UPDATED: The loss of homes for thousands of people is causing enormous stress and for some will continue to do so for months, if not years. Some people though are already looking for answers as searches for fire-resistant houses on our website has revealed in recent weeks. One answer might be prefabrication, which can be built to the highest Bushfire Attack Level rating, and offer quick construction times. Some members are also offering probono services to help.
Prefabricated homes, which are manufactured fully or partly in a factory and assembled onsite, are much faster to build than conventional homes, making them an option for the thousands of people seeking to rebuild after the fires.
After the California wildfires in 2018, home owners turned to the prefab industry to help though the rebuild activity tended to be more concentrated in areas where home owners were insured and had access to quicker payouts.
Less wealthy areas showed significantly lower levels of rebuild as this highly researched article from Four Twenty Seven showed last week, pointing to the need to fast-track help for members of the community who are most vulnerable.
Director of prefab company ARKit, Craig Chatman, says it’s still too early for most people to be thinking about rebuilding but is expecting calls in 12 months or so once sites have been cleaned up and cleared for contaminates.
Chatman says prefab has a key role to play in rebuilding efforts post-bushfires as it “keeps costs down and quality up.” There’s also the advantage of avoiding the “chaos” of traditional construction methods on a “pretty sensitive” bushfire site.
It can also be cheaper, depending on how bespoke customers want to go. Chatman says modular construction can be below market rates if customers opt for something off-the-shelf, but the greater the customisation, the more customers can expect to pay.
But at the higher levels of customisation, prefab can be as expensive as traditional building methods.
Prefab operators signed up to pro bono fire-assistance program
The company has signed up to Architects Assist, which is an initiative from the Australian Institute of Architects that architects can sign up to if they wish to offer pro bono design services to people affected by the fires.
The company is offering a catalogue of standardised offerings as part of its bushfire recovery program and hopes to offer a completely free design and documentation solution for people affected by bushfires once it gets its consultants and other subcontractors on board.
Victorian-based offsite construction company Archiblox has also signed up to Architects Assist.
Prefab is good for hard-to-reach spots
According to sustainable prefabricated home provider, Ecoliving, understanding of the prefab sector is clearly growing and marketing director Esme Beaumont says there has been a growing number of inquiries from bushfire affected people interested to rebuild, particularly from those who’ve lost homes in remote areas that construction workers will struggle to access.
Archiblox has also had calls from customers, in particular from Mallacoota and Gippsland in Victoria, and the southern coast of NSW. Spokeswoman Christine McCorkell says she expects a further influx of interest as local tradespeople are stretched to their limits.
For those who can quickly access insurance payments, houses can be built and delivered in 12-20 weeks, she says.
The ability of prefab suppliers to pump out quality homes at volume is also an advantage.
“These homes are all manufactured here in the one facility in Victoria, meaning we are able to produce multiple homes at any one time.
“So, for communities that have been completely devastated, prefabricated production of homes and buildings could see these towns get back on their feet much faster than your standard on-site build.”
McCorkell also says clients are showing more concern about bushfire resistant design.
The company, along with the other offsite construction providers contacted by The Fifth Estate, is capable of building a home that passes the highest Bushfire Attack Level rating.
Prefab can also be sustainable
ARKit Craig Chatman said the market, in general, is waking up to the benefits of prefab, including its sustainability perks as an ultra-low waste, quality-assured construction method that produces energy efficient buildings thanks to an airtight envelope. Sustainable materials, such as carbon-storing timber, are also common in prefab buildings.