25 Sep 2017

Swan’s Geoff Pearce shares the benefits of offsite modular and its potential for custom homes

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Swan’s Geoff Pearce shares the benefits of offsite modular and its potential for custom homes

Geoff Pearce, Executive Director of Regeneration and Development at Swan Housing Association, explains how Swan is accelerating the delivery of new homes by using innovative modern methods of construction. And in partiular, how it is using modular systems to deliver homes with custom options factored in from the start.

Swan was one of the first landlords to build for private sale back in 2008, and our in-house developer, NU living, has already completed 800 homes.

This has generated over £59m which has been gift-aided back to Swan to deliver its social purpose of providing homes and services to those who need them.

However, we’ve recently expanded the construction methods used by NU living to include modular construction, with homes now being built in our new factory in Basildon, Essex.

Unlike other housing associations who are entering the modular market, we are not relying on additional or foreign investment.

Instead, we’re funding the factory set-up, the on-going costs and the production of the homes from the budget for our redevelopment of the failing 1960’s Radburn Craylands estate in Basildon.

Even when allowing for these costs, we believe we can make savings against traditional construction – and deliver completed homes to site 50% quicker than traditional construction methods.

Why use offsite construction?

We had plenty of experience in the past of contractors going out of business and causing delays. And, even with NU living as our own in-house contractor, we were still subject to the great British weather and were well aware of the contents of the Farmer Review.

After much research, my team and I proposed adopting a volumetric approach, using Cross Laminated Timber (CLT), focusing on the benefits of off-site modular construction. And in particular, the ability to precision engineer homes more quickly and in a high-quality factory setting.

This not only allows us to create a weather-proof environment for homes to be built, but a better environment for staff too, helping us attract both experienced construction workers and a new diverse workforce.

Beechwood West_Green_Opt2

Customised homes at Beechwood West

Why CLT?

Cross Laminated Timber is a sustainable construction material which utilises soft-wood timber grown in managed forests. It’s tough, long lasting and used widely throughout Europe and the USA to construct homes.

Forests are managed so that every tree used is replaced and, when used in construction, CLT locks away carbon rather than omitting further carbon, as happens during traditional construction processes.

Structurally, we can produce CLT buildings from 1 to 12 floors. It’s an easily-machinable, large-scale product which is thermally and acoustically efficient. Although, when complete, the homes will be indistinguishable from traditionally built homes, they will be greener and more sustainable (including cheaper to heat).

Customised homes

Not only will they be greener, but many of our homes will be customisable by the buyer, who will use our configurator software to design their own home, just as they might a car. Buyers will be able to do this online, or in our stylish new sales suite on site.

There are thousands of options, with a range of plan choices. These include, open, traditional and accessible, as well as the ability to move around living spaces, add additional space such as conservatories and loft extensions.

And, of course, there are lots of great design choices to enable buyers to personalise their home, from window types and colours to the type of external cladding, and much more.

MMC and the future

Modular homes will be delivered at a variety of projects by Swan in addition to Beechwood, including Laindon Shopping Centre and Watts Grove in Tower Hamlets.

Moving on, we plan to see if we can deliver new schemes in a modular way first, when considering the type of construction to use on new sites. We think modular is the right approach to meet demand, building more homes more quickly.

Swan’s new modular homes designed by PTE Architects and CF Moller Architects have already received awards recognition, with Laindon winning the coveted Best Regeneration at the Housing Design Awards 2017 and the Best Scheme in Planning (Laindon) and Highly Commended (Beechwood) at the UKHA 2017. So clearly, others in the Industry agree with us.

The London Assembly just recently issued its report Designed, Sealed and Delivered, which highlights the contribution that offsite manufacture, including modular homes can make.

And we couldn’t agree more with the London Assembly. We expect to see a minimum 10% reduction in costs initially, along with up to 90% reduction on waste compared to a traditional building site.

Off-cuts of CLT will be used to heat and power the factory. Homes are expected to be completed in 50% of traditional construction time. And with factory processes driving up quality – defects will be reduced, whilst cost certainty is increased.

Find out more about Swan’s factory and precision engineered homes.

Custom build options at Beechwood West

Custom build options at Beechwood West

Editor’s comment

Some of the keenest conversations around custom build are about how to make it affordable and how to scale it up. So it’s fantastic that Swan is backing modular and custom build, as it offers solutions to both of these issues.

Swan’s model brings the two elements together, with modular offering speed and cost efficiencies, while still being able to allow people a range of options to customise their homes. I’m hugely keen to follow Beechwood to see if it can become a blueprint for councils and housing associations across the country.

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