Prefab is sustainable and affordable, industry leaders argue
Offsite, or prefabricated, construction is both more affordable and sustainable than traditional building methods. It could even be the answer to Australia’s housing crisis.
That’s the opinion of a group of industry leaders assembled at the DesignBUILD 2018 exhibition to discuss the opportunities for prefab construction for Australia.
Melbourne-based prefab company PowerHouse Homes’ Founder & CEO, Waco Tao took part in the panel discussion.
PowerHouse is currently working on delivering a range of prefabricated communities, including a project of up to 100 prefabricated homes in Pakenham, as well as working with Grocon to deliver 41 eco-friendly, prefabricated cabins in Mount Buller.
Rating high on criteria for sustainability, prefab homes such as those built by PowerHouse are well insulated, both thermally and acoustically. Unlike the elements of traditionally built houses, which predominately use timber, steel-framed structurally insulated panels, known as SIPs, provide a high-star energy rating and low running costs for maximum operational efficiency over the lifetime of the building.
“At the moment, the traditional building system in Australia does not reflect the true needs of home buyers, nor does it respond to the environment that we live in,” Tao says.
“Because the current status of the Australian housing market is failing to keep up with the ever-increasing demand for housing, damage is being done to both the pocket and to the environment. Australia has some of the highest per capita carbon emissions in the world and inefficient residential construction is a huge problem here.”
Offsite construction can certainly benefit the environment, according to the CEO of peak industry body prefabAUS, Warren McGregor, facilitated the session for the DesignBUILD panel.
“Prefabrication minimises completion times, provides more certainty for the client and is good for the environment, with less waste, less intensive onsite construction and a safer, quieter and less harmful overall work site,” McGregor says.
Along with carbon emissions, affordability is the other huge problem that Australia’s current housing system is plagued by.
“We see great efficiencies to be gained around affordability as prefabrication take up increases the volume of construction activity delivered this way,” McGregor says.
“In concert with other measures, a wider use of prefabrication could place home ownership, or more affordable rentals, in reach of more Australians. Currently fewer than 5 per cent of Australian residences include some degree of factory-built element. Compare that to Norway where it’s closer to 80 per cent and you can see how, on scale, this could be a game changer.”
Tao says the construction industry is finally catching up to innovations and cost efficiencies that have been standard practice in other manufacturing industries for decades.
“By adopting automotive industry-style prefabrication and supply chain management methodologies, prefab construction can reduce overall building costs by as much as 20 per cent. We can achieve this while limiting onsite construction and radically increasing delivery speed, to just 10 weeks from order to turnkey delivery.”
Tao and McGregor were joined on the DesignBUILD panel by David Parken, who is president of architecture, engineering and construction industry leadership group DesignIntelligence Australia and the former CEO of the Australian Institute of Architects; and the managing director of Melbourne-based manufacturer Dynamic Steel Frame, Peter Blythe.
The DesignBUILD panel, ‘Prefab: a threat or an opportunity for building and construction?’, took place during DesignBUILD on Thursday 3 May at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre.