The Three Little Pigs vs The Big Bad Wolf
With the rising cost of building, architect Greg Young shares an insight into prefab construction
Building houses out of straw and sticks didn’t serve the first two pigs well; and in New Zealand the big bad wolf has bigger teeth, you might say, what with earthquakes knocking bricks down as well.
Construction doesn’t seem to have changed much in the last 6000 years – since the days of weaving reeds around sticks of timber and plastering them with mud. Timber framing with a plaster finish is very similar to the wattle and daub that we were using in our dim dark history.
Traditionally, New Zealand’s typical timber framed house has been cheap and easy compared to panelised or prefabricated housing.
The cost of labour has been steadily climbing over the years. The main reason that we have used sticks of timber to build our houses with, rather than structural panels, is the lower cost; but the cost of putting those walls together has risen a lot due to the cost of labour, as well as the cost of materials and compliance requirements.
This has brought us to a tipping point in the construction industry where it is now becoming more cost effective to start using higher quality materials, such as Structural Insulated Panels, as they are faster to put together, and hence require less labour.
Prefab construction is a term that is thrown around a lot, but what is it? Concrete precast panels are definitely prefabricated, but timber framing can be prefabricated in a factory as well. There are a great many options when it comes to prefabricated construction, and you will recognise a lot of them from what you see on television, whether in New Zealand or around the world, which can make it very confusing.
In very broad terms the prefabricated construction panels we use are:
1. Concrete Panels
2. Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs)
3. Cross Laminated Timber Panels (CLTs)
Sometimes, timber framing can also be supplied in panels, with a sheet on the outside as well.
All of these have their own advantages, and as an architect I use different combinations of these panel types depending on my clients’ requirements and the sites we are building on.
In New Zealand we are seeing advances in technology have a positive effect on our construction industry, allowing us to provide higher quality buildings at a lower cost. Maybe it’s time to write a New Zealand architects’ version of The Three Little Pigs…
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