17 Aug 2017

Prefab housing set to play bigger role in Housing NZ builds

1:12 pm on 17 August 2017

Housing New Zealand wants to expand its use of quicker-to-build prefabricated homes as it looks to cope with the demand for social housing.

A worker hammers down timber for a house's deck.

Housing New Zealand said prefabricated homes could help get building done faster. Photo: 123RF

Last year the government announced modular and prebuilt homes would be put to the test with up to 140 to be built for three South Auckland sites.

Social Housing Minister Amy Adams said so far 84 homes were finished or in the process of being built in Ōtāhuhu and Ōrākei, and more were planned in other Auckland sites and Tauranga.

This week a Salvation Army report estimated the country's social housing stock needed to grow from 82,000 to more than 100,000 in the next decade. The Crown's building project would see 13,500 built by 2027.

Housing New Zealand has set up a panel with suppliers to look at increasing the use of modular and prefabricated housing.

The agency's general manager of business, innovation and development, Andrew Booker, said prefabricated homes could help get building done faster.

"We've got a lot of building to do over the next 10 years or so, and looking at our stock, and what the planning rules now allow for in Auckland, we need to find ways to build more efficiently.

"Building offsite or using prefabrication can give you advantages around time and quality."

Tim Porter, from industry group PrefabNZ, said almost $3 billion worth of such building was being done already - but that could be boosted to $5bn.

"Where prefabrication has really delivered some great results is when the government commits and it starts writing cheques.

"It gives the market confidence to tool up and really invest in manufacturing facilities - and there's been some great results delivered both here and abroad."

EasyBuild's factory in Masterton can ship prefabricated housing components 'flat pack'-style throughout the country.

Director Mike Fox said the remainder of the building then happened on site using semi-skilled labour.

"Anybody who has any building experience would be able to put one up."

He said prefabrication allowed homes to go up twice as fast and could cut costs by about 30 percent.

"By going modular and smart you can double the amount of builds ... and get them under way a lot faster."

It could make a "huge dent" in meeting the social housing need, he said, as long as enough affordable land could be freed up.

New Zealand Certified Builders chief executive Grant Florence, however, has doubts about the level of cost savings.

Prefabricated homes had been talked up as the way forward for the past 40 years, he said.

"Its use in government sponsored space, in social housing, may change that slightly ... But I'm still quite sceptical around if there's actually significant cost savings and value to be created by using extensive prefabrication and modulation."