Prefab is boring, right? So how come German manufacturer Huf Haus manages to turn off-site manufacture into something the ordinary punter gets excited about?
When Channel 4’s Grand Designs featured a house from German manufacturer Huf Haus, the company was inundated with calls from viewers attracted by the house’s distinctive timber and glass design. The 58 houses built in the UK have between them picked up a string of design awards. No product demonstrates just how desirable off-site manufactured “prefab” housing can be as well as homes like this one shown here, made by Huf Haus.
But in spite of the success Huf Haus has enjoyed in the UK over the past six years the company has no plans to set up a factory so that it can manufacture its post and beam houses here, says business development manager Afra Bindewald. “We make an exclusive product. We concentrate on smaller developments with a limited number of houses,” she explains.
Huf Haus may make an upmarket product, but there is still much that the UK housebuilding industry can learn from the experience of Germany’s broader home-manufacturing industry. A DTI Global Watch mission to Germany, co-ordinated by construction research body CIRIA, has gathered the key lessons into a report to be launched later this month (available on www.globalwatchonline.com/missions).
The mission takes into account the fact that much off-site German housebuilding is very different to that of the UK’s, being more akin to self-build than this country’s volume business. But, as in the UK, off-site manufacture once had a poor reputation. In Germany, however, the development of quality standards and certification schemes and the promotion of the benefits of off-site manufacture have changed practice and perceptions. The mission’s report concludes that such action could help to bring about a similar transformation here.
In Germany’s more off-site-friendly environment, a range of technologies has flourished, from the top-of-the-market timber post and beam solutions, which the mission believes would have limited application in the UK, to concrete systems, using either large blocks and roof elements, or even complete concrete modules. The mission thought that concrete modular technology, which is targeted at the lower end of the market, could have the potential to be applied in the UK, along with concrete panel walls and basements, and timber structural insulated panels.
The mission also thought that Germany’s permanent show home villages were a good idea and should perhaps be replicated in the UK to help win homebuyers over to the benefits of off-site manufactured housing. Germany’s show home parks each showcase around 50 homes, made by different, competing manufacturers. “It is very different from our way of selling houses,” acknowledges Tim Venables, of Imperial College London and an author of the report. “It is expensive, but the show home parks do get a good throughput of people.”
“In Germany off-site manufactured housing is exciting,” Venables adds. “The quality is good, and the housing doesn’t look regular and boring.” That’s a lesson Channel 4 viewers have already absorbed.