All Huf and no puff

Glass Times editor Nathan Bushell is still waiting for the prefab home revolution.

Do you remember watching that episode of Grand Designs in 2004 (yes, 2004) where an elderly couple bought a Huf Haus, which was manufactured in Germany and built on site by the Germans?

If I remember rightly, the one sticking point in the whole project was the (un)timely delivery of concrete for the base, which was handled by a UK company. It’s an episode that’s stuck with me because it seemed like the perfect trump card when it comes to building design: if we can continue to engineer building components so that they become more efficient and straightforward to install, surely the logical conclusion is that you simply build the whole house in a factory – continually engineering so that all problems are ironed out before the house gets to site?

I think I stopped watching Grand Designs shortly after that series.

Yet, here we are, 15 years after that project was completed, and we are celebrating the erection of the first of 41 prefab homes (or modular volumetric units, as they are known) on a site in Gateshead.

Ok, so they are not Huf Hauses – which are high-end compared these Yorkshire-built homes designed to help alleviate the housing shortage – but I still can’t help feeling that we should have appreciated the benefits of factory-built homes a lot sooner.

There are several new-home sites in the part of Devon that I live, and those that are complete have been under construction for a long time, and it could be years before some of the existing building sites are complete.

Is there still a stigma attached to prefab homes, following their widespread use after the Second World War? Or is it down to the politics of land management and raw material supply by the big housebuilders that makes the traditional method of housebuilding more appealing?

Modular volumetric units, in my mind, offer numerous benefits, including: tighter control over cost, reduced snagging list, quicker build, greater choice of design, and – ultimately – happier homeowners.

When it comes to windows, it could lead to a revolution in design, where systems companies and fabricators work more closely with housebuilders to design more efficient products that work in harmony with the fabric of the building.

I suppose the upside is that I am seeing more stories like the Gateshead project cross my desk each month, so maybe the prefab revolution is finally underway. Now, let’s see if I can find that episode on YouTube…