Return of the prefabs

Return of the prefabs

Featured Article
21 Nov 2018

As featured in Glass Times Magazine - 2016

John Spiby, national sales manager for domestic products at Pilkington United Kingdom Ltd, part of the NSG Group, discusses off-site housing as a solution to the housing shortage, and how it will bring opportunities to the glass and glazing industry. 

In an effort to combat the housing shortage in the UK, the government is planning new measures to encourage the construction of more than 100,000 off-site homes. That is, homes constructed in a factory, pre-assembled with heating, wiring and plumbing, transported to the development’s address-to-be and pieced together on site.

While 100,000 homes may only be a tenth of the government’s target to build one million by 2020, it presents significant opportunities for the glass and glazing industry, considering the current build rate of homes sits at 170,000 a year in the UK. If we were to build a further 100,000 properties this would require in the region of 1.75 million sealed units, creating a multi-million-pound opportunity for the industry.

The speed at which these homes can be built, and the economies of scale that can be achieved offer no surprises as to why this is seen as a solution to the housing shortage. Aside from the government, which believes off-site construction provides a huge opportunity to increase housing supply; off-site homes are receiving praise from TV property experts like Kevin McCloud and George Clarke for their affordability too.

Déjà vu

For some, the return of the prefabs may seem as though history is repeating itself. After the Second World War, Winston Churchill saw prefabricated homes as the solution to the UK’s housing shortage and winched 150,000 homes into place across the country. 

However, 21st century prefabs are a far-cry from that of their lower-quality ancestors. The new generation of off-site homes, even dubbed by some as ‘prefabulous’, are reported as spacious, modern, comfortable and eco-friendly. These of course, are building attributes that can be supported by high-performance glazing. 

Another contrast to post-war prefabs is that they are now being built to last, whereas previously they were only intended as a temporary housing solution. Furthermore, advancements in technology and fabrication have created more opportunities for high-performance glazing to be specified in prefabricated buildings.

Working with specifiers

Glass and glazing suppliers need to work with specifiers of off-site homes to ensure that the environment of the home’s end location is fully considered when sourcing materials. A rail line near a development, for example, could be missed as a source for noise pollution when constructing the home in a factory miles away, and so solutions like noise control glazing could be overlooked.

Similarly, if the house is positioned facing the sun for a long period of the day, solar control glass could help minimise solar heat gain and control glare, especially if a glass façade or feature wall is installed. Likewise, this could also be overlooked if a mass production approach is taken.

A large talking point of today’s prefabs is that they are eco-friendly and energy-efficient. Supplying advanced energy-efficient IGUs, such as Pilkington energiKare™ or Pilkington energiKare™ Advantage, can help prefab builders and specifiers achieve this, and reduce the energy costs to prospective residents.  

Vote of confidence

As for the possibilities of off-site construction, overseas developments are showing that the sky’s the limit. Last month saw the opening of the world’s tallest modular building in Brooklyn. Coming in at 32 storeys, the rental apartment block has a height just short of London’s St Pauls Cathedral. 

Prefabs aren’t just limited to homes and apartments either, with entire schools, hospital extensions and office blocks now being constructed in factories and assembled on site. 

The government’s support for off-site homes stands as a vote of confidence in what is already an area of construction receiving a lot of interest in the UK. Over the next few years we’re bound to see more prefabs, be they two story townhouses or tower blocks, rolling off production lines across the country. The glass and glazing trade needs to work together with specifiers in the sector to take advantage of the sectors growth potential.