We recently wrote an article on how the Ealing council was using shipping containers to resolve their housing crisis. Using makeshift containers and portacabins to address the short-term housing needs is a type of modular housing, a craze that is sweeping the UK and redefining how the world builds property.

Modular Housing refers to prefabricated buildings that are made up of different modules and put together. Think of them as big lego pieces to construct a property. Modular homes are typically very small and only used as a short-term residence and way of providing lodgers with the essential living items. Examples of those using modular housing include:

  • Soldiers on army bases
  • Nurses on hospital sites
  • Construction workers on large building sites
  • Schools and classrooms

Also known as “prefab homes” or “container homes” they offer a new dimension to the construction world because they are made off site, typically in a warehouse, so you don’t have to worry about being delayed by weather conditions. In addition, they take only a few days or weeks to build, speeding up the process by several months or years compared to a regular build.

The constructions are created by the use of computer aided designed (CAD) and the use of 3D printing is helping make great advances in this space. (Source: The Guardian)

Given the fast turnaround and small space requirements, the UK Government has pledged to build 100,000 new modular homes by the year 2020. (Source: The Daily Mail). This is part of Theresa May’s larger scale project to add 1 million new homes in the next 3 years.

What Are The Benefits of Modular Housing?

Built in a factory: Being built in a climate controlled area is a huge advantage over traditional stick-built homes. There are no delays due to planning permission or bad weather, meaning that modular buildings can be worked on all year round. Each section moves through the next stage of quality control until they are ready to be transported to the building site and then assembled with cranes. A great example of this was shown in a recent HSBC advert below:


Quick turn around: Modular homes can be built in a factory environment in up to 2 weeks, which is significantly faster than the average home which can take up to a year. It typically takes 2 to 4 weeks for a local builder to complete the home on site once it is delivered, however, this can be shortened with the help of a team.

Energy efficient: The building process is very energy efficient, making use of green materials where possible and allowing people to save on their heat and electricity costs. One of the biggest advantages is that there is no waste to the local environment and above all, no noise to disturb local residents compared to regular site builds.

Help housing: Where housing is scarce or there are not enough properties to service the demand, modular living offers a low-cost alternative to put a roof over peoples’ heads. This is why it has been given the go-ahead by the UK Government and will increase significantly across the world over the next few years.

Service remote locations: For work projects that require a lot of staff, there is the opportunity to provide low-cost housing. This will save time and money for employees and save them having to journey in and out of the site. For this reason, we see modular homes being used on big industrial sites, large constructions and even hospitals. The modular homes were used in World War II as a way to accommodate soldiers.

What Are Modular Homes Made From?

The materials used in modular housing are generally the same as a regular constructed home including wood-frame floors, roofs and walls. Depending on the company, some modular homes include brick or stone exteriors, granite counters and steeply pitched roofs.

Modulars can be designed to sit on a perimeter foundation or basement. Modular buildings can be custom built to a client’s specifications to include multi-story units, multi-family units and entire apartment complexes.

Are Modular Homes and Mobile Homes The Same?

The answer is no. Modular houses are not mobile homes despite looking quite similar in appearance. They cannot simply be picked up and moved like a mobile home, nor are they on wheels. Also, mobile homes can be full time living quarters whereas modular is intended for the short-term.

One way to decipher between the two is that a mobile home will have a small metal tag outside each section. If this is not evident, you should find the details on the electrical panel box which will also display the manufacturing date. By comparison, modular constructions will have a data plate installed inside the home giving all the information about its manufacture and this will typically be located under the kitchen sink or closet.

Planning Permission For Modular Homes

You will need to speak to your local planning authority (LPA) as to whether you require planning permission. Typically you will need some kind of consent as you cannot just set one up in the middle of the street, park or unused land because this will have an impact to neighbours or land owners.

There are no restrictions if you set it up on a construction site and you are responsible for the entire area. There is limited planning required if the modular construction is just temporary i.e less than 28 days. Click here for more information.

Other Uses

Modular homes are not necessarily a budget form of housing to be used short-term. One German designer has created an artistically edgy building using modules and this is now on sale for around £88,000. expensive-modular-home

In the trendy Shoreditch area of London, they have developed “Box Park” and used shipping containers as retails shops. It is an effective use of space, low-cost and as they say in that part of town, ‘hipster.’

In the US, they are simply making homes using modules. They look like regular homes and similar to the standard American homes made from wood. It is all about creating something in modules and piecing them together – so it doesn’t need to be for temporary housing. In fact, using CAD technology and 3D printing, it could be the future of housing as we know it.