What Is Modular Home Construction?

In this special feature, we speak with 16 companies offering what can be called 'prefabricated', 'factory' or 'offsite' construction services. We have selected those focusing on the residential sector and which provide options for high building energy star ratings, renewable materials and cost-effective production. We provide a summary below. For further details on each company's offering, including price per square metre, construction time to lockup, and details of the projects pictured.

Modular And Prefabricated Homes

Modscape

what is modular home construction (3)Modular construction, steel frame. Since it was established over a decade ago, Modscape has seen its business shift from servicing remote and holiday locations with prefabricated modular homes to delivering most of its projects to inner-city sites. Modscape can provide structural modules only through a "one-stop-shop" that includes full internal fit-out, landscaping, solar + battery systems, and wastewater treatment, among other services. It has always used sustainable materials and now takes a 'closed loop' approach that has seen it move to use recyclable steel frames for 90 per cent of its projects.

Ecoliv Buildings

Running for over ten years, Ecoliv Buildings is based in the regional Victorian town of Wonthaggi and delivers projects around Australia. Its approach is based squarely on sustainability. The company says each home is resource-efficient and combines passive solar design, construction waste reduction and systems integration. Its process focuses on optimising operational performance using modular prefabricated construction. Solar electricity and hot water, efficient lighting and 10,000 litres of rainwater storage also come standard with Ecoliv homes to reduce environmental impact.

Prebuilt and Pleysier Perkins

Starting 15 years ago, Prebuilt is a veteran in the Australian modular and prefab industry. These days, while about 60 per cent of its work is in the commercial sector, Prebuilt completes about 18 residential projects each year around Australia, offering predesigned houses and custom designs, usually in partnership with architects. Custom designs are more and more in demand, especially in Sydney where there are often difficult sites and tight planning restrictions. The company uses a modular system: engineered for the project's specific site and design requirements. The modules consist of structural steel members with traditional timber frame infill. Insulation, cladding, utilities, and internal fit-out are also completed in their Kilsyth factory in Victoria.

The stunning designs from Prebuilt are also environmentally sound, with energy connections designed to reduce the house running costs. Since their inception in 2002, they have constructed more than 300 homes. Their customer base includes downsizers and those desiring holiday homes, and with Prebuilt's reputation for exciting work offsite, there is no need for time-consuming project management by owners. Generally, it's a twelve-week build, with its price range from $100,000 to $2m plus.

Archiblox

Archiblox opened shop in 2012 and already can complete 40 to 60 modular housing projects per year, depending on the balance of bespoke and 'smart' designs on the books. We encourage people to consider our smart designs because we can achieve greater efficiencies with cost and coordination of the build, who's both an architect and builder. There are at least 11 Archiblox' smart designs' to work from. Each modular building can be modified to suit the client and site; special care is taken concerning orienting for passive solar design and capturing views without affecting thermal performance.

Arkit

Arkit designs and uses modular and panelised construction. The approach used is determined by which will achieve the best outcome based on the site. The company uses similar materials regardless of the approach taken; timber frames, well-sealed double-glazed windows, Passivhaus certified ProClima building wrap, formaldehyde-free OSB, and high-density insulation are features of each system as much of the build as possible is prefabricated within the factory environment, with internal wall linings, footings and services connected on site.

FAQs About Modular Home Construction

So often, the discussion can be heard of prefab vs modular, but what's the difference? Modular homes are prefabricated homes – with prefab being an umbrella term for anything created offsite. The next discussion is kit homes vs modular. While some include kit homes in this group, that isn't correct. Kit homes are primarily created by all materials delivered onsite in an unconstructed form. So to close the arguments down, let's agree that what we have here is prefab modular homes.

Although seen as a concept created after the two world wars to quickly and cost-effectively replace destroyed housing (and prepare for the imminent bay boom that follows war), the concept dates back to Roman days when prefabricated fort sections were mass-produced and delivered to distant locations.

Modular homes cost between $2500 and $3000 per square metre, but this cost will vary depending on many factors. Prices for a complete kit home start from around:

  • $114,000 for an 85m2 home
  • $148,000 for a 152m2 home
  • $219,000 for a 205m2 home

Construction methods are changing as builders look for more affordable ways to build. If you're looking to save on your new home, a modular home can be a cost-effective option. However, if you're considering a prefabricated home, you might be confused by some of the terminologies and want to know how much a modular home costs. 

However, the reputation of poorly created homes with tissue paper for walls that evolved from the post-war eras has taken decades to shake off. The industry, facilitated by rapidly evolving digital technologies, is at the forefront of building products, with a vast number of floor plans to choose from and delivery available in NSW, Victoria, Perth and QLD – and one imagines Tasmania the territories can just as easily be reached.

Ecologically conscious consumers have become very concerned with all building materials and industrial waste sustainability. Combined with the concept of building smaller homes, the modular industry, which has responded to each concern, is experiencing a boom in demand. With extraordinary building times (there's an average 12-week turnaround from completion of design to having a crane arrive onsite), consumers' "I want it now" appetites are quickly satisfied. The system also allows top-quality builds to be delivered to areas that do not have a supply of top tradies and protects buyers from weather-affected timetables. It must be very hard for a standard home builder to compete with low-priced modular homes.

The digital technology used in designing the homes continues into the production line with faultless material preparation resulting in minimum waste in materials and reduced energy use, which brings us to the modular home cost. One producer, Tektum, reports savings of between 10 to 15 per cent in building costs and a 40 per cent reduction in construction time. No wonder it is now recognised that affordable modular homes are a force of good to be encouraged.

The Australian Federal Government announced a $2m development budget allocated to a new collaborative lab to help manufacturers design innovative new prefabricated buildings. This sector is starting to build significant momentum and currently represents 3-5 per cent of Australia's $150 billion construction industry.

Building from the ground up onsite is expensive, time-consuming and inefficient. By contrast, a factory-built home can be delivered to a site and completed quickly and more affordably since labour costs will be reduced significantly. Some modular homes cost about the same as conventionally built homes but are constructed half the time. Compared to traditional construction, modular home benefits include:

  • Lower building cost
  • Shorter construction time
  • Quality control at all stages

Transportable: you may be able to move your home to a new location

While you won't have all the flexibility of a custom build, you will still find a degree of customisation in sizes and interior and exterior finishes to suit your taste.

This is a common question for anyone considering resale or investment property. Modular homes are appraised similarly to traditional homes and can be ideal candidates for investment properties. In addition, prefab modular homes are compact and low maintenance making them a great investment for either permanent or holiday homes.

Like conventionally constructed homes, modular homes fall under the same planning and permit requirements as any building. All homes do require building permits, which are issued by building surveyors or certifiers. The requirements of a Town Planning or Development Approval will depend on the state you reside in and the specific requirements of your site.

Habitech Systems

Habitech Systems has developed sustainable building components based on an integrated wall and roof panel system. Founded in 2008 by architect Chris Barnett, the company offers full architectural design services, focusing on thermal performance and healthy interiors. Using its SIPs (structural insulated panels) which include an integrated cladding system, Habitech uses a growing network of local builders to deliver its projects. The science behind the building system aligns with the Passivhaus standard, and Habitech also works collaboratively with other architects. Most of Habitech's clients are in Australia's southern states, but it has also partnered with builders in New Zealand to distribute its product and services there.

Carbonlite

Panelised construction system; supplies building envelopes to builders & homeowners

Panelling is a prefabricated timber wall, floor and roof system from Australian company Carbonlite. Carbonlite director Burkhard Hansen is a certified Passivhaus builder with international experience in prefabrication. He launched Panellite in 2015 to provide a flexible panelised system that can be used for any design to achieve the Passivhaus performance standard. In addition, the company routinely provides blower door and pressure testing for completed projects. While Carbonlite can provide design and construction services, its primary business is supplying high-quality building shells for builders and homeowners.

Makers of Architecture

what is modular home construction (2)Wellington-based Makers of Architecture and construction company Makers Fabrication work together and collaboratively with other designers, using digital technology and CNC (computer numerical control) capabilities to create custom designs efficiently. While Makers can work with various construction systems, the Warrender Studio is a great example of the 'CLT with cladding cassette' system developed specifically to make the most of their design and fabrication technology. CNC-cut cross-laminated timber (CLT) panels provide the structure and interior lining; prefabricated plywood cassettes containing insulation, service runs and external fibre cement sheet cladding are fitted to the exterior CLT panels using pre-routed slots. Finally, a timber' rain screen' connects to the exterior of the cladding cassettes, providing the final skin.

Habitat

Habitat has offices in Hobart and Melbourne and is a firm of five staff and a small factory. There are no off-the-shelf plans, with each building custom-designed to suit both client needs and the site. Passive solar design is embedded in the system, with low embodied energy materials were chosen throughout. Allows quick construction, reducing onsite labour costs by up to 40 per cent. Our modular system uses low-cost, off-the-shelf materials which can be used with no cutting. This means all internal and external cladding (including glass) just 'plugs' straight into the frame. The system is deliberately space-efficient, and there are much clever built-in storage and space-saving options included.

Ecoshelta

Ecoshelta runs a small architecture-oriented prefabricated modular building practice with workshops in Sydney and Hobart. It has made small, prefabricated buildings for over 30 years and has experience using solid timber frames, manufactured timber elements, steel and now marine grade structural aluminium alloy. The company has a strong focus on technology and uses a combination of natural and manufactured products, composite panel elements and 3D-printed materials. It also uses the proprietary 'EcoCost' environmental costing system to provide clients with a full life cycle assessment of the raw materials.

Impresa House

Impresa House opened its Derrimut factory in Victoria in October 2016, offering precision-cut panelised prefab homes in Melbourne and its surrounds. It works to a client's existing design and offers a full design, project management, and fit-out service. The company's system consists of timber-framed panels braced with oriented strand board (OSB), fitted with insulation, external cladding, and electrical and plumbing runs in the factory. We use traditional, familiar materials, but everything is precision cut using automated CNC machinery. The very precise way that it all goes together means greater energy efficiency, fewer air changes per hour, and reduced heating and cooling needs.

MAAP House

MAAP House has been developed with sustainability and attainability as its primary objective. The firm aims to provide contemporary. High quality finished houses that can be built on any Australian house site. It uses a hybrid flat-pack modular system that can satisfy the broadest range of needs and accommodate aspect, budget, and flexibility in floor plan designs and options.

MODE Homes

MODE uses a patented folding assembly system, so homes are largely constructed in the factory, folded down for cost-effective transport and then folded back out when they reach the site. The system was developed to reduce the prohibitive delivery costs of conventional modular construction.

A different concept is that found in Mode Homes. Rather than pods being delivered to the site, Mode Homes builds the homes in a fold-up, fold-down style. Their patented system, which can be seen on video through their website, sees the base of the floor (as such) folded up like a suitcase and then taken to the site – which is an easier and less costly task. When unfolded, the other prefab elements are attached to the frame. So, unlike other prefabs, there is more to be done onsite; however, they offer a huge range of standard design options.

With such a set of variables, nailing down a price is tricky; however, they say that most of their residential projects work out at approximately $2,800-$3,000 (plus GST) per sqm.

Fairweather Homes

Fairweather Homes has been delivering modular homes in Australia and overseas since 1982 and has constructed 400 houses to date. Its focus is architect-designed sustainable buildings using a "sophisticated" low-risk approach to affordable construction. Fairweather's component-based, offsite fabrication uses locaembodied energy materials.

St locally sourcedrine Environments

Architect Ric Butt of Strine Environments has developed over 30 years a new style of offsite prefabricated modular housing. The model integrates architectural design with precast concrete and environmentally sensitive construction to achieve climate-proof homes that provide an alternative to the usual lightweight, thermally poor-performing kit home products. The prefabricated modules have been designed to fit a truck and can be delivered anywhere. The E-Cubed system uses Utility Modules and Space Modules to achieve flexibility.

Conclusion:

It's all done through our patented process that lets you customise the design of your modular home. We'll then build it at our indoor factory and install all of the cladding, wiring and plumbing, fold it up for easy transportation, and fold it out onsite for quick installation. It means less waste, no more downtime onsite due to bad weather, reduced building costs, and lower transportation prices. Many home builders in Australia are moving into modular construction, while other businesses specialise in kit homes. Some of the leading builders and suppliers of kit homes in Australia.

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