So what exactly are modular homes ?
A modular home is building that is manufactured in a controlled production facility rather than being built brick-by-brick in the traditional way. Once manufactured these units are simply shipped – normally in a few sections – to site for assembly on location. The assembly process follows a structured process (think along the lines of a really, really big piece of Ikea furniture!) and it will usually use a traditional permanent concrete foundation to fix it in place.
Do they provide value for money ?
In theory, yes. But only if they are bought at the right price (see below).
As the Government have rightly pointed out, the cost of modular homes are significantly less than a standard new homes build – up to 50% less in some cases. Indeed Minister Alan Kelly has quoted prices of between €75,000 - €100,000 for the proposed Dublin units. While this sounds great, some further detail is required from the government. The upper price limit quoted would be expensive when compared to modular homes in the UK, with starter homes costing as little as €60k for a 70 Sq M unit.
Are there additional benefits of Modular Homes?
Built in a factory, modular homes are manufactured to standards in a highly controlled environment. For this reason the theory is that they are built to an extremely exacting standard. Achieving building regulations and energy efficiency standards should be taken as a given assuming the suppliers are compliant. However, most importantly in this case, Modular homes can be delivered quickly. In the face of the growing homeless crisis the Minister has indicated that up to 22 will be delivered by the end of 2016 in Dublin alone.
What are the downsides of Modular Homes for Ireland ?
While the benefits seem obvious, there are also some potential downsides. Modular homes by their nature are not the standard bricks and mortar type of construction that we have become used to in Ireland. For this reason the most basic designs can tend to stand out as being different in an urban setting, despite what the Minister might say. In fact many basic modular homes tend to look similar to mobile homes, albeit with foundations. It is this simple fact that has fuelled much of the opposition to the plan, with rival parties indicating that the government are creating 'Ghettos' with this initiative. While this may be a dramatic charge, some opposition have tried to conjure up the image of vast trailer parks in the US when trying to imagine how they might look.
Either way what is true is that different thinking is required to address a serious social problem of this era. With new housing development sluggish to say the least, what shouldn't be lost in the debate is that there are an ever growing number of homeless families and individuals who deserve a roof over their heads. No matter how it got there.