Home / Blog / Flatpack homes are being touted as the salve to affordable housing, but will it work?

Flatpack homes are being touted as the salve to affordable housing, but will it work?

Oct 20, 2023Oct 20, 2023

Homes built off-site and trucked to the regions are being proposed as a quick solution to Queensland's housing affordability issues, but some builders say the approach isn't sustainable.

A social housing plan, which the Department of Public Works says is the state's most ambitious construction program since World War II, will see housing projects built across regional Queensland using "modern methods of construction".

Its delivery will be accelerated thanks to a newly operating Rapid Accommodation and Apprenticeship Centre at Eagle Farm in Brisbane.

The factory will pre-fabricate wall frames and bathroom pods, as well as assemble flatpack kitchens for transport to areas that need social housing.

Prefabrication refers to any part of a building that has been fabricated anywhere other than its final location.

The intention is to enable a forward pipeline of factory-built homes that can be stored offsite and transported to regional communities on demand.

By the end of the year, 93 builds are expected to be delivered, including 14 on Palm Island, 12 homes each for Winton and Texas, eight in Blackall, six in Wondai, three each in Inglewood, Tambo and Mornington Island, and two each in St George and Surat.

It's hoped the housing will attract critical government workers.

Les Boyton runs a Toowoomba company that builds kit homes and transportable homes for regional communities in the Darling Downs and South West.

The company constructs a home in two parts before it is trucked to its final location, where power and plumbing are connected.

It has just finished a project that will become social housing for residents in Boggabilla, funded by the state government.

"We've also got a lot of small homes, one and two-bedroom, that are coming up [for] elderly people," Mr Boyton said.

"It takes about 12 to 16 weeks [to build] and then you've got to get it to site.

"People still prefer to build onsite, but sometimes it's more economical for the transportable home."

Mr Boyton said it did cut out the issue of finding regional staff to build onsite.

"It's a lot quicker for them to get done that way," he said.

"Getting tradesmen to travel these days is painful … they can make as much money without the cost of travel."

But Mr Boyton is sceptical of the government's solution.

"I'd like to see a time frame," he said.

While modern methods of construction are a great solution for certain situations, Mr Boyton says they are no "quick fix".

"Every building has prefabricated frames and trusses, so that's no different," he said.

"Pods' bathroom-ensuite; they've still got to be tiled and sit them in, so it's not going to be any quicker."

Mr Boyton says the key to getting housing available quicker is to attract more apprentices and remove local council red tape.

"It's ridiculous the time we spend preparing things for councils and certifiers. It's just phenomenal these days," he said.

Damien Crough is the director of PreFab Australia, the peak body for Australia's offsite construction industry.

He says modern methods make up 5 per cent of the construction sector and that's set to grow to 15 per cent over the next few years.

Fifty-two homes — a mix of two and three bedrooms — will be delivered across the state in the coming months, but housing advocates say it's not enough.

"We're seeing a huge amount of growth in regional areas, and also in affordable housing and retirement living," Mr Crough said.

He said that prefabricated homes were being considered more often due to their quicker build times.

"If you are trying to build a house in regional Australia, it's a minimum 12 months at best," Mr Crough said.

"Typically, we're seeing a regular [prefabricated] house with standard construction times can be 12 to 14 weeks."

He said prefabricated homes offered a more environmentally sustainable option.

"It's 90-per-cent less waste of the materials as opposed to a traditional building site," Mr Crough said.

"They can be designed to in a way to accommodate materials, sizes, and therefore there's fewer offcuts and waste going into landfill."

Mr Crough is encouraged to see the government looking outside the box to solve trade shortages and high material costs.

"I think the perception is that prefabrication was a mining donga or a temporary classroom," he said.

"Now, you can produce architecturally beautiful products, but we can also have basic products that are cost-driven too."

Master Builders general manager Linda Rosengreen says there are issues around regulation and local jobs with kit and prefabricated homes.

Her concern is how the sector will "meet the requirements of the National Construction Code changes for liable housing and energy efficiency that have to come in October this year".

But Ms Rosengreen said all innovative solutions should be explored.

"It's a novel idea, but container homes are not going to resolve the housing crisis," she said.

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