Prefabricated housing, also known as prefab homes, have components manufactured off-site in advance, usually in standard sections that can be easily shipped and assembled. This off-site construction, also called modular construction, enables various building elements, including bathrooms, exterior walls, and pre-wired light fixtures, to be constructed in a factory, and then delivered to a construction site. When done correctly, off-site construction can benefit a project’s schedule, budget and skilled labour requirements.
Certain types of buildings are suitable for prefabrication, while others are not. For example, buildings with redundancies such as hospitals, data centres, student housing, education buildings, and senior housing, can have components prefabricated. On the other hand, mixed-use and office space is not ideal for prefabrication, because tenants are likely to require renovations from time to time. This will cause problems with load-bearing interior walls.
Prefab housing is great for disaster relief as well. Over the years, many innovative designs have been created, manufactured and shipped to disaster areas all over the world. For instance, IKEA collaborated with UNCHR to produce a lightweight solution for emergency shelter, called the IKEA Flat Pack. As the name implies, it folds down completely flat, and it is solar powered too. It has been shipped to refugee camps around the world, and has benefited many a weary soul. Another example is the prefab housing concept for Nepalese refugees designed by Italian firm Barberio Colella ARC. It was designed and built to house the homeless Nepalese after several earthquakes. This house is easily constructed on-site and is a larger than usual disaster relief structure, accommodating up to 10 people. It comes with solar panels on the roof and a rainwater collection system.
All good things come with a downside, of course. In this case, constructing components off-site means decreased flexibility to change or update buildings during the construction on-site. Prefabrication is not good for making last-minute changes. Those changes have to be made much earlier.
However, these days, virtual design and construction, a type of computer modelling, can be used to solve problems with subcontractors and building partners in the virtual world, before building in a factory or in the field.
Like it or hate it, prefab housing is here to stay. It has many beneficial uses, and with the right approach, planning, design and construction, can mitigate costs and enhance quality control, among other things. Construction workers will also be provided with a safer working environment indoors in a prefab factory rather than outdoors on a construction site.