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The property sector globally currently consumes more energy (34%) compared to the transport sector (27%) or the industry sector (28%). Additionally it is the most significant polluter, with all the biggest potential for significant cuts to greenhouse gas emissions in comparison with other sectors, at no cost.

Buildings present an easily accessible and highly inexpensive ability to reach energy targets. A green building is certainly one that minimises energy use during design, construction, operation and demolition.

The desire to reduce energy use through the operation of buildings is now commonly accepted around the globe. Changing behaviour could result in a 50% decrease in energy use by 2050.

Such savings are strongly influenced by the standard of buildings. Passive buildings are ultra-low energy buildings wherein the requirement for mechanical cooling, heating or ventilation might be eliminated.

Modular or prefabricated green buildings, designed and constructed in factories using precision technologies, may help achieve these standards. These buildings are higher quality and a lot more sustainable than buildings constructed on-site through manual labour. They may be potentially twice as efficient in comparison with on-site building.

However, despite support for prefabricated house there are many of hurdles in the way of a prefab revolution.

Factory production means modular green buildings are better sealed against draughts, which in conventional buildings can take into account 15-25% of winter heat loss.

And factories also provide higher quality control systems, resulting in improved insulation placement and much better energy efficiency. Good insulation cuts energy bills by as much as half compared to uninsulated buildings.

Because production within a factory setting is on-going, rather than depending on individual on-site projects, there is certainly more scope for R&D. This increases the performance of buildings, including leading them to be more resilient to natural disasters.

As an example, steel structure warehouse in Japan have performed perfectly during earthquakes, with key manufacturers reporting that none of the houses were destroyed by the 1995 Hanshin Great Earthquake, rather than the destruction of many site-built houses.

Buildings constructed at your location probably can’t get the same benefits as modular buildings. Case studies in britain show savings of 10% to 15% in building costs along with a 40% lowering of transport for factory when compared with on-site production. Factories also don’t lose time as a result of bad weather and get better waste recycling systems.

Sorting waste at Sekisui House Ltd Recycling Centre. Karen Manley

For example, Sekisui House, a Japanese builder, includes a system for all their construction sites where waste is sorted into 27 categories on-site and 80 categories inside their recycling centre to get the best value from the resources.

On-site building is open to the climate. This prevents access to the precision technologies needed to produce buildings towards the highest environmental standards. These technologies include numerical controlled machinery, robotic assembly, building information models, rapid prototyping, assembly lines, test systems, fixing systems, lean construction and enterprise resource planning systems.

As an example, numerical controlled machinery provides more precise machine cutting that can’t be matched by manual efforts. This, coupled with modelling, fixing and testing 98dexppky helps ensure that factories produce more airtight buildings, compared to on-site production, reducing energy leakage.

High-Tech Factory, Shizuoka, Sekisui House Ltd. Karen Manley, Author provided

Less than 5% of brand new detached residential buildings australia wide are modular green buildings.

In leading countries including Sweden the pace is 84%.

In Japan, 15% of most their residential buildings are modular green buildings produced in the world’s most technologically advanced factories.

Globally, you will find a trend toward increased market penetration of green modular buildings. Yet their adoption inside the Australian building sector is slower than expected.

Constructing houses at your location is less sustainable. Grand Canyon National Park/Flickr, CC BY

However, we can easily still get caught up. The most up-to-date evidence shows that strengthening building codes and providing better enforcement is the most affordable path towards more sustainable housing.

Australia doesn’t possess a great record here. Our building codes could possibly be better focused, stricter, and certainly our enforcement could be a lot better.

Building for the future

As the biggest polluter and a high energy user, the construction sector urgently has to reform for climate change mitigation.

There are serious legacy issues. Mistakes we made in the past endure through the life of buildings. Building decisions we make today can be quite costly to reverse, and buildings work for decades! Around Australia, a timber building is likely to last a minimum of 58 years, and a brick building no less than 88 years.

Currently, potential building owners are funnelled toward on-site construction processes, regardless of the clearly documented benefits associated with prefabricated homes. This really is reflected within the low profile given to modular housing in the National Construction Code and a lack of aggressive and well enforced environmental standards. We clearly need better policy to support the modular green building industry.