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Failure

 

When Nithin V Antony, founder and designer, AHU—a company making contemporary prefab cabins—decided to build his home in the hills of Ooty, he realised that traditional construction would not only be a challenge due to the terrain, but would cost more money and time and do more harm to the environment. He instead designed a prefabricated cabin for himself and has been living in it for almost two years now. In February 2021, he launched his company AHU, that creates residential prefab homes pan India. “We don’t use concrete and want to be an ecologically-conscious construction alternative. We want to create a “win win win situation”. The client wins when he gets a house, we win when we sell one and the environment wins as there is least damage,” he adds. So, what really is a prefab home, and is there a rising demand for such construction? We asked experts to shed some light on it.
 

What is a Prefab Home?

A prefabricated home is a structure that is built off-site in parts, and then shipped and assembled on-site, cutting down on construction time, labour and cost. These homes typically take a few weeks or months to be ready and are installed with electricity and plumbing in place. Most reputed prefab companies offer a warranty on the structure, giving owners an assurance that the structure will stand the test of time. 

Prefab structures in India

While prefab cabins have been around for centuries, especially in the west; in India, this concept is still in its nascent stage, and the demand and curiosity for the same is now on the rise. Rahul Jindal, managing director, Loom Crafts, a company that makes modular prefab cottages and homes, says, “The demand for prefabs has increased in the last few years due to reasons like hassles in civil construction, time taken in concrete buildings, no time for supervisions, and adoption of new and better technologies. The response is really good for high-end farmhouses and cottages for resorts and hotels, but I think it will still take time for people of India to accept prefab as their main home for living permanently.”

Even so, there are companies mushrooming in the Indian residential space that are offering prefab services to clients. Villazeon is a Mumbai-based company that offers luxury prefab solutions across India. Since its inception, AHU has taken 

A room with Large windows and a bed

AHU is one of the few companies in India that offer prefab homes to customers. Image courtesy, AHU

up projects in Delhi, Bangalore, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Hyderabad, while Loom Crafts has been doing this since 2019 in every Indian state, with most projects down south.
 

An emerging trend

“The new generation is slowly changing the way they view life. They want better and wholesome lifestyles. Time would be the most crucial resource in the future. Prefab homes solve a major problem with time. They are quick, safe, and if done right can offer a more sustainable approach towards living. Once they come and see if for themselves they understand it a lot better,” says Antony.
 

Similar grey houses built next to each other on a mountain slope

This resort in Coorg has only prefab cottages to offer that ensured less intervention to the natural landscape. Image courtesy, Ayatana

Even resorts are gravitating towards this trend for the convenience it offers. Vishal Vincent Tony, managing director, Ayatana Hospitalities, decided to opt for 54 prefab cottages at the Ayatana Coorg resort that were created by their in-house design and construction team. “Making the structures prefab helped reduce the labour intensity on site. Coorg has a steep terrain which presents its own challenges with conventional concrete construction. It was also our vision for the structures to appear floating in the wilderness, which meant that the supports had to be as minimal and as non-invasive as possible. This also tied up with our sustainable approach of minimal intervention to the existing land,” he reveals.

The costs

While costs may differ based on the size, location and company, a prefab home is cheaper than a concrete one, claim most developers. “Our cost starts from Rs 3,750 per sq ft including all finishes, ready-to-move-in except furniture,” says Jindal, while Antony’s company offers homes starting from 13 lakh onwards. “As the size increases, the ratio of cost decreases due to the economics of scale. A prefab house we provide only requires furniture. The electricals, flooring and washrooms are included,” he adds.

Government permissions

Since prefab structures fall under the ‘temporary construction’ category, the rules around it are few and scattered. Most companies tell you that the permissions change in each Indian state so there is no one rule that can be applied to such homes.

The time factor

Unlike concrete homes, prefab homes take much less time to be built and installed. After initial design and planning consultations, your home can be ready to move in within as less as 20 days, depending on its size and requirements.

Are prefabricated homes sturdy?

One of the most-asked questions about such homes is whether they are strong enough to stand the test of time. Some have the fear of it being flimsy and rightfully so. There have been incidents where badly designed and erected structures have had a lot of damage over a few months. People would be hesitant to take that leap without proper validation. But reputed companies run several tests to ensure the stability of such structures in high wind speeds, rains, and general upkeep. They even offer a warranty of 15-20 years for prefab homes. “Prefab does give you flexibility in terms of spatial planning and form. It is more sustainable for a site that needs to be preserved for its natural beauty as it reduces on-site work, and can be disassembled and repaired easily,” concludes Tony.

As more people in the country become aware of this concept, it will be interesting to see if this trend picks up and becomes a viable solution for those looking to build a sturdy home in a limited time and budget.

 

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