One of Britain’s major housebuilders is to prefabricate up to a quarter of its homes in a factory, in the latest attempt by the construction industry to tackle the housing shortage.
Berkeley Homes, which builds 4,000 homes a year, is planning to create a facility in Kent next year where builders will work to produce up to 1,000 houses and apartments annually which will then be craned on to sites.
Another company, nHouse, is setting up a factory in Peterborough with the capacity to build 400 homes a year, complete with light fittings, bathrooms, bookshelves and kitchens. Production is expected to start in January.
It claims it can build a house in 20 days in the factory which can then be erected on site in half a day. Several other developers, including Legal and General and Urban Splash, have also launched prefab home divisions.
Fears of a shortage of skilled construction workers caused by an ageing workforce and an exodus due to Brexit are part of the reason for the revival of prefabrication, which last provided a significant number of homes after the second world war.
The government has set a target of building 300,000 homes a year by the middle of the next decade. Despite recent increases in activity, the last annual figure was 190,000.
A Berkeley spokesman said: “We have acquired a 10-acre brownfield site from the Homes and Communities Agency to build a factory for modular homes in Ebbsfleet, Kent. This will have the potential to deliver up to 1,000 homes a year.
“Construction of the factory could begin next year. While the speed of production and the impact on skills and labour are important factors, our real driver is the quality we can achieve with modular housing.”
The nHouse has been designed by the architect Richard Hywel Evans and is made in four modules from engineered pine panels which are transported on the backs of lorries and are then clipped together on site and connected to pre-existing services. Its built-in features include solar panels, a robot vacuum cleaner and even a drone landing pad – looking forward to a time of aerial deliveries.
A three-bed house is on sale to developers or individual householders from £170,000 to £185,000, which is about the same price as a standard house built using wet trades.
Nick Fulford, the director of nHouse, argues that with 100 workers operating on an indoor production line rather than on muddy building sites in the elements, the homes will suffer from fewer snagging problems.