What are Modular Buildings? A Guide for Property Investors
While there is a lot of hype around modular buildings at the moment the real utility is to be found in thinking about pre-fabrication in more general terms. New technology, such as SIP panels allow for speedy construction and have the potential to revolutionise the construction sector entirely.
What Are Modular Buildings?
Amy: Could you tell us - what are modular buildings and what do they mean for investors?
Grant: 'Modular' is a really interesting word because it covers such a wide spectrum.
When clients ask us about modular, we try and re-educate them, telling them not to think of something as being modular, but as an off-site fabrication.
That change in thinking opens more doors. So, at the more futuristic end of the spectrum, modular buildings are pods that are delivered, put together and the house is done.
I remember one modular building featured in Tomorrow's World, years ago. It came on a flatbed and you put a key in and you turned it and something popped up. Then you put in another key, turned that and something else popped up. And there was your house.
And that's the sort of the idea of a modular building. It's a module that's delivered.
Grant: When you think of fast construction methods and off-site fabrication, one of the things that we're really excited about is called a SIP. A SIP system - A structural insulated panel.
So, a SIP panel is a big chunk of foam insulation with two bits of wood, glued together. That forms your structural wall. It is really cool.
SIP panels have been around for a few years but like with anything, the markets are still catching up with demand.
Then there's another product which we're dying to use but haven't had a chance, yet. In essence, you get big polystyrene Lego blocks. You clip these all together on site and then you pour in concrete.
It is proper cool stuff, popular in continental Europe.
Amy: I saw something similar in Silicon Valley when I looked at the tiny homes movement and the modular buildings there. I am a big fan of this type of housing. Obviously, I'm looking at homelessness so I want to this kind of thing to come out quickly as, in regard to homelessness, there's a lot we could be doing with it.
Grant: There is a technology the US military came up with for emergency shelters.
It's a layer of cement and a layer of fabric. You put it out on site, put a pump into it and it blows it up. Then you spray it with water, the concrete goes hard and, in essence, you've built a bunker in hours.
These structures are only supposed to last for six months. It's temporary accommodation. But there are examples of them being up for 20 years.
You can bury them under the sand. You can bury them under snow.
A lot of the things that we use in common, everyday life comes from the military or comes from NASA and then filters through.
But, with modular technology, the sort of things we have done in the past is, say, apartment blocks where the bathroom is a pod that's just plugged in.
And that, in essence, is a modular aspect to the construction. So, it can even be something which is quite small. Just a part of a bigger build.
Amy: That's an interesting idea.
A Culture Of Change
Grant: The biggest challenge we have here in the UK is that most of our builders are traditional.
Amy: Again, fostering a culture of change and getting people to think a little bit differently.
Grant: It is. And we've pitched the idea of using SIP panels a few times but the builders don't want to use them.
They want to keep on using bricks and mortar because it's what they know. Because it's what they have been doing for 20 years and they know how to do and how to price it. And it almost comes that point where you start having to educate people.
And in a lot of cases, though, we get people who want to use modular technology and there's no benefit to it.
But there are great opportunities to use either component modular or full.The SIP panel idea, I absolutely love because you can send a company your floor plans. They cut up the panels into big blocks. Then, these get delivered and you can go from having your sole plate, your foundation, your base and you just set these on, screw them together and you've got your walls up.
You can be water-tight in about seven or eight days. It's just awesome, you know? Just brilliant.
Amy: Yeah, I love that too.