Prefabricated homes offering up to 15 per cent reductions in building costs are gaining a powerful boost from a green think-tank seeking sustainable ways of tackling the housing crisis.
Time savings and waste minimisation are also cited by the Pure Advantage group of prominent Kiwis such as The Warehouse founder Sir Stephen Tindall and Ngai Tahu leader Sir Mark Solomon, which is today re-launching its website with an in-depth study of prefab housing.
Despite the collapse in February of Kumeu-based eHome NZ, the country's largest off-site residential manufacturer, the group says other high-tech start-ups show more industry potential than indicated 12 months ago.
Examples are the openings of a $14 million joint venture factory in Christchurch with robotic machinery for making ready-to-assemble house panels and a factory in Wellington aiming to produce 500 finished homes a year.
Mike Greer Homes, a partner in the Christchurch undertaking, hopes to develop a $16 million panelling factory at Pokeno, south of Auckland, for more than 1000 homes a year.
Although scarcity of land remains the biggest cause of Auckland's housing woes, that should go some way towards easing growing pains in a region with a shortfall of up to 20,000 homes.
Pure Advantage chief executive Simon Millar says "anything to reduce the economic drag of the misfiring housing sector and get greater numbers of Kiwis into healthier, more sustainable homes has to be looked at closely."
Mr Millar acknowledges perception problems.
"In some quarters, the very mention of prefab is going to conjure memories of a drab, draughty temporary classroom," he says.
"But that was then, today's version of prefab is capable of combining stylish design with efficient and accurate off-site manufacturing methods."
PrefabNZ chief executive Pamela Bell said a report last year, produced with support from Government agency Branz, predicted a potential cost saving of $32,000 or 15 per cent on the costs of building a $213,000 house by producing panels off-site.
Institute for Economic Research principal economist Shamubeel Eaqub said yesterday that anything to reduce housing costs was sorely needed. "The positive thing about prefab is not just the cost reduction, but the speed with which you can build things."
Real Estate Institute chief Colleen Milne welcomed the potential for time savings, but said the leaky homes debacle showed the importance of not sacrificing quality.
Stigma doesn't fit, beachside couple says
Semi-retired couple Barbara and Ray Warrender wanted to move into a home that would fit them just perfectly.
When they couldn't find one already on the market, the couple decided to go with a transportable home near the beach, at Awhitu Peninsula.
"We couldn't find a house we liked or wanted - so we bought a section," said Mrs Warrender, a former teacher at Auckland's De La Salle College.
"We did quite a bit of research and we had a budget we wanted to stick to."
The couple assigned Keith Hay Homes to help them and the result was a three-bedroom home that cost just over $200,000.
"It's got two bathrooms, a lounge and dining area and kitchen. It came carpeted, with wallpaper and paint and with all the kitchen fittings."
The package also included a deck out the front and back.
"It's perfectly adequate for just the two of us and amazingly roomy and spacious - I really don't know why more people don't do it."
Mrs Warrender acknowledged there was still a sort of stigma associated with transportable or prefab homes in that they were cheap and arguably less comfortable.
"I don't think people understand what they're like now. It's amazing what they have available now."
- additional reporting Vaimoana Tapaleao