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The impact of COVID on the US modular housing industry

The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing us to find safer and smarter ways of building homes and offices.

The COVID-19 outbreak has meant we have had to find smarter and safer ways to build homes. It has highlighted the benefits that modular construction can bring, especially when it comes to speed of build.

Impacts of COVID-19 on the modular market

The global modular and prefabricated housing construction market is expected to decline from $21.13 billion in 2019 to $18.79 billion in 2020. The decline is mainly due to restrictive containment measures involving social distancing, remote working, and the closure of many industries.

The market is then expected to recover and reach $25.35 billion in 2023.

Although the market itself has shrunk, there are endless lists of examples where modular construction has come to save the day throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Examples of modular construction during COVID-19

Due to the benefits modular construction can bring, many developers are choosing modular and prefabricated methods of construction over traditional methods.

The main benefit of modular construction that COVID-19 has highlighted is the time taken to build. Modular construction can be up to 50% faster than traditional methods of construction as homes and units are built on a continuously operating assembly line. With the COVID-19 crisis a quick response was needed to set up temporary hospitals and isolation units which is why many chose modular construciton.

The ability to work in a controlled environment is also a huge benefit of modular construction that the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted. Since all modular construction is carefully planned and executed, there are less uncertainties such as last-minute problems or conflicts that mean costly delays or revisions of building plans.

PLC Construction has partnered with health experts, designers and engineers to create a portable virus testing centre that can be quickly deployed across US states and potentially other countries.

In San Jose, California there has been a $17m plan to build 500 modular and prefabricated homes to house homeless residents. Mayor, Sam Liccardo, said he expects the city could build the units within weeks, rather than years.

Isolation facilities have also been built using modular construction. In Seattle, modular units have been constructed for those who are need of a safe place to isolate or quarantine. The modular isolation facilities can hold up to 23 people, but there are plans to build more to hold even more people.

There are many similar stories all over the globe where modular construction has come to the rescue. (More examples)

After COVID-19

As construction workers gradually start returning to building sites, it’s becoming clear that the construction industry will need a new approach after COVID-19. Outdated methods of traditional construction will need to be updated to methods of smart construction to tackle design problems and inefficiencies.

As COVID-19 is still a threat, safety guidelines mean that only a maximum 60% of workers can safely return to sites under social distancing rules. This has meant productivity is expected to be 30% - 40% lower than usual.

Tighter immigration controls to stop the spread of COVID-19 are impacting the supply of labor to sites which is expected to further slow down projects.

At the same time, demand for housing is continuing to rise, especially in cities. Offering affordable and more spacious accommodation is crucial for reducing overcrowding and preventing future waves of infection. But how can we do this in a fast, sustainable and environmentally sound way. Prefabricated modular construction may be the answer.

As discussed in the benefits of modular housing, modular construction offers more certainty when building houses. This is becoming of increasing importance as COVID-19 is bringing more and more uncertainties to the sector, such as a risk of a second wave.

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