THEY can’t promise you a glamorous building with white picket fences, but the prefabricated, or widely known as prefab, schemes have been tagged as a clever and industrious way to build homes efficiently and affordably and they are gaining a reputation as a viable solution for the built environment.
In fact, this form of construction and living structure has long been practised as part of the sustainable development movement in countries such as Germany, France, Denmark and Singapore.
Last year, Singapore saw the completion of its most ambitious prefab structure yet, the Clement Canopy buildings, a complex operation which involved the installation of 1,899 modules to form more than 500 luxury apartments. The two towers of Clement Canopy represent the tallest buildings ever built using modular construction method.
According to James Yeoh, managing director of Solid Horizon Sdn Bhd, modular construction is actually the most complete type of prefab construction. Boxes or modules are produced in a factory and shipped on a flatbed truck to the construction site.
Solid Horizon is among the oldest local companies to be involved in prefab structures.
While prefab buildings and designs have a long history in the construction sector, they are stuck on the fringes here in Malaysia. For decades, prefab homes and other structures have been viewed as convenient but unappealing.
Industrialised building system (IBS) has not taken off in a big way in Malaysia due to several hampering factors, one of which is the colossal cost of investment to set up a central production plant. Case in point, a Scandinavian-based IBS company had invested RM200mil to launch its modular construction materials manufacturing plant in Penang late last year.
Yeoh says factory-built homes help make the old-fashioned and inefficient home building industry more efficient and professional. The system also allows for greater flexibility in execution and significantly shortens construction time.
Nonetheless, the level of acceptance for these homes among Malaysians is still low. Changing public perception is one of the biggest challenges, admits Yeoh.
But he opines that this is the way forward to cater to growing housing needs as global population and urbanisation trends continue to grow. Major cities in Asia are already experiencing challenges in terms of housing capacity and affordability. High selling prices and rentals, often outpacing the rise in wages, are putting a pressure on city dwellers.
There is a need to educate consumers on the benefits of building prefab homes, he says.
Solid Horizon is waiting for approval to use its prefab structures in permanent residential buildings. Yeoh hopes to roll out its prefab building structures this year.
Many of the other benefits of prefabrication come from the assembly line. For countries like Malaysia, which has unpredictable weather and high occurrences of rain, the ability to build housing modules indoors in a temperature-controlled environment is a boon for efficiency.
“The standardisation of factory working opens the construction sector up to a wider pool of less skilled labour, both on and off-site, while maintaining quality control.
“However, with access to affordable housing becoming an increasingly pressing issue in the country, alternative models such as homes built using prefab structures, which are cheaper due to faster completion time and less labour intensive, can be part of the solution, ” he says.
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