I Have A Dream; Where a KiwiBuild House is Built Ready to Go in Three Days

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is only going to reach 10% of that first year target by July and I highly doubt without critical intervention over our outdated construction methods it will ever reach 10k/year.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!

Self built terraced housing http://hiddencityphila.org/2012/09/field-guide-to-new-row-house-construction-part-one/

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

Mayor Phil Goff and Minister Phil Twyford out at the Westgate Housing Development

8 thoughts on “I Have A Dream; Where a KiwiBuild House is Built Ready to Go in Three Days

  1. Ben you do not have to dream, those solution are available now. We have done 1200 houses in a single project in less than a year….not in New Zealand though. When asked what is your building capacity and you tell them 2500 sqm of quality affordable housing per day all cylinders firing people run for the hills. Government is being advised and guided by people to scared of what might happen if they open the taps. Then you have the red tape designed to protect the building material tycoons and wealth of other individuals benefitting from land and housing shortages. Mr Twyford I have 600 houses for you where do you want them?

  2. Keep dreaming Ben, and it’s a nightmare trying to the change the inertia of State Govt.

    Prefab factory in Auckland went bust, the Concision factory in Christchurch is only doing a fraction of what it could, through no fault of their own.

    I have imported housing from Prefab factories overseas, so I have done just more than the research.

    There are a couple of important points you have to grasp.

    1) That these factories are a beast that has to be feed consistency, ie if it can do 1,200 houses a year, that means 100 per month, approx. 25 houses per week. Anything thing outside this consistency becomes inefficient and costs money. As these systems require specialize of the labour, then if you don’t have the consistency then you cannot dovetail in an efficient and seamless transition from one job to the next. Any interruption in labour and/or material supply to the flow results in a lot of people standing around doing nothing. It takes longer to build a house as we have become more specialized than when the majority of the house was built by the one builder. One skilled builder can naturally go immediately onto the next task as soon as he has finished the previous task.

    2) Also economy of scale is at best a U shaped curve, except you can get an inverse linear trend when you have no understanding of the economy scale process, so as mentioned one builder (and onsite team, 2 to 3 in total) building one house used to take 4 months, now as we have become more specialized and at scale it is taking longer.

    But the main point you completely miss is that under our present consenting and land development restrictions, it is almost impossible for a builder to know when his build start date is, and until he knows that with certainty then he cannot plan any of his subbies etc.

    And you are definitely dream if you think we can export these houses, for the same reason we don’t manufacture cars in NZ and export them. Even Australia could not compete in the car manufacturing business.

    The Japanese did a worldwide search for housing supplies to be able to supply house to them in cases of a national emergency. What it meant that within four months of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, they where importing housing from Canada, while in NZ years after the Christchurch earthquakes we are still struggling.

    And you will note they did not choose NZ as a supplier. We don’t rate our own house quality, and neither does anyone else.

    There are groups looking to import housing direct from overseas factories, and bringing in the labour to assemble (and train the locals). Any prefabbed house still has a large onsite (read local) content ie foundations, and end finishing work, so if these prefab houses also absorbed 50% of the labour from overseas, then this would take the pressure of the local shortage, without taking away any work from Kiwi’s. And if in the future there was a possibility of supply over taking demand, then the imported supplies would reduce, thus they would be seen as supplementing the NZ builders, never replacing them.

    Ben, in theory what you say should work in practice, by in practice it doesn’t.

    1. As I have just tweeted in reply both to yours and Colin’s comment:
      And within a couple of hours the fault has been found on why my dream wont be realised.

      The Resource Management and Building Acts
      Both are obsolete and not fit for purpose AT ALL for urban areas
      Again @PhilTwyford has been told to create a new Urban Environment and Building Act

      Also with export: we can still export but rather than on quantity do it on niche quality. Glenbrook is a very small steel mill at international levels but it still exports. Why? Easier to set the production lines to build niche products the big mega factories in Korea and China could not do due to sheer size.

      As for not rating our own housing quality? Looking at the fade and decade in Addison and it is not even a decade since completion I wouldnt rate our stuff either.

      1. Yes it starts at the front end of both the RMA and Building Codes.

        I import building materials from Europe, and my suppliers just shake their heads when they see how we organize things building wise, it’s embarrassing really.

        If we compared the professionalism of the All Blacks to a comparable country with professionalism in building then the All Blacks would represent Switzerland, and the NZ development and building industry would be represented by India in Rugby.

        The issue is as I see it, that if for example, housing should be affordable, warm, dry and healthy then both the RMA and Building code are not fit for purpose and have decoupled from anything within the legislation of those two acts that would enable the goals of affordable, warm, dry, healthy housing to be met.

        What this causes us to try and do to achieve these goals in lieu of the front end legislation not providing the framework for us, is have a back end compliance regime. ie low entry regulation gives us high cost compliance. This is totally the opposite of the European (Swiss/German/Austrian) way of doing things where the Govt. set the right standard, ie high entry regulation and therefore little need for compliance. Builders and suppliers in Europe don’t need to belong and pay fees to a Green Building Council, Superhome Movement, Lifemark Council etc. as these ‘wish-lists’ are already covered by the Govt. Legislation.

        While the goal in NZ maybe to build an affordable, warm, dry, healthy house, the legislation allows you to build and get compliance for a house that is none of these things.

        Re your point on Glenbrook, I agree, but the rest of the world doesn’t rate our timber. The only thing we might be able to match them on is using out timber to make LVR type lumber.

  3. Hi Ben.. Thanks for this. Some people are way in front of this and looking seriously at these types of housing development options. They have run into the normal regulatory and consenting problems and issses….

    1. As I have just tweeted in reply both to yours and Dale’s comment:
      And within a couple of hours the fault has been found on why my dream wont be realised.

      The Resource Management and Building Acts
      Both are obsolete and not fit for purpose AT ALL for urban areas
      Again @PhilTwyford has been told to create a new Urban Environment and Building Act

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