Housing Minister misses obvious solution
I have a dream; of opening a wine and cheese room where you can relax contemplating the breeze or discussing matters of State in peace and quiet. Like an oasis in the middle of a bustling metropolis.
Okay while that was one dream that was not the dream I was going to go into detail over here today. No today’s dream was having a KiwiBuild house completed ready to move in within three days of its build.* Three days (minus time needed for earthworks and sinking in the wooden piles) to fully assemble the dwelling (detached or duplex, a week for 3-storey walk ups) ready for the news residents to move into unlike the ~9-18 months it can take using conventional and inefficient methods.
*Three days to assemble the house on its piles and connect the wires and pipes. This does not include earthworks or sinking the piles
Recently Housing Minister Phil Twyford and his KiwiBuild scheme have attracted negative attention over delays and missing targets. The targets were 100,000 new homes over 10 years with the first year being 3,000 new homes as the scheme ramped up. The problem is KiwiBuild is only going to reach 10% of that first year target by July and I highly doubt without critical intervention over our outdated construction methods it will ever reach 10k/year.
It simply comes down to labour and the labour pool being inelastic to meet demand. It takes three years to bring a new builder up to full speed and even if we import workers they still need to be certified to our Codes and the Building Act. Simply put we have a finite labour pool to build ‘X’ amount of houses which each house (or apartment) taking up to 18 months.
The issue of land and Planning is a separate beast handled differently through other tools and even if they are all lined up we still comeback to that finite resource in the building sector.
So how do we make better and more productive use of our labour pool. We speed up the process of building said house using technology and industry. Or rather we standardise the building processes beginning to end for all dwellings up to three storeys and even low rise retail or mixed use (retail on ground level and residential on levels 1 and 2). As the “drive” for wood dwellings (rather than concrete, glass and steel) picks up no doubt the technology I am about to mention can be adapted to medium rise or up to 8 storeys.
That technology? Automated factory kit-set production!
Using factories, standardisation and the agglomeration of heavy industry to make house building more efficient
The challenge: to have a two storey house fully assembled on its piles in three days and a walk-up done inside a week. This being done after the pipes, electricity and data have been run from the road into the property and the foundation piles sunk (compared to a floating slab).
How is this done?
A large factory say in Wiri has four productions lines available to it. Each production line produces the walls, the floor and the roof all pre-wired and insulated as expected, flat packs it like IKEA furniture, boxes, ships it out by road or rail/road to the site and it is assembled again like that IKEA furniture. The electrician, plumber and telco team would then come in to connect everything up to the now assembled shell (and for plumber to install the toilet, basins and showers) leaving the new homeowner to then “decorate” the dwelling once the Certificate of Compliance is done (of course if you customise things like light-fittings or go gas this will take longer but the basic assembly of the house is done and liveable).
Each production line at Wiri produces a dwelling ready to be shipped out (or the modules of a complex if a walkup or mid-rise) with a certain amount of time and if managed properly a small store of extra dwellings or components are on hand in case we have surges in population growth or a disaster wiping out existing stock (thinking earthquakes here).
Because the dwellings are standardised (can have say 15 different designs) the inputs can be easily entered and production computer controlled. This would (in theory) mean quality assurance is maintained and if a fault was found it can be easily traced back (simplicity in design can prevent issues otherwise found in complex designs).
With full industrial automation in producing these standardised dwellings your labour pool in not effected – that is no redundancies from automation. However, the productivity of the finite labour pool is improved as it would now take that same pool three-days to a week to build dwelling/dwellings rather than 18 months as we have now. If there was reallocation of labour it would most likely head to the primary sector to ensure there was enough raw resources available for the factories.
If for some reason population growth or housing demand levelled off the factory goods can be easily exported.
Of course along with the main factory an auxiliary factory can be built alongside the main plant to allow customisation such as kitchens if the consumer so demands it (the basic shell of the dwelling is still standardised).
Has this level of automation been done elsewhere?
Apparently so and of all places in Japan. I am sure with Japanese help and our own intuition and innovation (let’s get researching folks) so that the products match our geography and regulations (needing an update anyway we can get a factory set up in Auckland and more elsewhere up and down the country.
Given the dwelling is flat-packed it can be very easily transported by road, trains and boat. Heck you could even fit them in a C130, C17 or B747-800 cargo aircraft to areas stricken by disaster and needing fast rebuilds of the housing stock.
What is stopping us?
Well I am afraid it is Minister Twyford and his officials given they have been told this all before yet KiwiBuild continues to lag as we continue very inefficient building processes.
As it was once said #letsdothis