The future of NZ housing is in prefab housing
Friday 9 Mar 2018
It took just five days for assemblers to put up this prefabricated house in Sydney using factory made cross laminated timber panels from XLAM, which has a factory in New Zealand. To make the government's Kiwibuild plan work, New Zealand will have to embrace factory-made homes that can be trucked in pieces to building sites and erected in a matter of days.
On Thursday, Prefab NZ, an industry association of housing prefabricators, released a report into the industry's capacity to turn out houses for Kiwibuild. It will also launch a nationwide competition seeking a design for a tiny one to two-bedroom house plan that could be "pre-consented" by Auckland Council, and any other councils wishing to follow suit, which homeowners with big enough gardens could simply parachute onto their land.
The tiny house would be called "The Snug", said Pamela Bell, Prefab NZ's chief executive. Bell said for prefabrication to achieve scale under Kiwibuild, the government would have to look at measures to give prefab companies the confidence to invest. This could include low interest or no-interest loans, as well as guarantees of volumes on which their investment in new factories could be planned.
The government was elected on a platform of poverty reduction and delivering affordable housing, but the opposition National Party has called its ability to build houses fast into question after releasing estimates from MBIE which indicate it's going to take "years to ramp up" building.
But Bell said the estimates were based on the traditional method of building, which was suffering under a skills shortage, not factory-made homes assembled on site far more rapidly. For eight years the prefab industry had been working on a plan to achieve scale, Bell said. "If it is going to happen, it's going to happen under Kiwibuild, but it is going to need close alignment with the government and MBIE," she said.
Gary Caulfield, chief executive of XLam, a high-tech prefabricator based in Nelson, said guarantees of volume were needed for companies to invest in expanding their manufacturing capacity. XLam's cross laminated timber (CLT) panels were already used in Housing New Zealand new builds, but the country was lagging the rest of the world in adopting more efficient, and higher-quality building methods, he said.
"Though New Zealand is behind Europe in the use of cross laminated timber (CLT), one significant advantage we already have is the type of wood we use in construction – radiata pine and Douglas fir – compared with the spruce that is widespread in Europe, which has properties that make it difficult to treat.
"There is also, given our well-established forestry sector, no difficulty in expanding the production base for CLT from the running start we already have, which would lend a time and cost boost to the construction industry that is tasked with pushing forward the massive housing programme."
Fletcher Residential, the home-building arm of NZX-listed Fletcher Building, is also eyeing the opportunities for its prefab business. It's chief executive Steve Evans said: "In order for panelisation to be commercially viable for businesses like ours you need to have the surety of volume in the pipeline, in order to justify the capital investment in the manufacturing facility." More >>.
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