Cities facing housing shortages should encourage more modular construction to increase options for prospective homebuyers and renters, a University of British Columbia (UBC) researcher says. Following the first comprehensive review of conventional and modular construction research of its kind, Kasun Hewage, an associate professor of engineering at UBC’s Okanagan campus, says cities like Vancouver and Kelowna, BC should consider looking to factories to ease their housing shortage.
“With increasing housing prices and decreasing availability in Canadian cities, the research is telling us that modular construction can offer housing that is cheaper, faster and results in fewer workplace injuries,” says Hewage. “While this kind of construction will need to overcome transportation challenges and perceived product inferiority, it’s clear we need to start looking at this as a viable alternative as demand outstrips conventional construction’s ability to keep up.”
Modular construction, where buildings and residential homes are put together in a factory setting, would be particularly useful for the construction of multi-family dwellings, adds Hewage.
In assessing the potential modular construction — factory-built homes or buildings that can be thousands of square feet in size, are transported in blocks and are assembled on building sites — compared with conventional construction, Hewage and UBC researcher and PhD candidate Mohammad Kamali reviewed research data from universities, governments and industry compiled between 2000 and 2015.
The two believe that as housing pressures and sustainability expectations continue to mount, information on the benefits and drawbacks of various construction methods will become increasingly important to both individual and corporate housing consumers.
“The public’s negative perception of new construction methods is a considerable factor that hinders the development and use of modular construction as they are often thought to be similar to mobile homes found in trailer parks,” says Kamali. “The next step in our research is to develop a tool that offers consumers, developers and government decision-makers the option of comparing the sustainable construction aspects of modular and conventional construction methods.
"It's important to be able to make an informed choice about the environmental, social and economic impacts of each building type.”
Hewage and Kamali’s research was recently published in the journal Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews.