Ireland is suffering from a chronic housing shortage. The construction industry simply cannot keep up with the growing demand, and with a population projected to increase by nearly 37 percent over the next 30 years, there is a pressing need for solutions. Underscoring this problem is the Irish government’s aim of building 200,000 houses by 2024. To keep up the pace, the industry would therefore need to produce 60-70,000 homes a year. Despite the government push, only 21,000 are expected to be completed in 2021. And with increases in house prices far outpacing income, the problem is only getting worse.

To solve this problem, many are looking to modern methods of construction (MMC). These methods include offsite construction (volumetric and panelised) and are being looked at as a way to speed up the building of houses and other necessary buildings while incorporating more sustainability along the way.

In their recent piece for Lexology, Ruth Phillips and Louise Ingram discuss the benefits of MMC and acknowledge some potential downsides to such a radical shakeup in the industry.

As advocates for, and providers of light gauge steel framed buildings, we passionately believe that offsite is best, however, we are wise enough to know that there is a role for other methods of housing delivery too.

Defining Modern Methods of Construction

MMC is best defined as processes that produce high-quality homes in less time. It can be understood better in contrast to traditional construction methods that are still dominant in the industry. Conventionally a house, for example, would be built out on-site in a linear fashion, starting with the laying of a foundation, and then work would begin on the walls, roof, and finally the interior work. With MMC, however, the home would be built in parallel, with offsite construction taking place simultaneously as things like the foundation being laid. Depending on the particular method being employed, the building may even be completed before arriving at the site for erection.

Though there is an emphasis on offsite construction, the term encompasses a variety of modern techniques, including onsite methods:

  • General offsite construction
  • Panellised constructs
  • Offsite sub-assemblies and components
  • Hybrid constructions
  • Onsite tunnel form concreting
  • Offsite manufactured steel frameworks

Benefits of MMC

The most common form of MMC is offsite construction which involves producing parts, or even complete structures, in a controlled factory setting. The idea is that there can be better quality control by taking the building part of construction offsite, with no unforeseen problems arising.

Safer

This factory or assembly line approach has proved hugely successful in the automotive industry, where over the past century, the process of building a car from scratch has become not only cheaper and quicker but also safer. When you take construction into a controlled environment such as a factory floor, you can eliminate variables such as rain, ice, wildlife, and exposure to risks such as heights. 

Better Quality, Consistently

With a lot of MMC taking place in a factory, or factory-like, setting, there can be much more stringent control over the quality of constructs. With traditional construction often falling short in terms of consistency and quality, modern methods of construction are a way to guarantee quality every time. Defects can be eliminated at the design level, with processes carefully adjusted to ensure issues don’t find their way into final products.

Quicker

Buildings that employ MMC are built a lot quicker, with some techniques speeding the construction process up by 50 percent. This means there is less disturbance to nearby residents and a faster return on any investments. With most of the construction taking place offsite, construction will not be impeded by adverse weather either, with rain and snow often slowing or stopping work on traditional sites.

Cheaper

MMC can also save money in some areas, such as reducing the need for contingency budgets that are necessary with traditional construction where defects and build quality issues occur. As modern methods of construction are adopted more widely, the cost savings are expected only to increase.

More Sustainable

By controlling the production and assembly of buildings in this way, the carbon footprint of constructions can be vastly reduced. Greener materials can be utilized, and a factory setting allows more renewable energy to be used. Through precise construction, there is also much less waste produced with just-in-time methods put in place.

Flexibility

The types of buildings that MMC produces means the constructions are easier to adapt, something that modern real estate ESG strategies recommend.

The Challenges MMC is Facing

While the benefits are undoubtedly exciting, there are some challenges that MMC has to overcome to find widespread adoption in the industry.

The most significant is simply the inexperience that the industry has with these methods. Traditional methods have been around for a long time, with advancements being iterative rather than revolutionary. For many, the idea of house building offsite or radically adjusting onsite construction is a daunting and perhaps unwelcome change. Not being able to check on the progress of a build regularly also requires an element of trust on behalf of housebuilders in offsite construction factories.

While these concerns shouldn’t be dismissed offhand, trust in MMC will inevitably grow over time, we are already experiencing this – particularly during the pandemic. Such concerns should be placated as MMC continues to provide consistently high-quality buildings with efficient, time-saving measures. There is also concern that MMC is more expensive in some areas. Setting up an MMC facility is initially very expensive, with the training of staff an additional barrier. However, as MMC becomes wider spread, the ROI of such factories should become very attractive, lowering costs across the board.

Looking Ahead

MMC also provides a fantastic opportunity to encourage gender and ability equality within the industry. With covid-19 creating a shortage of migrant workers in Ireland, factory environments mean construction jobs are now viable for wheelchair users and women who are not typically seen working onsite. This shift to controlled environments and MMC, therefore, means a fairer industry.

There’s still a way to go before MMC is widely adopted, but with Ireland facing a massive shortage of housing, it is perhaps the best chance to bridge the gap between demand and supply.

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