in size than a conventional home and are sometimes also known as tiny homes.
Optimize for scale
Prefabricated construction is a building trend already well underway in Scandinavian countries, where 45 percent of the new housing stock was constructed off-site from 2017 to 2020, and the trend is growing, particularly in places where real estate demand is high, and the availability of skilled construction labor is low — places like Canada, particularly Ontario, and portions of the United States.
Financially, prefabricated housing offers opportunity.
McKinsey says that developers that “optimize for scale can realize more than 20 percent in construction-cost savings,” and additional savings, it says, are available in lower energy and maintenance costs.
Trusscore products are designed to particularly meet the requirements of a prefabricated or modular construction process.
Trusscore Wall&CeilingBoard is a high-performing, PVC-based drywall replacement that installs four times faster than drywall, making it ideal for the fast pace of a modular operation. With Trusscore Wall&CeilingBoard, there’s no taping, no mudding, no sanding, no painting.
And because Trusscore products install so easily, they require less-skilled labor than drywall, a benefit that is of immense value, particularly in the tight, North America-wide construction labor market.
Trusscore products are also remarkably strong and durable in ways that drywall isn’t. Their ridged, unified construction is robust and impact resistant, meaning that, unlike drywall, Trusscore Wall&CeilingBoard panels won’t crack or break during transport to an assembly site.
And Wall&CeilingBoard pairs seamlessly with Trusscore SlatWall, a customizable wall-based storage solution that helps maximize the available space in a smaller structure.
As McKinsey says, an at-scale shift to modular construction “looks likely to disrupt the construction industry and broader ecosystem.”
It might well be that the move to prefabrication and modular construction becomes part of a society-wide response to the shortage of housing and high prices, that the expectation of a detached, single-family dwelling is not only unachievable financially for many but is unsustainable from the standpoint of density, land use, and environmental stewardship.
The time for a large-scale shift to prefabricated construction may have arrived. Trusscore is ready to play its part.