Wednesday, October 01, 2008
I have blogged before on modular houses here & here. Housebuilding has barely improved since the Victorian era when the mass pre-production of window frames was the height of progress. Compare & contrast with car manufacturing which went into a mass production mode when Henry Ford started his Model T assembly line.
There already are quite a lot of modular house manufacturers across the world & indeed as early as the 1960s the Russians were mass producing flats which could be slotted into place. Nonetheless most of the mass production has not been very "mass" so the benefits have not been reaped. Most of this is because local authorities have the power to demand small changes in any building. This is why I previously proposed
this & some other things in my Housing Motion designed to encourage this reform;
"2) Produce a national scheme of building type approval rather than the current site by site approval which causes immense duplication of effort & prevents the mass production methods used successfully in other industries."
I envisage large lorries (8'2" x up to 80') delivering houses & flats or perhaps half houses/flats needing to be fitted together, up to 2 stories high) These would be very affordable, designed to fit on one of a relatively small number of agreed site sizes, so that everybody knows where the water & electricity would be expected to slot in. Because they are factory constructed they would be built to much closer tolerances than can be done on site. Because they would be relatively inexpensive & there would be real competition to get customers rather than the monopolistic limits we have on building now I expect the public would be able to demand all the optional extras (eg a computer to control heating lighting, cooking times etc) as standard just as car steroes have become.
One modular house may not count as big engineering but a factory turning out 100,000 a year certainly is.
Acknowledging my sources see Why is Construction So Backward by Woodhuysen et al. Earlier than that Robert Heinlein said in 1965:
"there has been no breakthrough in housing, nor is any in prospect- instead the ancient wasteful methods of building are now being confirmed by public subsidies. The degree of of our backwardness in the field is hard to grasp: we have never seen a modern house. Think what an automobile would be if each one were custom built from materials sent to your home - what would it look like, what would it do & how much would it cost? But don't set the cost lower than $100,000 (in 1965) or the speed higher than 10mph, if you want to be serious about the centuries of difference between the housing industry & the automotive industry.
..... We have the technology to build cheap, beautiful, efficient, flexible (modular method) houses extremely comfortable & with the durability of a Rolls Royce. But I cannot guess when (if ever) the powers that be(local bureaucrats, unions, building materials suppliers, county & state officials) (now add banks) will permit us poor serfs to have modern housing".
Right as ever.
is what "pre-fabricated housing" can look like as it ages. This is one of the better pictures. The local low end section of my metro area banned trailers over 30 years old from being brought into the city and being set up. Bringing in 30+ year old trailers was considered either low class or...well I don't know. Those trailers would have complied with all federal laws in effect at the time of manufacture, just like cars. But they don't ban 30 year old cars.
In the other hand if we are building about 0.5% new housing stock annually very few of us are going to live in houses under 30 years old.
I don't know what an MOT is, but here in Arizona cars are not inspected for mechanical soundness. Instead the police will stop a vehicle it is showing signs of being unsafe. The police will also use this power as a pretext to stop people they want to, using a burnt out tail light as a reason for a stop. In AZ there is an environmental inspection every two years in Maricopa and Pima counties to see if your car still complies with the emissions laws in effect at the time of manufacture. I had my 1996 Ford Escort done about a year ago for about $30. If the vehicle is registered outside the two counties mentioned and is not used to commute into the two counties then there is no inspection at all.
Also, in certain areas of the country I have seen 25-35 year old cars still on the road. Since we don't really have a good mass transit system in the valley, the poor who would be riding the bus instead buy a very used car for $2k and keep it together with alot of prayer.
If you want I can detail the fees needed to legally keep a car on the road in AZ.
The MOT is indeed an annual inspection of roadworthiness for cars over 3 years old. I must admit that without it or some equivalent i would be a bit nervous of a 30 year old car.