Monday 22 January 2018

Home Truths: Printed homes off the back of a lorry

Hotels are fighting the AirBnb revolution
Hotels are fighting the AirBnb revolution
Mark Keenan

Mark Keenan

The Y Cube should scare the living bejaysus out of Irish builders.

The recently unveiled London development by the YMCA should also be inspiring our moribund politicans with responsibility for sorting housing and homelessness.

Y Cube is a block of 36 apartments launched this week in Mitcham in South London with 36 hitherto homeless people reported to be delighted to receive the keys to modern, energy efficient one bed apartments.

Each home in the three storey scheme has its own outside front entrance, an ensuite bedroom, a decent sized living room and a galley kitchen. Enough for a single person to live quite happily. The size is 280 square feet which is equivalent to a small one bedroom apartment in Dublin. The energy efficiency is such that the running costs are estimated at €12 per month.

The first twist is that Y Cube apartments were assembled (not built) in a factory and they arrived on the back of a lorry from which they were stacked together and bolted into place. The assembly time was five months- less than half the time it takes to construct a regular apartment block. The individual homes or indeed the entire scheme can also be moved elsewhere and reinstalled just as quick and at least five times in their lifetime of 60 plus years.

Y Cube homes cost Stg£30,000 (€41,000) each - the price of a luxury family saloon car. This is 43pc less than the cost of homes in a cheap regular build apartment block with no frills. Builders should be worried because Y Cube tells us that homes won't be provided by brickies, blockies, regular electricians, carpenters, plasterers et al but by factory workers. Y Cube is the apartment block that came off the back of a lorry.

Each unit was made indoors, machined on a factory production line in Derbyshire - ensuring minimum material waste and no weather delays. Y Cube is made of timber frame, MDF, insulation and cement board rainproof cladding. Watch the process on this link

Kit housing isn't new but the technology and materials have improved beyond belief to the degree that schemes like Y Cube can realistically challenge if not surpass traditional build techniques. While currently in use largely for small emergency housing, you only have to add more component units to create bigger properties. It's only a matter of time.

Logic states, that just as rapid technological advances are massively disrupting sectors like retail, media and home entertainment, so too are they already utterly transforming what we today call the "construction sector," which in Ireland has a history of reluctance to divert from traditional build processes (it took us 20 years to accept timber frame).

As a member of the YMCA, told a British newspaper on Y Cube launch day: "Factory construction is just common sense, you wouldn't buy a car that was built in a field so why buy a house that was?"

As we in Ireland fooster about and twiddle our thumbs over the housing and homeless crisis that is rapidly putting families on the street every day, London is getting to grips with exactly the same problems with practical action. As we attempt to ratchet up the standards of expensive traditional build homes and add further to the expense of constructing them, the Brits are having decent homes made for half price in factories and putting them up in half the time.

This week the Construction Industry Federation which represents Irish building interests released the document: "Six Steps to Increase Housing Supply and Stimulate Growth in the Economy." It is laiden with calls for various incentives and tax breaks, we presume largely for traditional construction which has, for various reasons, become too expensive to be practical at the moment given that no homes are being built.

Irish builders face myriad problems today but one which is seldom mentioned is the sector's track record of resistance to new systems. As we now know the boom saw plenty of rubbish homes built at excruciating cost to the consumer - and now it would appear, many of these homes are not only badly put together but were behind the technology curve of their day, particularly with regard to energy saving and insulation.

In the same way that retailers are only now coming to grips with online clothes shopping and hotels are fighting the AirBnb revolution, so too will the traditional construction sector have to realise that it is already being bypassed by technological breakthroughs and at risk of extinction unless it can adapt.

If cheap and sound fast build homes can be factory made in Derbyshire at half price, then they can be made cheaper again in factories in China. Indeed technology is moving so fast that even Y Cube techniques may already have been assigned to history due to China.

Because two months ago in Xian Province, it was reported that the company ZhuoDa "printed" a family sized "villa" house in ten days in a factory and then erected it in three hours. It was assembled with six printed modules made on large 3D printing machines which can create solid objects in the same way that a regular office machine prints out a document.

The day when the Irish first time buyer can order a house online, have it printed off in China and delivered within a few weeks might not be so far away.

Indo Property

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