In the 1989 film Field of Dreams, a mysterious voice whispers to Kevin Costner's character, “If you build it, they will come”. A moving meditation about a farmer struggling to keep his family financially afloat, the magical baseball diamond created in the middle of an Iowa cornfield might be a whimsical backdrop, but the underlying message is profound. While ostensibly the film’s sentiments concern a baseball field, the story also carries a potent message for the challenges we face in the United Kingdom today.
Our nation’s housing crisis is akin to that whisper from the cornfields, a beckoning call to action. It is never usually advisable to listen to strange voices in your head but in this instance HM government should take heed of the voices of thousands of hardworking families, students, young professionals, and pensioners asking them to help build more homes.
While an elevated cost-of-living coinciding with a climate emergency might not make modular manufacturing an obvious priority for policymakers, innovations in the methods of making mean it offers an unprecedented opportunity for Government to tackle those two birds with one stone. That’s because a house’s carbon footprint includes more than just the energy used to heat and power the building. It also includes the carbon emissions in the construction process, from the fumes generated by transportation, to the emissions from firing glass and baking bricks. Together, these can account for half the whole life environmental impact of a house before it is even built.
Reducing the amount of emissions generated by houses is therefore essential if the UK is to reach the government’s net zero target. Modular housing already offers a solution. Using innovative low-carbon materials and modern state-of-the-art methods makes modular homes cheaper to run, and greener to build, while still being competitively priced.
Today just 2% of all UK homes fall in the top two energy efficiency grades, and only 4% of new builds. The average family home in the UK has a D grade Energy Performance Certificate (EPC), meaning it can cost up to £1,839 extra annually to heat. So, even if a family can afford to move in, there is a needlessly high additional cost incurred when living in the new home. That equates to approximately £37,000 per household over the typical timeframe of owning a home. In a modular house the cost of living in the home can be cut significantly. By contrast to houses built using outdated high-carbon emitting methods, modular built homes are often in the top energy performance band, saving the average family up to £728 a year on energy bills, compared to the those living in the average newly built home in the UK today. Some in the top tier are even completely carbon neutral, meaning owners pay no energy bills at all.
In an economy grappling with stagnant wages and a shortage of housing stock it is unsurprising that the demand for modular built homes is strong. The shortage of houses isn’t just a shortfall of bricks and mortar, it’s a stifle on ambitions and
opportunities, for families and professional careers. Nearly eight in ten people say they would pay more upfront for a home with lower energy bills. Significantly, when it comes to the age cohorts, the younger the survey respondent the more they want modular homes suggesting this trend is set to increase as future generations look to buy or rent. Much of the planning for these homes is happening already, a symptom of the lengthy period it takes to promote land and secure planning permission. It is therefore important that planning officers set the correct policies now. The public backs modular. Policy makers and town planners need to get behind the sector too.
There is a compelling case for expanding the use of modular houses. Greener homes are better, both for our planet and your pocket. Modular manufacturing also circumvents endemic skills shortages through its assembly line manufacturing methods, so firms require far fewer tradespeople, something of which the UK is in short supply. But the launch costs for modular builders can be high. Make Modular, the representative body for modular housing manufacturers, are calling for a series of low-cost or no cost policies that would unlock modular manufacturing’s potential. Creating a modern approach to Stamp Duty, which sets duty rates according to the home’s energy performance. Delivering a pipeline of future planning talent across local authorities to better resource planning departments and reduce delays. As well as allocating 20% of the Affordable Homes Programme to modular building. These changes would secure the future of low-energy, low-carbon, low-cost, modular housing in the UK at no additional expense to the taxpayer.
It’s clear that like the collection of characters that grace the baseball diamond in Field of Dreams, modular houses have the potential to play a transformative role in improving the lives and livelihoods of thousands by offering a pathway to affordability and sustainability. As the Autumn statement approaches this potential must not be overlooked by government if government is serious about grappling with the housing challenges holding back our economy. A new housing boom beckons. If we build more modular houses, a better future will come.