As construction struggles to meet the demand for new homes, it’s time to incentivize modern construction methods (MMC). Or so argues Ian Atkinson, Partner at law firm Womble Bond Dickinson, writing in  ThePlanner .

With the Rebuilding Ireland action plan to build 150,000 homes by 2022 expected to fall well short of construction targets, having only 83,913 homes constructed by April 2021, many are looking to MMC to speed up delivery.

The Current State of MMC

To boost the volume of house building construction and bridge the large gap between supply and demand for new homes, even traditionalists in the industry are exploring offsite construction and other MMC as potential solutions. Modern methods of construction are also seen as the best way to meet the challenges regarding material sustainability and hit the target of net-zero carbon by 2050.

While there is broad acknowledgment that MMC will play an essential role in the future of housebuilding, as it stands, traditional methods of construction still dominate. For MMC to be able to meet the demands of modern house building, significant challenges must be overcome. In the above-referenced article, Ian Atkinson opines that the pace at which homes are built could be accelerated through government initiatives to encourage housebuilders to implement and adopt MMC.

Benefits of MMC

Over the years, MMC has become a bit of an umbrella term to describe a host of different construction methods. However, it is generally understood that modern methods of construction should emphasize off-site construction. This means taking the construction of new homes off the building site and into a controlled factory setting, as we do here at Horizon Offsite.

Aside from design standardization, the benefits of MMC are:

Quality

Off-site construction improves the overall quality of builds, providing consistently high standards with materials that could not be used on-site. Using MMC, construction errors are eliminated from the process.

Sustainability

With the global focus on the climate crisis, sustainability is an important metric for housebuilders to focus on. MMC improves sustainability in the following ways:

  • Wastage can be minimized and monitored
  • Less time and energy spent on-site
  • MMC workers tend to have shorter commutes
  • Less HGV movement at construction sites
  • Materials used in MMC often have smaller carbon footprints

Safety

Off-site construction is typically safer as MMC involves controlled environments, unlike traditional construction.

Speed

MMC is faster than traditional construction.

Flexibility

Homes built using MMC are more easily adapted throughout the building lifecycle.

Challenges associated with MMC

Despite these benefits, MMC is struggling to gain traction in the UK housebuilding sector, with the RICS (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors) estimating that only 8 percent of UK homes are built using MMC.

Perhaps the most significant factor is the lack of knowledge and lack of access to skilled providers. Also, in the early days of the conversation around a move to offsite construction, there was much confusion about cost. While housebuilders are struggling to keep up with demand, the margins involved in traditional construction are small. With shortages due to the pandemic, making these margins even smaller, housebuilders are currently reluctant to radically change methods  or take a chance. Despite this catch-22 of adoption and cost limiting each other, Ian Atkinson feels the economies of scale will increase, making MMC cheaper to implement over the coming years. Our extensive experience shows that offsite construction, when managed by an expertise team from design to erection, offers a host benefits, including certainty of programme, which includes certainty of costs.

Another key issue is UK lenders are currently reluctant to offer mortgages on homes built using MMC and off site construction methods, with concerns over long-term build quality. However, signs of more widespread acceptance can be seen with the UK’s NHBC signing a Memorandum of Understanding once government standards are introduced for MMC-built homes.

A less obvious problem for MMC in Ireland is the size of roads, with many carriageways not being wide enough for parts to be transported easily to sites. Other jurisdictions have dealt with this through the use of ‘popup’ assembly facilities on large-scale sites. While not as economical as off site construction, this can solve the logistical problems some developments would have.

While Ireland’s EU migrant worker shortage is not quite as severe as the UK’s post-Brexit, the pandemic has put further pressure on labour.  Any skills-drive, Ian Atkinson encourages, should offer the training of MMC-skills to hit long-term housing goals.

Government Incentives

With the Rebuilding Ireland programme for delivery falling significantly short of its target, and homeownership for those between 25-39, only half what it was a decade ago, off-site construction is increasingly being seen as the future of homebuilding here. And the UK government is undoubtedly banking on MMC to provide high-quality, affordable housing after announcing a task force in March 2021 to encourage the use of MMC in the industry. What’s more, they also have made those involved in the strategic partnership grant program commit to using MMC to build at least 25 percent of homes.

In Ireland and the UK, offsite construction and other modern methods of construction are necessary to meet the demands of modern house building and will be vital in meeting the sustainability ambitions globally.

About Horizon Offsite

Horizon Offsite Ltd is one of Europe’s leading players in Offsite Construction and Modern Methods of Construction (MMC), providing a fully accredited structural light gauge steel system to the residential, industrial, commercial, healthcare and educational sectors. Contact the Horizon Offsite team at https://horizonoffsite.ie