Prefabricated timber wall, floor and roof systems… for those who can quickly access insurance payments, houses can be built and delivered in 12-20 weeks.  Photo: Carbonite

PREFABRICATED homes manufactured in a factory and assembled and built much faster onsite than conventional homes could be the option for thousands of people seeking to rebuild after the summer bushfires.

Craig Chatman, director of Melbourne prefab company ARKit Design Studio and Workshop, says it’s still too early for most people to be thinking about rebuilding but he is expecting calls over the next 12 months once sites have been cleaned up and cleared for contaminates.

Mr Chatman says prefab has a key role to play in rebuilding efforts post-bushfires as it “keeps costs down and quality up.” There’s also the advantage of avoiding the ‘chaos’ of traditional construction methods on a sensitive bushfire site.

It can also be cheaper, depending on how bespoke customers want to go. Reporting in architecture, design and engineering e-newsletter Sourceable, Mr Chatman says modular construction can be below market rates if customers opt for something off-the-shelf, but the greater the customisation, the more customers can expect to pay.

The company has signed up to Architects Assist, an initiative of the Australian Institute of Architects, if they want to offer pro bono design services to people affected by the fires.

The company is offering a catalogue of standardised designs as part of its bushfire recovery program and hopes to offer a completely free design and documentation solution for people affected by bushfires once it gets its consultants and other subcontractors on board.

According to sustainable prefabricated home provider Ecoliving, understanding of the prefab sector is clearly growing and marketing director Esme Beaumont says there has been a growing number of inquiries from bushfire-affected people interested to rebuild, particularly from those who’ve lost homes in remote areas that construction workers will struggle to access.

Victorian-based offsite construction company Archiblox has also signed up to Architects Assist. The company has had calls from customers, in particular from Mallacoota and Gippsland in Victoria, and the southern coast of NSW.

Spokeswoman Christine McCorkell says she expects a further influx of interest as local tradespeople are stretched to their limits.

For those who can quickly access insurance payments, houses can be built and delivered in 12-20 weeks, she says.

The ability of prefab suppliers to pump out quality homes at volume is also an advantage.

“So, for communities that have been completely devastated, prefabricated production of homes and buildings could see these towns get back on their feet much faster than your standard on-site build,” Ms McCorkell said.

“Also clients are showing more concern about bushfire-resistant design.”

The company, along with the other offsite construction providers, is capable of building a home that passes the highest Bushfire Attack Level (BAL) rating. 

ARKit’s Craig Chatman says the market is waking up to the benefits of prefab, including its sustainability perks as an ultra-low waste, quality-assured construction method that produces energy-efficient buildings thanks to an airtight envelope.

Sustainable materials, such as carbon-storing timber, are common in prefab buildings, he says.

The BAL system, introduced after the 2009 Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission, gives properties in bushfire prone areas a rating from ‘low’ to ‘flame zone’, determining design and construction requirements.

Meanwhile, backpackers will be able to help rebuild efforts after the bushfires under federal government changes to visa rules.

The changes mean backpackers living and working in bushfire zones can stay with the same employer for a year instead of six months.

Construction work in disaster zones will count as work under the new rules designed to support farmers and regional businesses.