modular home

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Modular solution: Bay entrepreneur finds opportunity in pandemic crisis

If necessity is the mother of invention, then COVID-19 has been the father of re-invention for agile entrepreneurs like Jason Campbell, co-owner of Port Elizabeth-based 4Ways Engineering.

modular home

Image: Adobe Stock

Campbell’s projects ground to a halt as South Africa went into lockdown on 27 March 2020 and several clients cancelled future projects due to budget reviews.

With 80% of his sales pipeline stuck in tender processes that had come to a standstill and the applied-for government assistance to see 4Ways Engineering through lockdown not materialising, Campbell knew he had to pivot quickly in order to survive the economic ravages of the pandemic. 

Targeting broader audience through affordable housing

His solution was to develop new products for the private market, which would open his business to a broader audience than the government departments who had been his main clientele for stainless-steel structures, such as bus shelters, gates and tanks. 

But Campbell did not want to launch just any kind of product for the private market; he wanted his new range to contribute to a problem that’s long plagued South Africa – and his conscience – affordable housing:

“I’ve always been saddened by the number of people who are not able to own their house because they cannot qualify for a bond, so I designed a modular home that even a person with minimum income can afford to own.”

The modular home concept and solution

Campbell quickly points out that modular homes are by no means new – “the concept has been around since World War Two” – but industry innovations over recent years have seen these homes going from standard “cookie-cutter” entry-level houses to lavish homes that make it into the pages of glossy architectural and interior design magazines.

“These really are versatile homes that can be built to any size or any budget,” says Campbell. “My current client list stretches from a cleaner at ShopRite to a CEO.” 

Campbell’s modular homes comprise 65% steel, wood, aluminium and insulation and 35% concrete, brick and mortar. The most affordable model comes in at around R160 000 for a two-bedroom home and clients can choose from a variety of designs and floor plans, starting from 45m² upwards. 

60% cheaper, 70% faster

Aside from being up to 60% cheaper than traditionally built houses, Campbell notes there are a range of other benefits to investing in a modular home, particularly the speed with which they can be produced.

Because modular homes are built off site there are none of the typical site delays, mostly due to weather, and site time is further reduced by the foundation being prepared at the same time as construction.

“The speed is incomparable between conventional construction and modular homes, which can be produced around 70% faster than brick and mortar,” he says. 

Durable and eco-friendly approach

The insulation design in these homes also makes them more energy efficient, decreasing energy usage and costs. Campbell has made his modular homes even more eco-friendly by kitting each with solar panels and invert and back-up batteries, while JoJo rain tanks come standard with each sale. 

Importantly for South Africa’s township areas, the steel and concrete constructions are fire resistant, and are more durable than traditional housing if properly maintained. 

These homes also offer customers the option for upward mobility without moving. As a person’s income increases, they are able to easily expand their home by adding more modular units. 

Answer to weathering pandemic

With 150 modular homes already on order, Campbell’s new product is proving to be the re-invention 4Ways Engineering needed to weather the global pandemic and keep his five staff members employed.

More than this, though, the entrepreneur sees this new product line as an on-going contribution to South Africa’s housing crisis:

“We aim to increase production capacity to 2 000 houses per year, and in this way we can make a meaningful difference to people’s lives.”