What is MMC?
Modular construction is the process where buildings are made up of individual sections or pods constructed in an off-site controlled manufacturing facility, then assembled at the final building site to support the rapid and efficient construction of a permanent structure.
In April 2019 RICS published new research on Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) with recommendations for Ministers. RICS research paper, ‘Forward Thinking Solution to the Housing Crisis’ looks at several different technologies as constructed on site. In summary the Government should support MMC directly and also indirectly. They should support in public infrastructure schemes support local authorities and housing associations with financial incentives to meet housing needs through MMC. Promote MMC products, such as warranties, guarantees and accreditations and look to update building regs. The Government should also support policy and funding and also upskilling the existing workforce to meet the needs of MMC.
There are a number of advantages of MMC;
- MMC provides fast delivery than traditional building. It is therefore considered to be less disruptive, especially onsite as the build time is far quicker. The delivery dates are faster both in construction phase in the factory and also onsite. As onsite time is reduced it provides less disruption to neighbouring properties.
- MMC is more carbon and energy efficient in its construction and is could be more energy efficient to run once occupied.
- Offsite manufacturing requires large investment, however MMC needs to have scale to be profitable as the factory can assemble on mass so economies of scale can be achieved
- MMC offers a better working environment which is a controlled environment, therefore safer, and delays can be minimised as external factors such as bad weather wont impact the build schedule
- Technology can be seen to boost productivity.
- Quality control – cars have been built in factories in this way for years, so there is no reason houses can’t be produced on mass in the same way. Each and every stage has quality control processes and sign offs. MMC are all built to modern standards.
There are also a number of disadvantages
- MMC is in an evolutionary phase – lenders, investors and valuers are all finding their way. The Build Offsite Property Assurance Scheme (BOPAS) constitutes a significant provider of confidence and assurance in this sector by warranting specific construction systems.
- Insurance and Warranties are not yet fully supported by all lenders and insurers
- The long term quality and durability is untested as the finished product has yet to be around for a suitable amount of time to evidence that the factory testing’s are correct
- Size logistics – There are restrictions with transporting the modules from the factory to the site. Abnormal loads over a certain size require a police escort and not all roads are suitable for large Lorries. Therefore some room sizes are compromised
- Site access – as with the transport logistics the access to the site also needs to be taken into consideration
MMC – What is the future?
It is worth looking backwards before we look forwards. MMC or prefabricated houses as they were known in the post-WWII, were quickly springing up as there was a requirement for a large volume of housing, amidst a shortage of over 200,000 homes. The construction industry did look at innovative technologies but unfortunately the longevity was not considered and quantity rather than quality was the priority. In today’s world we have an even larger housing shortage. With average life expectancy increasing and relationships forming later in life, there a number of pressure points on the housing market.
With a surge of interest and the acceptance that more houses are required MMC is poised to play a leading role in meeting demand. With better working conditions, less impact on the environment, stringent quality and controls, why would this not be the way forward?
With a shortage of around 250,000 houses (170,000 PRS and 75,000 social housing) the Government needs to take on board the RICS recommendations and should support MMC directly and indirectly. Only with their support and backing will investors, lenders and others take a leap of faith and fully commit to MMC.