With a skills shortage in our midst, and in an effort to improve efficiencies, smart residential housing developers are looking for alternatives to traditional construction methods.

They are starting to realise what all the fuss is about when it comes to the push to use more off-site manufactured products, and they are starting to use precast concrete.

Whilst brick and mortar houses have been well entrenched in this country, precast is starting to get a look in, offering a much faster, more thermally efficient and longer-lasting alternative.

One National Precast member who is experiencing a rise in demand for precast housing is Melbourne-based Hollow Core Concrete. According to owner Peter Healy, precast is comparable from a cost perspective  to a solid brick house with concrete flooring, but it’s the speed of construction which is its huge selling point. The company has worked on a number of precast houses ranging from simple single-storey homes to complex multi-level houses and medium density housing.

As an example, a precast 300 square metre, two-storey house that Hollow Core is building at the moment in Melbourne will take about six months. Lock-up occurred after just nine weeks on site. Using conventional construction methods, it would have taken at least 12 months to build this style of home.

Another National Precast member who recognises the potential for housing is MJB Industries. The company has already manufactured precast for seven precast homes it has developed and sold, and there are more on the horizon. Buyers are impressed with the finish of precast, the speed at which the homes can be built and the lack of rubbish and waste during the construction process.

Affordable social housing is another huge growth area, and MJB is also working with a not-for-profit organisation, looking at the possibility of affordable social housing built with precast.

In Tasmania, National Precast member Duggans Precast has for many years supplied precast for houses, particularly insulated sandwich panels. Duggans is now helping to make a difference to communities, supplying the precast for social housing in North Hobart. In a $14 million dollar project, a former adult learning centre is being transformed into an inner-city housing project for young people at risk of homelessness and those with a disability.

Tasmania's Relbia House using insulated precast sandwich panels

Tasmania’s Relbia House using insulated precast sandwich panels

Whether it’s individual homes or multi-storey apartments, the future growth for precast housing is promising. Although precast housing requires specialised engineering design, when you compare it with a traditional solid double brick home, there are so many benefits.

  • Sarah you make some good points and housing has to change. Modern Methods of Construction will point to a new industry culture and practices which in the end will give the industry's customers a better deal. There is still some push back by those in the industry who do not see the enormous benefits of doing construction differently. They do struggle with this meaning smarter, better, safer, faster and cheaper. The waste that I record from the old practices you refer to are unsustainable. While many in housing do not see that the sum of the parts can hardly be optimal when over 17 separate trades are needed to turn up and do their bit often without regard to the rest, one can understand the source of some of the warranty angst of customers these days. With the inevitable growth of multi-unit and dare I say it, shrinkage of detached housing there is a new opportunity for the housing to reorganise. I believe that precast is part of this picture, but not if its case is made absent the conversation about the sum of the parts. Its not time for very marginal bit-piece innovations to start the "pick me" journey without context. The precast industry could be a leader in this evolution.

    • Prefabrication sounds good until you look at the cost of setting up business in Australia to do this. It will happen to some extend but mostly it will be imported parts from the North Pacific or the USA. Transport costs in Australia make it cheaper to import from the USA than anywhere in Australia.
      At the moment when you look at alternatives the final cost never changes.
      If there is no saving for the investor or the consumer why try to reinvent the wheel and end up with a faulty product.

  • I'm all for looking at alternatives to help with the huge skill shortage's our industry is flying towards, but really?? Ever tried to get GOOD concreter's. There is no solution here – it's just moved from one to trade base to another.

  • The industry only has itself to blame for skills shortages.
    Apprenticeships on the decline for years, you cannot expect the small subbie working for the big tier 1 builders to take on all the costs of hiring apprentices. History has showed it has not worked.
    The more aggressive and entrepreneurial companies will develop new technologies to overcome skills shortages. We should be giving oxygen to invitation thru tax incentives and not let the slackers in the industry (including some of the big contractors) to have "get out of jail cards" by allowing them to import 457 labour such as bricklayers and electricians.

  • Tilt up concrete is no solution that's for sure. Don't get me wrong. I like the product, but its not a skills shortage solution. Its also hellishly expensive.

    Concrete is an old product, which has terrible green credentials. It has a massive carbon footprint. Its heavy to move. It has a terrible R value.

    There is an argument for using a conc wall internally for good thermal mass…. but, dirt can do the same job for 1/10th the price.

    There are other products which are rolling over the market currently. Its coming.

    Traditional forms of Bricks and concrete will die out soon.

  • The use of precast is increasing how ever to state that a 2 storey home would take 12 months to build is a stretch. Whilst there could be some homes that take that length of time most standard constructed homes have a standard 6 month build schedule.

  • There are several new types of concrete, mixing conventional concrete with ecological advanced materials that reduces the costs up to 50%, time,waste, CO2 with more.

    Producing strong lightweight nano concrete with several added values and we have developed a BPU ( Basic Production Unit) that allows a high production volume.

    There is a systems where we produce the precast in layers (no 3D printing) and adapting it to Industry 4.0 that will allow us to mass produce customized precast.