By Helen Greig, NHF

86% of the cost of a new home is on long-term maintenance, 98% of new-home buyers report defects, and 24% of homebuyers would actively avoid newbuild as a result.

We think that as a country we can do better. We can build better. Modern methods of construction (MMC) really offer the opportunity to do just that. And for social housing providers, who maintain the asset, that first statistic is really important. Get that cost down and it’s more homes for the people who really need them.

Starting on the MMC journey though is not like swapping your utility provider – whilst the finished product may look the same as a traditionally constructed home, comparing the two is like comparing a Ford Focus to a Tesla. The opportunities are incredible – financial reductions, net zero carbon, improved quality. But is it too good to be true? No, is the short answer – if you get it right.

If you are just starting on the journey, here are our top five tips to help you get there:

  1. Let’s start at the very beginning: If you want to do MMC on a site, make the decision to do it at the very start of the process. Taking a site to a manufacturer with designs already drawn up and planning granted will be costly, inefficient and potentially unsuccessful.
  2. Don’t believe the hype: Everyone in the supply chain seems to say they can deliver MMC, whether it be architects, Employers Agents, or groundworks teams. And some of them can, absolutely (and will likely charge three times as much for the honour). Many of them cannot (and still charge three times as much). Manufacturers will often have established architects and groundworks teams so, as long as you follow the first tip, you may find that headache taken away.
  3. Can’t Speak French: ‘MMC’ is not a specific type of home; there are seven categories of MMC. The homes can be volumtetric, panelised, have pods in them, have MC elements. Panelised could be with CLT (cross-laminated timber), SIPS (structural insulated panels), steel-framed. Check out the seven categories and understand the language before approaching manufacturers – for example, if you know you want volumetric, it will eliminate a lot of manufacturers.
  4. Safe and Sound: There are so many manufacturers out there it is hard to know where to start. Although this is getting better all the time thanks to initiatives such as the Construction Innovation Hub and Cast Consultancy bringing sifting tools to the market, it is easy to get lost in a world where everything looks the same to the untrained eye. As a starter for ten, a trusted warranty will help guide you. Be clear – the warranties are not a guarantee of solvency, nor a cast-iron guarantee that there won’t be issues – just like they’re not in the traditional construction sector. However, they are a good indicator that a manufacturer is willing to be scrutinised and held to account, which is a start. NHBC, BOPAS and Premier tend to be the most trusted.
  5. Stop! Collaborate and listen: If the above is putting you off then I have some great news for you. Tip five is to never go into this on your own. Everyone has heard of the brave pioneers who went ahead with pilot sites and got burnt – sometimes literally – by poor quality manufacturing, or manufacturers who simply went bust. And the biggest lesson from that is – do it with other people. I don’t mean build a site with others; I mean find a group of like-minded organisations and work together. With an established group such as Building Better or Homes for the North, you will have all the advice for #1, the sector intelligence to help with #2, people who speak the
    language from #3, and a framework in palace that has carried out the vetting for #4. You will also learn from the lessons of others and not repeat them, have an immediate group of experts to support and guide you, and the buying power and influence of a large provider that most social housing providers can only dream of.

MMC is the future. It is also the present. And it is new so we need to understand it. The best way to do that is together.