Helping Solve the Housing Crisis

Industry News

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Bristol provides springboard to help address housing problems

Volumetric housing construction company, Totally Modular is gearing up for a busy 2019, as it starts several building projects which will help alleviate the housing shortage that is besetting many towns and cities.

A project in association with WM Housing for the Coventry area is already in progress. Initially this will be for two houses, but a further 80 infill sites have been identified across the city which could be used to build 200 new houses and thus address over half of Coventry’s current demand for homes.

Totally Modular is not a conventional construction company. It builds houses in a factory and transports them to site on an articulated lorry, where they are craned onto pre-laid foundations. The houses leave the factory virtually complete and can be already fitted out with kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms; they can even have built-in furniture, so are ready for occupancy.

“All we have to do on site”, explains Totally Modular’s Sales Manager Brian Maunder, “is lower the house onto its foundations and connect it up for power, gas, water and sewage. This usually only takes a few hours and we are ready to hand over keys to the front door.”

The houses are built around a strong steel space frame and can be clad in virtually any building material including brick, render, timber or a mix of these. Thus, they can be designed to match existing local houses, appear traditional or be at the cutting edge of a modern architectural style. They are double-glazed and highly insulated as standard so that they meet the most demanding energy efficiency requirements.

Totally Modular makes houses in several different sizes and layouts. They can be detached, semi-detached or terraced. Further, the company also applies the same design principle to building modular apartment units which can be stacked to create blocks of flats.

Brian again: “One of our main focuses is building houses and flats for the social and affordable sectors. There is a tremendous shortage of this type of home and people don’t have much of an alternative, either relying on charities, crowding-in with long-suffering friends and family or getting by in temporary bed and breakfast accommodation.”

During 2019 Totally Modular will also be building for housing associations in the pretty Cotswold village of Winchcombe, Gloucestershire and in Epsom, an urban suburb of South London. These are likely to be followed by more social and affordable projects across the country, many of which have been originated as a result of meetings held at the 2018 Bristol Housing Festival.

“Bristol was very successful for us,” says Brian. “We brought along one of our two-storey, four-person houses and it proved to be a bit of a star attraction. In fact the house attracted over 6,500 visitors, including Kevin McCloud from TV’s Grand Designs, who took a strong interest and commented favourably about several aspects of the house design and realisation.”

The festival is there to showcase new methods of construction, allowing housing professionals to explore solutions to the needs of private developments and the social and affordable sectors. Other visitors, such as self-builders, were interested in various options for fast, efficient and quality-assured construction.

Brian concludes: “As a city, Bristol is being proactive and imaginative in its approach to the housing shortage. Judging by my time at the festival, I would say the local council, housing associations and community have helped make real strides against homelessness across the area. This aligns with the goals of Totally Modular, hence the high level of interest.”

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Rapid solutions to ease the housing shortage

The house building process can take a long time, but the pressing need for new homes across the UK is making the thought of fast-track projects more and more appealing.

Brian Maunder, Sales Manager at Totally Modular, explains how his company has taken the concept of volumetric modular construction to the ultimate level and can factory-build houses much faster than traditional construction methods.

If your sole exposure to house building was watching Channel 4’s Grand Designs, you would probably conclude that it takes at least a year to build one house and often far longer. On top of this there is likely to be a huge amount of heartache, runaway budgets and an endless string of difficult decisions to be made. Developers building housing estates on the other hand do complete individual house structures in a matter of weeks, however the fit-out and decoration can take just as long.

There is however, another way…

At Totally Modular we build residential housing solutions, constructed using high-integrity modules, engineered and built under cover in our own factory facilities. The processes we use are managed as a production line manufacturing operation, with materials and components ready and available as required. This means we don’t suffer from bad weather delays, while we benefit from minimal wastage and reliable scheduling.

This allows work to proceed on a defined timescale so that skilled people are employed very efficiently, costs are contained and time to completion can be compressed. We can add fully fitted-out kitchens and bathrooms, furnish other rooms, fit exterior lighting etc. This is in marked contrast to on-site building with all the inherent problems of weather dependency, delivery schedules, site coordination and managing subcontract work etc.

Significantly, Totally Modular units are based on a strong three-dimensional steel main frame. This is based on hot-rolled structural steel, with light gauge steel or other materials used for panelling as appropriate. The strong frame used for the modules not only ensures the finished building’s integrity is very high, it allows each module to be moved to site very easily when it’s finished, with just small tasks to be completed when it arrives on site.

The range of external finishes available includes brick, render or cladding and is completed in the factory, which ensures very high standards of finish. Windows and doors are also installed as part of the in-factory process, so are guaranteed to be fitted perfectly and compliant with energy efficiency standards, etc.

In fact, 97% of the building process is finished in the factory to a strict production schedule and defined quality standards. This ensures that program timing, quality and performance expectations are met.

We offer a range of building styles, both standard and bespoke so that we can match local aesthetics. These are all created using modules developed by our in-house architectural and construction designers. Further, the modules can be arranged in a number of layouts to create houses of different sizes and formats, including detached, semi-detached and terraced. We can even stack the modules to create blocks of flats and maisonettes.

For housing providers such as housing associations, charities and local council authorities, there are several big advantages to Totally Modular’s volumetric building method. The most obvious one is that we can take a complete house from build to handover in as little as four days.

Site preparation is reduced when compared to traditional construction methods, involving only foundation pads and provision for services such as water, waste, power and gas. Totally Modular units are transported to site on a standard articulated lorry and craned onto the foundations in a one-lift operation. Once the module, or modules are in place the utilities are connected-up and the house is ready to welcome its occupants.

Because the units are built under controlled conditions, workmanship is of the highest standard, meaning the need for inspection is minimised and snagging lists are all but gone. The quality of the fittings and furniture is specified at the design stage and, as they are ordered in volume procurement can be managed for best price and just in time delivery.

As such, Totally Modular’s volumetric construction methods are proving to be a powerful tool in the rapid provision of high-quality housing to all sectors of society.

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Inner city building sites can be an oasis of peace and tranquillity

Volumetric Modular in-fill city homes are fast to install with minimum of noise and disruption to the surrounding area.

Building sites are usually noisy, dirty and very disruptive to the community in which they are located, so neighbours rarely welcome them even when new housing is desperately needed. But it does not have to be like that as Brian Maunder of pioneering construction company Totally Modular Ltd explains.

New houses and flats are needed all over the country, partly to address the current housing shortage and partly to renew existing housing stock. Most people are sympathetic to this need, but few actually want construction work too close to their own homes.

In large part this is because of the disruption that will be caused by the actual construction process. In cities and other urban spaces, the disruption is likely to be even worse, because the construction will be on infill sites which have restricted access and could be in close proximity to already occupied buildings. A typical house building project will take six to 18 months to build, with larger projects taking longer and/or causing more disruption.

As well as the noise and disturbance of the construction processes, there is the constant arrival and departure of trucks that could cause traffic queues, block pedestrian access, create driving hazards such as mud on the road etc.

Solutions not problems

However, there is an alternative that minimises the on-site construction process and produces attractive high-quality homes almost instantly. Volumetric construction is a technique in which houses are built off-site and delivered as complete ready to go modules. They are craned onto prepared foundations and connected to the utilities. In a matter of hours, they are ready for occupation.

As well as houses, blocks of flats can be built in exactly the same way, with each flat being a module that can be stacked and arranged in almost any configuration up to 11 storeys high (although currently most projects are low rise). This is possible because all units are built around an incredibly strong three-dimensional steel frame.

In fact, they are built indoors, in a factory environment so there is no need to allow for weather delays or any of the other issues that can slow up traditional on-site construction. Further efficiency gains can be made because the techniques and disciplines developed in the manufacturing industries can be brought to bear, including just in time delivery of supplies, safe working practises and high levels of security.

Modular accommodation units are used throughout the construction industry on everything from luxury cruise liners to high rise tower blocks. The only difference is that Totally Modular houses are built with weatherproof walls and in a visual style ready to fit-in with existing traditionally constructed houses.

On-site

While the modules are being built, the site can be prepared. With volumetric construction it is very different from digging traditional foundations. Precise piled foundations are laid, or existing ground pads or structures are re-used, which is particularly helpful in brownfield sites. Utilities are piped in and the rest of the site is almost completely untouched. Indeed, landscaping to improve the immediate environment can be included in the construction project and completed as building works progress.

Modular Construction employs highly trained on-site management teams to organise the day to day activities on the ground. These include maintaining construction schedules, groundworks and landscaping, overseeing health and safety, co-ordinating utilities connections, waste management, liaising with local residents and all the quality checks needed for BoPAS (Build offsite Property Assurance scheme) warranties.

On the delivery date the installation team takes over to manage the installation phase, including connection to services. Delivery of multiple units is always dovetailed to minimise disruption while maximising operational efficiency on site. It is not uncommon to install and commission six or more house in one day!

The houses and flats are brought to site 97% complete. That is to say, they are fitted out with fully equipped kitchens and bathrooms, plus possibly built in furniture, door bells, blinds, lighting etc, etc. This means there is no need for a stream of trades to travel to site to install one or two items, the usual post-construction delivery traffic is minimised to almost nothing.

The construction industry has always moved with the times, changing and adapting as new needs arise. Volumetric construction is one of the latest developments; it drives efficiency into every aspect of the build phases and guarantees high-quality long-life homes.