Mass-produced modern prefabricated homes have developed into a viable option globally for housing the homeless and being cost-effective, fast and simple.
An estimated 560,000 people sleep on the streets every night in the United States alone. Statistics show that only 29 home units are available for every 100 extremely low-income households, and more than 38 million households spend a minimum of 30 percent of their income on housing. For countries across the globe, even developed ones, the numbers are not much better. Housing for the homeless, therefore, is a pressing need today and one that requires innovative solutions. Mass-produced modern prefabricated homes have developed into a viable option globally for being cost-effective, fast and simple.
In Los Angeles, the number of homeless people increased by 20 percent in one year. Permanent Supportive Housing, or PSH, is a concept that was floated a while ago but has been held up because of costs and a lengthy delivery time. One of the remedies for PSH was to build simultaneously and with sound strategy using Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) or prefabrication. This involves designing a prefab module that can be certified and thus installed much like a household appliance, where the contractor simply connects power, plumbing and ventilation to the modules. The prefab modules come fitted with toilets, beds, sanitaryware, modular kitchens, shelves and countertops. The materials required for fixtures, furniture and equipment can be acquired at wholesale rates for large volumes of mass production.
Support services for the homeless, such as grocery stores and laundromats, can be installed as modular units also using DfMA. The modules are ready to install, shortening the process time and minimizing disruption to the neighborhood.
In several cities, modern prefabricated homes for the homeless have become popular for their affordability and because modular homes can be created quickly and at low cost. In Europe, Canada and the United States, prefab homes are more economical to construct compared to traditional homes. Architects have started to use prefabrication concepts to design and mass-produce modern homes. Modern architectural styles favor clean lines and open floor plans, both of which are well suited for prefab homes. Another reason prefab homes benefit the homeless is because of sustainability. Modular units can be built in one location at a fast rate, can be assembled, transported and established elsewhere and can then be disassembled, removed, relocated and reassembled as and when needed.
Global Prefab Solutions for the Homeless
- London YMCA’s Y:Cube, a free to low-cost housing project, provides accommodation for homeless people in south London, passing the Code for Sustainable Homes Level 6. The housing modules for this project were assembled in only 2 weeks. Its success triggered housing solutions in Cardiff.
- Caversham, Berkshire will construct 57 emergency homes from 28 wooden units for the homeless.
- In Hawaii, a non-profit organisation housed the homeless, some of whom were disabled, with modular units that complied with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
- Rising costs in San Francisco mean that the cost for a bed in a shelter runs up to $30,000 a year, paid for with taxes. Modular housing is cheaper for taxpayers and safer for the homeless.
- A village was created in Austin for the homeless using RVs and prefab housing, thus helping to cut $3 million per year in taxes.
- Orange County’s Potter Lane is a prefab project for homeless veterans.
- Vancouver has encouraged developers to participate by granting them benefits for using their vacant properties to house the homeless in prefab homes.
- Not only in the West, even in India, the Punjab and Haryana High Court directed the Punjab government to consider allocating low-cost prefabricated houses to the homeless — women and the aged included. The Bench was informed that a prefab home, with a toilet, had been built as a model in Seonk village and could be given to the aged, physically challenged and homeless widows living with small children, since prefab homes were constructed faster.
So, just what is a prefabricated home?
‘Prefab’ is not an industry term like the more technically correct ‘modular home’, ‘manufactured home’, ‘panelised home’ or ‘site-built home’. Prefab housing is a mix of panels and modular building systems. Prefabricated housing consists of housing built in components (such as panels), modules or sections that can be transported. Prefabricated homes and components can be designed using prefabricated construction BIM (Building Information Modelling) and DfMA. Besides local design firms, many overseas companies can provide professional, cost-effective outsourced CAD services to deliver offsite construction drawings and other design support, further reducing costs.
Prefab homes are created in components and sections at a factory, taken to the site for construction and installation and treated like a traditional house. They can be financed, appraised and constructed. The home can later be deconstructed and assembled somewhere else, if the resident decides to move. Prefab homes are built or assembled over permanent foundations, then anchored and strapped to the ground.
Laser-measured materials are used in the production of prefab homes and they are cut in accordance to local tolerance codes to be able to withstand hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards and other harsh and extreme weather conditions. As prefab homes are built in enclosed areas, the process is unaffected by storms, heat or the cold weather. Less labour is required, since the components are built in a factory. A unit’s dimensions, from the shallow pitch of the roofs to the room widths inside, are decided by the limits of the maximum cargo a wide-load lorry can use to transport the unit from the factory to the site.
Three main types of prefabricated construction are:
- Simple Components: Beams, columns or other parts that are made to easily bolt into place on site.
- Panelised systems: Insulation, utilities, waterproofing and external and internal cladding used for walls. These components can be assembled quickly and transported as a flat pack.
- Volumetric systems: 3D modular objects that make up the floor, ceiling and wall components of a room.
Prefab building materials have evolved to a point where the structural components are stronger and lighter. Walls, floors and ceilings are thermal and acoustic, and sandwich panels consist of lasting and sustainable materials. The generation of waste material can be controlled, and recycling can be maximized with prefab construction. Entire modular homes can be comprehensively tested in the factory, reducing costs, and controlled factory environments encourage skilled workers to produce improved quality output compared to work produced on site.
Unlike the general perception, prefabricated housing is not just placing the homeless in shipping containers. The housing is built to be energy-efficient, structurally sound and attractive. Management costs are also reduced when transporting modular blocks and placing them on top of each other. Prefab construction allows easy energy-efficiency testing, acoustic testing and weather testing.
When space, time and budget are scarce, even a basic modular building is preferable to what most homeless people already have – nothing. Modern prefabricated homes offer the option of easy relocation and the opportunity of living in a customised space as soon as permissible. With fewer components, reduced wastage and minimal re-work, prefab housing will ultimately leave a smaller carbon footprint. More importantly, the social impact of prefab housing will enable the homeless to experience a safe, modern shelter and thus live with a sense of dignity, while keeping costs low and ensuring faster build time.