CHENNAI: Pre-cast houses? Need not be outlandish for the home-aspiring Tamilian who for all the right reasons associates a home with attributes such as ‘solidity’ and ‘permanence’. A home is a place where you ‘settle down’. A house is an asset for future generations. And a home is a place that can offer the ultimate security. So, will the concept of modular or prefabricated homes ever find even a niche in the Tamilian mindset? YES, feels Pon Ravichandran.
So what exactly are modular, prefabricated / pre-cast and site-built houses?
While site-built homes are done entirely at the site, modular homes are built in sections at a factory. These sections are transported to the building site on truck beds and then, assembled, most probably by local contractors. Manufactured homes, on the other hand, are built on a non-removable steel chassis and then, transported to the site on their own wheels, which are removed once, the structure reaches the site.
The concept of prefabricated modular homes will take some time to find social acceptance here, especially in Tamil Nadu. But going forward, things will come to such a pass that people will find such modular homes attractive even if they are individual homes. They are cost effective and can be graded with modern fittings and amenities as a detailed plan of construction is readily available.
Even though housing continues to be a crucial issue in India, the concept of modular or prefabricated houses that could be assembled on site from pre-fabricated components has not yet caught upon here. There are two reasons for this, viz, the belief that pre-fabrication is only for the low economic segment and the mindset that prefabrication technology does not allow customisation required for a home.
Around 15 to 20 years back the idea of standardising construction products meant, starting from doors and windows and floor plans, everything is pre-set. Although this is true to a certain extent, pre-fab technology has come a long way since then. However, the awareness of this is still lacking among the consumer.
Doors and windows have been identified as the products in construction sector that are ready for standardisation. Already pre-fabricated doors and windows have started to become available, even though there has been no standardisation of their dimensions. With carpentry work accounting for a good part of the construction costs, any kind of respite is a welcome change for the builders. Next in line are the bathrooms and kitchens. Standardising bathroom products was also comparatively easier since many parts already arrive in modules in the local market. Though modular kitchens have started making inroads into Indian homes, these are only just a small segment of the building modules market.
For India, and especially for Tamil Nadu, thorough research and development is important before any steps are taken towards introducing the concept of completely prefabricated housing in the state. The material and building technology used in other countries may or may not be suitable for our climate. Also, their concept of a house, securities etc are quite different from ours.
The standardisation of building components might prove to be the biggest blessing for the construction segment, since it would help avoid the wastage generated during the work.
Often, people have to cut away the extra parts from sheets of glass, or flooring tiles have to be cut in half to fill up a room. With pre-fab even for individual homes, wastage can be reduced considerably and costs could be brought down significantly. But any steps in standardisation should be taken only through a process of close interaction between all the concerned parties in the construction segment like the builders, architects and structural engineers.
Though still foreign to our building terminology, sooner or later, these terms are bound to become part of our lexicon going by what the building industry experts say.