The costs of new quicker modular construction systems are falling to the point where they are becoming cheaper for some house building than conventional methods, according to an executive researching the area for the Construction Industry Federation (CIF).
Modular construction involves building key elements of a structure on a production line and delivering them to the site, where they are assembled on a frame and concrete base.
Martin Searson, chief executive of surveyors and advisers on sustainable building, Quality Positive, said modular construction costs are close to becoming cheaper for house building than conventional on-site methods.
“They are reaching a tipping point,” he said. However, Mr Searson explained that the system was most suitable for large projects, involving 100 or more dwellings.
“You need volume; you would need 100, 200 or 300 houses all to be built to a specific design,” he said.
Assembling a modular-built house on site can take as little as four hours. The system produces 80 per cent less waste than conventional building, while it also cuts carbon emissions significantly.
Current regulations, which limit the height of timber-frame structures, mean that the system cannot for now be applied to most apartment blocks. However, Mr Searson suggested that building regulations could be reviewed in light of new modular building systems and technology.
Some European countries are now using timber frames for buildings up to 20 storeys, he said.
Industries including pharmaceutical manufacturing, technology, data centres and others already use modular construction, including for specialised features such as clean rooms.
Mr Searson said the techniques developed in these sectors were helping to drive down down costs and could be adapted to other areas.
Assembled on site
Large sections of overall structures, often measuring 10m long by 4m high and 4m wide can be built in factories before being delivered by truck to building sites, where the structures are then assembled.
A CIF working group on modern methods of construction has established that there are more than 100 Irish businesses now supplying the modular building industry.
Mr Searson, who is involved in the group, noted that this included “very big players” such as Modern Homes and Castle Modular, along with many others.
The working group is consulting with the wider building industry and experts in modular construction to establish the extent to which the sector has adopted the new approach.
It is also looking at what needs to happen in the market generally to encourage further adoption.
Mr Searson said that accountants EY will take the CIF research and benchmark it against what is happening internationally. The federation’s work should be finished at some point next month, he added.