Prefab housing does not have a great track record as an affordable option in South Africa. So could IKEA-style flat-pack houses work here like they are in the UK?
Swedish housing developer, BoKlok has recently paired with the Worthing council in the UK to manufacture 162 affordable, prefabricated houses. BoKlok, which is co-owned by IKEA and Swedish construction company Skanska, says that the houses are priced in order to be affordable for a single parent earning the average salary in the area.
It’s an unfortunate fact that housing prices in South Africa, particularly in the metropolitan areas, are steadily increasing in price and are unaffordable for the average South African. Could flat-pack houses, such as those offered by BoKlok be the solution for affordable housing for all?
Why are Flat-Pack Houses so Cheap?
Despite the name, flat-pack houses don’t actually come neatly packed with a set of instructions. Instead, what sets them apart from traditional houses is that all the components are constructed off-site and are then just assembled on location. This saves on labour costs, as these houses can be built within a day. As the components are all produced using standard techniques, the material costs of flat-pack houses are cheaper as well.
If you think that this sounds suspiciously like prefab buildings, that’s exactly what these houses are. Luckily, they bear little resemblance to the uncomfortable huts we were subjected to in high-school. Modern prefab houses are constructed using durable, robust materials that can withstand harsh rains and constant sun exposure.
Challenges for Flat-Pack Houses in South Africa
Despite increased densification in urban areas, the majority of low-cost housing in South Africa comes in the form of a single dwelling home. These are typically constructed out of bricks and are an ineffective solution to South Africa’s housing problem. This has led many engineers and other experts to recommend prefab housing as an alternative option.
Flat-pack houses are already present in South Africa. There are numerous companies that sell pre-manufactured homes that are assembled on-site. Companies such as Inizio and Going Green have been manufacturing prefabricated homes in South Africa since the 2000s. So why haven’t these homes become more popular, especially as a low-cost housing option?
One challenge for prefab buildings is that South Africa has an extreme climate that is expected to get worse as climate change takes its toll. This means that prefab shelters need to be designed to withstand severe weather conditions, from torrential rain to constant sun exposure.
Prefab houses also need to adhere to the National Housing Act and National Building Regulations guidelines that define the form and energy, water and sanitation requirements of these houses. Many developers think that these regulations are inappropriate and onerous, leading to slowed growth within the affordable flat-pack housing market.
Finally, many prefab housing companies in South Africa aren’t really targeting the low-cost housing market. Prices for prefab houses tend to be only slightly less, or on par, with those for a traditionally built house, rendering them unaffordable for the average South African and unsuitable for low-cost housing initiatives.
Opportunities Offered by Flat-Pack Houses
South Africa presents interesting challenges and opportunities for BoKlok-like deals with international companies. While some find the regulations and set guidelines restrictive, working within these constraints allows for more creative and innovative solutions.
Recent advances in materials science and energy generation can be incorporated into these homes, pushing prices down while ensuring the homes are energy-efficient and sustainable. The end result is houses that are durable and liveable, and that can be passed on through generations as an asset and human right.