‘Modular construction’ is a term used to describe the use of factory-produced pre-engineered building units that are delivered to site and assembled as large volumetric components or as substantial elements of a building. This is the construction method used for modular homes.
The modular units may form complete rooms, parts of rooms, or separate highly serviced units such as toilets or lifts. The collection of discrete modular units usually forms a self-supporting structure in its own right or, for tall buildings, may rely on an independent structural framework.
Flat pack or modular homes are mainly constructed in a factory, often right down to the walls being plastered and fixtures such as kitchens and bathrooms fitted to walls.As most construction is done under cover in a factory, bad weather can’t hold up the work, making this is an efficient method. It’s often also cheaper than a traditional build by up to 25 per cent, and can incorporate many eco-friendly features.
In South Africa, this style of building has been mainly favoured by self-builders or custom builders – where modular companies erect a house on an individual plot to an owner’s exact specifications – and so numbers here are small.
Modern materials and construction methods, the flexibility the houses provide, and the speed of production means more people, mortgage/bond providers and housing authorities are seeing them as a viable option.
Until now, modular homes have been associated with European companies such as Huf Haus or Scandia Hus, and there’s no doubt that German, Scandinavian and even Estonian companies led the way.
1. What are they made from?
Flat pack homes are mostly constructed from SIPs that provide a flat, smooth surface.
Externally, they can be decorated with cedar or larch cladding or zinc for a contemporary look, traditional painted or stained weatherboarding and brick or stone slips to complement surrounding buildings.
Some companies are looking at more eco-friendly materials.
Bamboo Living Homes constructs modular houses from, as the name suggests, bamboo!
2. What are the options?
Turnkey Fully finished homes built to your exact specifications.
Shell or Bare Bones units that contain all the pieces you need – floor, ceiling, walls, doors, windows etc – but you put it all together yourself.
This could be a good package if you’re a self-builder.
Basic Build – the company provides the pieces and puts them together, but you fit the basics such as the flooring, kitchen and bathroom.
3. Can you customise them?
In theory, your house could be tailored exactly to your dream, but the more bespoke and lavish you go, the more it will cost.
As these homes are built in factories, the quality and consistency of work is standardised, and many manufacturers work to a catalogue of models.
However they’re generally keen to create bespoke designs using high-quality materials it that’s what the client prefers.
If you need to keep costs down, you’ll likely have to work with the manufacturer’s standard dimensions for room sizes, ceiling heights and door openings.
Before you decide anything, it’s worth speaking to the company’s in-house designer or architect about what’s possible on your chosen model.
4. Are they energy efficient?
Yes, it’s easy to include energy-saving measures such as insulation and triple-glazing.
Many are certified as Passivhaus standard, the highest possible energy efficient build.
A lot of people thinking about living in a low-impact way: moving away from the five-bedroom executive home, and towards the low-impact or even the “Tiny home”.
Floor area is a big factor in cost and environmental impact terms, so it’s often better to go for a smaller, greener design than spread money thin on a bigger floor area.
The key is good design, and a thorough look at the space you actually use and spend your time in.
5. What about planning permission?
Check with your council’s planning department that permission is likely to be granted for a flat pack house before you buy land.
Then once you have an agreement in principle and have bought the land, your modular company should work with you to get full permission.
As they’re made up of modules, these houses can be interesting architecturally, and when they stand in their own land, can look stunning.
Flatpacks can just as well be built on land in an ordinary street, in which case they’ll probably have to fit in with the streetscape.
6. How easy is it to get a mortgage/bond?
Structural warranties are often the key to unlocking finance for new builds.
The issue for the self-build market is that many structural warranty providers are designed around the “Brick and block” traditional route of construction, which favours energy and carbon intensive processes such as concrete.
It’s inherently difficult for modern methods of construction to comply, though we have had some success after quite a lot of work!’ Check that your mortgage provider recognises the build system used by the manufacturer as being of ‘standard construction’ and that the house you plan doesn’t fall under legislation aimed at caravans and mobile homes.
Also discuss how the money will be loaned; your construction company may need to be paid in stages and so you’ll need a ‘staged’ loan.
And check with your insurers or the modular home company that they’ll issue a 10-year warranty, as this is a requirement of all mortgage lenders for new homes,’ says Michael Holmes of the National Custom and Self Build Association.