Prefabs have become a popular building technology, with most developers opting to explore this niche for the dynamic market. Prefabricated homes are built from components made offsite, in a factory setting and then transported and assembled on-site.
This is a cutting-edge building technology that many developers and contractors are adopting and embracing due to its numerous benefits and versatility. Prefabricated materials can range from doors, window walls, and stairs to wall panels, roof trusses, and even entire buildings.
Prefabrication is relevant in areas or situations where the houses to be built consist of multiple smaller and similar units or complex designs that may be difficult to design at the construction site. It is also preferred in remote and highly populated areas with poor road and electricity infrastructure, making transporting bulky building materials and on-site manufacturing of materials difficult or impossible. Moreover, fabricated homes are ideal when the construction time is short and work may be complicated by extremely bad weather conditions and high costs.
This cutting-edge technology has several benefits and challenges. However, its increasing popularity is owed to the fact that the pros and strengths far outweigh the cons and weaknesses. To begin with, using fabricated building technology has been known to significantly cut the cost of construction, thus saving developers from spending prohibitively on homes and houses.
Fabricated homes are more affordable to build than most stick-built homes since building components are pre-built offsite and require fewer construction workers to assemble, thus significantly reducing the amount of money spent on labour. Additionally, suppliers of prefab materials often give huge discounts to manufacturers who buy the materials in bulk which trickle down to the developer and the tenant.
Prefab homes save time as they take much shorter to build than stick-built homes. The units arrive at the construction site halfway finished. Except for obtaining necessary permits and clearances and interference with extreme weather conditions, prefab homes can take very few days to complete. The components used in fabricated construction are easy to transport to the construction site without significant traffic snarl-ups or shortages, reducing disruptions interfering with the workflow. Prefabs, therefore, enable developers to start receiving a return on investment from their homes or houses within a short period.
The building and construction industry is one of the leading contributors to climate change and global warming, among today’s greatest threats to life. Prefab technology contributes to the sustainability and conservation of the ecosystem because it uses materials that consume low amounts of energy, are easily recyclable, and allow accurate measurements and construction. Prefab houses are also efficient in ventilation, lighting, and insulation, contributing to green building more than most conventional homes/ houses. The technology reduces carbon footprint, thus making the air cleaner and safer for humans and other living organisms.
Prefabricated houses have improved consistency, quality and safety standards since the materials are manufactured in a weather-resistant factory setting, using standardized machines and skilled labourers, following precise procedures and ensuring that quality checks are adhered to. The consistency and quality of the materials make prefab construction sites safer as the prefabricated materials tend to be resistant to moisture, water, excess heat, or physical force. Constructors of prefab homes are, therefore, safer from hazards, injuries, and death which are prone in conventional building sites where accuracy and procedures are difficult to maintain.
The prospects and popularity of this technology are highly likely to improve in the region owing to the benefits. Yet, the benefits and growing popularity notwithstanding, prefabricated construction presents some disadvantages to industry players, including developers and tenants of prefab homes. Most prefab materials come with preset standards and measurements, which present limited design, layout and customization options to the developer. In an ever-changing industry where architects, civil engineers, and contractors prefer versatility, using preset materials may impede creativity in construction.
Prefab homes also face the disadvantage of stigmatization and negative perception as most people still view them as low quality. This reduces their value hence denying developers the guarantee of return on investment and making them an incredibly low resell value. The likelihood of reselling prefab homes at a loss is higher because most people hold conventional brick houses, popularly known as “permanent,” in high esteem.
Prefab homes and houses are also associated with location restrictions and other hidden costs of land and utilities. Some regional and, local laws may restrict the placement or establishment of prefab homes or houses, even if the developer legally owns the land owing to the negative perception of the impacts of prefab houses on the value or status—perceived or real—of the neighbourhood and the people who live there. Additionally, although prefab homes are popular due to their affordability, developers still incur the costs of land, soil tests and associated costs of the foundation, waste disposal systems, electricity connectivity and landscaping depending on the financial ability and preferences of the developer.
Some of the leading prefabricated construction companies in the region include LiteCon Africa, SP Housing and Baati Limited. Examples of prefabricated projects in East Africa include Agol Site office and office and support units in Mombasa and Malindi, Kenya, respectively; Tanzania Ports Authority Weigh Stops, Premium Customized Office Space for Songas Limited in Tanzania, UNICEF Checkpoint and Isolation Centres in Zanzibar. In Uganda, prefabricated houses such as Physiotherapy Center in Kampala, Mengo Hospital, and Catholic Relief Hospital, among others, have been built.
East African countries have a serious housing problem with most of their urban populations living in informal and indecent settlements where socio-economic problems such as violence, insecurity, illiteracy, diseases, and poverty abound. Adopting prefab homes will help increase decent and affordable housing units to mitigate the housing deficit and attendant challenges.