The Eye of the Fish

March 10, 2011

Mass Housing

I’ve been a fool.

I’ve been a fool and completely missed the signs. For the last few weeks or months I have been amazed by all the adverts on TV for companies selling mass produced housing. Can you name them all? Stonewood Homes. Versatile Buildings. Fowler Homes. Jennian Homes. A1 Homes. Cavalier Homes. Signature Homes. Golden Homes. Platinum Homes. Sunshine Homes. David Reid Homes. Coloursteel roofs – the ‘roofshout of New Zealand’. GJ Gardner and their horrible squeaky monkey in a floral shirt. Certified Builders “I’m a Certified Builder and I’m Damn Proud of it”. Master Builders. Sovereign Homes. Many, many more. Here I was, minding my own business, thinking this was a sign that things must be picking up, even if I couldn’t figure out who these people were who were buying themselves a new mass-produced house. Here I was, thinking that perhaps the worst was over.

But now the truth is out. Sparked off by today’s news that Sovereign Homes has gone bust, it suddenly all makes sense. The reason they are all advertising like crazy is because they are all at the edge of a precipice. There is no new housing work out there in Suburbia Land. There is only one thing out there: an extreme shortage of work, due in part to the extreme shortage of liquidity, and the shortage of confidence and jobs. Expect, I suspect, Sovereign to be the first of many to go bust. I’ve never heard of some of these companies, despite them all saying that they’ve been around for years, and that they’ve built the backbone of New Zealand. And now, almost without doubt, some of them will start going bust.

It is like that period in 2007/2008, when all the Finance companies were going down like nine-pins. There, again, they were keen to advertise on TV, to secure your retirement dollars. The clever ones all scored deals to sponsor TV One News – the home of the aged white middle class. And one by one, every company that sponsored One News went bust – do you remember who the sponsors were? Merchant Finance. Hanover Finance. Mmmm, yes, they were a reliable way to be removed from your wallet. Dominion Finance. Bust and Face down. Blue Chip? Did they sponsor the news? They all did. And they all took your money to the cleaners, before going bust and fleeing the country with a few fat bars of gold in their briefcase.

But I’m not going to be as happy to see the Housing companies go bust. And, just luckily, by the Hand of God that took away 166 lives and half of our second biggest city, with a bit of luck there may be a building boom. It’s vaguely distasteful to talk of a housing boom, or at least some say so: but on the other hand, be assured that the crafty are manoeuvering to get a piece of the action. And, with Key’s estimated 10,000 to 90,000 houses to be axed, there is going to need to be a massive amount of new housing.

What would be good to see with all this though, is the move to a more logical method of building these mass-produced houses. Given that they are nearly all exactly alike, it just seems totally incomprehensible that these houses are built one by one, by a bloke with a dog and a radio, moving from site to site. Let’s get real – what is needed here is a decent bit of prefabrication. This is the perfect chance to build a prefab industry, with a few giant factories building houses like a car production line, house after house just rolling off the line. Don’t believe me? Here are some pictures from a US house production line, called Modular Homes, where they rack ’em and stack ’em. This is what we need to be doing:

60 MPa
10 - 03 - 11

Warren Buffet has invested in these folks but what Chch has got that no-one else does is they get paid to dredge stone out of the Waimakariri so concrete is cheaper – given that over 80% of new homes have a concrete floor then why not supply modular 200/150 thick panels in various sizes?
Good thermal retention and durability, could easily be integrated to structures and trucked to site for low cost – if a central or distributed manufacturing precasting yard(s) made a set of agreed-upon panel sizes then they could be used in different home designs but be uniform in unit size.

The idea being that architects get the freedom to design individual but quickly built houses out of precast proven elements that are easily calculated by earthquake engineers

Yeah ok I love concrete but in this case, given that it is a liquid rock and can be made to look “heritage” ( I can see I’m going to loathe that word really soon) at the drop of a hat by texturing one side in brick-like form, really, who’s going to scream except the purists? .. and they never front with cash anyway

11 - 03 - 11

60 – let’s talk costs. Its a good idea – a great idea indeed – but will it stack up? Is the cost of a precast panel in the material or in the one-off nature of the mold? Any idea if the cost of a panel, say 2.4 x 4.8 in size, would be that much cheaper in lots of 100 as per a one-off?

11 - 03 - 11

Well, I’ve always been told the cost of concrete was in the framework and labour, not material costs, hence why latin america is filled with concrete structures – it’s an incredibly cheap building material, and when labour costs are mitigated it becomes the most economic building material. So standardised forms in a quality controls environments seems like it would be highly competitive if not more so than timber. I don’t have numbers to back that up however.

60 MPa
11 - 03 - 11

Sorry Max, I also have no hard numbers but estimates only
2.4 x 4.8 x say.2thick is 2.3 by about $250 per cube = $576 + reinforcing say 12mm@ 300 each way each face say 153m/6m lengths at @25 each = $640. A factory with shaker tables would be required and yes, all forms are reusable, esp if standard sizes are used.

Counting labour etc costs might be from $1500 (not including profit margin)for a 200 thick 4.8×2.4 panel. That’s roughly 130 per sq m which is comparable to block in price (but a helluva lot stronger)and that cost could be brought down through volume.

The sort of thing I had in mind might have rebar loops sticking out each end so that they could have the stitch joins poured onsite, locking them in place.

Perhaps a concrete ground floor with a timber prefab topfloor?

As an aside I saw this done in Brooklyn recently, after a fashion.Concrete floor and block walls double gge under then move-on house on top – at about 160 Ohiro Rd

11 - 03 - 11

Why not just do this?

Having visited the chinati foundation in Marfa Texas I would love to inhabit these sculptures

Seamonkey Madness
11 - 03 - 11

Saw this done on Grand Designs. Chap wanted a one-off unique design and paid ze Germans (a lot of money – and there’s the crux) to do it pre-fab in za Fatherland and then ship/truck it to site in Boonieshire.
Then they very same workers it built it then deconstructed it, reconstructed it again, in a matter of days in fact. And this Brit was absolutely gobsmacked by the process.

And then there is the ‘Move That Bus’ crowd. One of the ones that stood out for me was the hurricane-proof (and also taste-proof) polygonal-shaped houses put side-by-side to form a “house”.

There is an example of this (a modular, expandable bach?) on the Share Architecture site somewhere – speaking of which, it seems to have fallen by the wayside. =(

11 - 03 - 11

Share Architecture? yes, no postings there since mid last year. Their counter says:
305 Articles
1095 Days Operating
263840 Hit Counter

I think we’re up to 4200 comments, and over 3 years of continuous posting – but no idea what our hit rate on a site counter would be. Millions, obviusly. Maybe even billions. Why, we’re more popular than Charlie Sheen…

11 - 03 - 11

Interesting pics – thought you’d scooped some of the First Light production process for a minute there…!

11 - 03 - 11

Max>Why, we’re more popular than Charlie Sheen

People will be needing a Fish version of this then: