Prefab Housing Market in Europe
A contribution to the European Union’s environmental goals
It was in the Nordic countries of Europe and North America that prefabricated houses gained momentum, and then spread all over the world. The Covid-19 pandemic was one of the main drivers of this spread due to factors such as space restrictions in cities and the high demand for ready-to-use solutions.
Sweden leads the implementation of construction systems in panels, having around 80% of its housing sector built using structures and prefabricated elements in factories. This market dominance is related to the abundance of slow-growing wood, premium quality and climatic conditions.
Prefab homes are prefabricated off-site in advance and then delivered and assembled on-site. There is a diversified offer in terms of models, features and prices, from simple homes to luxury homes with high design and architecture. On the other hand, this type of construction can also serve several purposes beyond mere housing, for example for services, offices, public buildings and tourist developments. The shorter construction time, as well as the reduction in resource consumption are the main advantages pointed out.
A study carried out by the University of Coimbra in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) concluded that prefabricated construction can contribute to achieving the European Union’s environmental goals. In this study, which lasted 3 years, prefabricated construction was compared with conventional construction, both in terms of costs and environment in Lisbon, Berlin and Stockholm, cities with different climates and living costs.
The conclusion was that prefabrication can reduce the impacts of building construction and demolition. Traditional construction uses five times more materials than prefabricated construction, in addition prefabricated construction is more easily recyclable and reusable at the end of life. Globally, it is estimated by this study that between 2020 and 2050 prefabrication can reduce carbon emissions from buildings by 0.6% and construction costs by 10%.
The study was published in the international journal Building and Environment, within the scope of the doctoral thesis on sustainable energy systems by researcher Vanessa Tavares, supervised by Professor Fausto Freire from the Department of Mechanical Engineering of the Faculty of Sciences and Technology of the University of Coimbra and deserved financial support from the Foundation for Science and Technology within the scope of the MIT Portugal program.
The legal framework for modular or prefabricated houses is similar to that of houses of traditional construction, so the licensing of this type of construction is mandatory. Although the construction of modular and prefabricated houses can be faster in terms of construction method and technology, the same is not true of legal procedures, which will have response times and costs similar to those of traditional construction.
The option for the modular alternative becomes interesting from the point of view of speed, allowing for example to increase space in a short period of time. Another added value is the fact that it is easily expandable, everything can be made to measure, in one way or another. The transportation of the solution is another differentiating factor, we can literally take the “house on our backs” and change locations at once. Finally, and perhaps the advantage that is most in line with current concerns, sustainability – in terms of production, reuse and consumption.
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