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Explainer: Everything you need to know about prefabricated homes

By Sara Okuoro | October 23rd 2020 at 14:30:00 GMT +0300

A stylish prefabricated house. [Courtesy, Construction Kenya]

Prefabrication entails assembling components of a structure and manufacturing them under factory conditions then transporting complete assemblies or sub-assemblies to the construction site for incorporation.

In the construction industry, the term prefabrication is used to distinguish this process from the conventional building practice of transporting the basic materials to the construction site where all assembly is carried out.

Prefabricated homes also commonly known as prefab are houses designed with technologies that see skeletons of houses made in a factory before they are shipped to the construction frame.

The entire frame of the houses is usually assembled and fit in once a foundation has been prepared.

These types of houses are slowly gaining popularity in Kenya and builders are now embracing this new technology which has the potential of reducing the costs of construction significantly.

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Prefab houses are a cheaper alternative for building houses, the house value is estimated to be between 30 to 45 per cent lower compared to a conventional stone house.

The concept behind prefabricated houses is widely accepted in the US and most developed countries like UK, Germany, Australia and Canada among others. However, in Kenya, the major problem hindering the popularity of this concept is the fact that locals do not appreciate this technology as they are used to conventional stone structures, in addition to the minimal understanding of the construction process of prefabricated homes.

The best way of increasing the popularity of this concept is through informing the general public about prefab houses as a cheaper and affordable alternative of owning a home in Kenya.

Effie Otieno of Cytonn Real Estate explains:

How they work

Prefab houses are normally built in a different location and shipped into the desired position where the panels are installed as a standalone house.

The construction of prefab houses starts by enlightening the potential home owners about the set procedures of installing a modular house.

In the next stage, the potential home owners present the house designs and other relevant particulars to the manufactures before the house is assembled in the factory.

After this, the prefab walling panels are prepared.

Once complete, the potential home owners in support of a technical team installs the house according to the required guidelines and design.

Nonetheless, when constructing the prefab houses, due diligence is always done to ensure that the homes are durable and well secured.

In Kenya, some of the key industry players in the production of prefabricated homes are Eco-homes limited located along Kiambu Road, Koto Housing Kenya in Mlolongo, and Ankar Realtors in Ruiru among others.

Advantages

1. Lowers the costs of construction: The materials used in the construction of prefab houses have the potential of slashing the construction costs by up to 30 per cent according to Construction Kenya.

Since the materials are manufactured in industries, the manufactures tend to buy the supplies in huge quantities which attract discounts thus minimizing the costs. The reduced cost of development implies that developers are able to achieve relatively affordable unit prices compared to conventional stone houses,

2. Reduced construction time: The construction time is significantly reduced as the panels are built in a factory and later installed in the designated places. The installation time is highly dependent on the size and design of the house. Additionally, preparation of the building panels and the building site (digging out the foundation) can be done concurrently.

3. Flexibility in terms of designing: There is a wide range of housing plans that can be chosen and customized depending on the tastes and preferences of the potential home owner. Based on the local building codes, it is possible to modify a plan to suit the construction specifications,

4. High quality houses: Prefab houses are made by Expanded Polystyrene Panels (EPS), the material and construction plans must be approved by relevant authorities before commencing construction, and they are also subjected to frequent inspections thus guaranteeing quality of the houses built, and,

5. Environment friendly: Less materials are used in the construction of prefab homes compared to the conventional stone houses. The technology also has less wastage and less negative impact to the environment.

Disadvantages

Despite the above benefits, there exists the downside of prefab houses. Some of these include:

1. Zoning regulations: The local zoning regulations may limit the construction of prefab houses in some areas according to Construction Kenya. The prefab houses are unsuitable for construction in high rise areas as most of them are limited to only two floors because of stability. in such a scenario, it may be challenging to get approvals for high rise buildings, 

2. Reduced value: The resell value of the property reduces significantly. This is mainly because the materials used in constructing the houses depreciate faster compared to the conventional stone houses making it difficult to resell,

3. High transportation costs: The major challenge in the construction of prefab houses is that the cost of transporting prefabricated materials and heavy duty cranes from the factory to the site of construction may be high thus impacting on the end development cost. Transportation costs may be higher for voluminous prefabricated sections than for their constituent materials, and, 

4. Significant advance financing: The upfront payments may discourage some potential home owners from taking up the initiative. Even through the financing of the homes can be done through a mortgage, manufacturers need advanced payments to prepare the building panels, steel, wood, fiberglass, plastic, and aluminum materials among other materials used in coming up with the prefabricated homes.

In conclusion, prefabricated homes are an upcoming trend in Kenya which is gradually gaining popularity due to its potential of reducing the costs of construction and saving on time.

The prices of these types of houses are also relatively cheaper compared the conventional stone houses.

This is a technology that stakeholders in the construction industry should embrace due to its affordability thus the probability of increasing home ownership in Kenya which has remained relatively low especially in urban areas at 21.3 per cent.

Dr Pesa is Effie Otieno, a member of the Cytonn Real Estate team.  


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