What’s Wrong With Prefabs?

When we first visited New Zealand back in 1993, we had dinner with an acquaintance in a house that they’d built themselves from pre-fabricated sections. A two storey house that was really no different to every other house, apart from being arguably more robustly made, with a factory built frame, rather than one made by banging nails through bits of wood on site.  On moving here we had the opportunity to stay in pre-fabricated Lockwood houses a couple of times. These seemed very impressive with their wood panelled interiors and certainly as unique as every other house, if not more so.  Yet there seems to be a Kiwi prejudice against pre-fabricated houses, to the extent that some housing estates (e.g. Whitby nearby) have covenants forbidding pre-fabricated houses from being constructed. Doh!

Modern pre-fabricated houses can be uniquely designed from standard parts using computers. With tens of thousands of design permutations.  An automated factory can then make those parts, which are transported to the site and assembled from generated instructions that ensure optimum construction efficiency. Walls can be highly insulated and sound proofed, with snap in and out features for electricity, telecommunications, and plumbing.  No need to drill through wood and plaster to install those services.  Houses can be assembled, quicker, more reliably and with fewer skilled specialists than ‘traditional’ methods.  No leaks and quality problems due to human incompetence or poor selection of materials.  So what’s the holdup?

Several it seems:

  1. Existing prejudice, as already indicated.
  2. Up-front cost of creating modern pre-fabrication factories.
  3. Vested interest in existing ‘traditional’ methods.

With regards time and cost saving, there remains the high cost and effort associated with:

  1. Land purchase and planning permission.
  2. Constructing foundations and getting services to the site.

Nevertheless, Kiwibuild (the current Labour/Greens Government’s abortive attempt to make houses affordable in New Zeland) could have funded factories to turn out low cost, high quality pre-fabricated houses. Availability of good looking, comfortable, low cost houses would quickly see prejudices disappear.  Government could relatively easily revise resource management law, introducing measures to reduce the cost, effort and time needed to gain planning permission.   No doubt there is also at least a partial solution to the cost and effort of constructing foundations and implementing building services if one looked hard enough.

There are now several off-site building construction facilities in New Zealand, however these are a long way from being automated factories. The largest one, in Auckland, owned by Fletchers, will shortly be able to turn out core parts for 2 houses a day, which doesn’t seem like much and is perhaps no surprise for a pretty underwhelming factory without robots. 

In Sweden, which leads the world in building pre-fabricated housing, a new factory using the most up to date technology, being built by  Lindbäcks Bygg, will be able to produce more than 25,000 square feet of turnkey housing per week.

The modular construction process has meant that Lindbäcks’ buildings are structured differently than conventional timber developments. Modules have to be sturdy enough to ship and minimise redundancy in floors and ceilings. The need for strong, solid exterior walls in the modules means that floors are hung from the walls, as opposed to having walls stand on top of every floor.

To achieve a successful ‘Kiwibuild’, the Government could have emulated  Lindbäcks’ factories in this country, either inviting the company to setup here or by paying for their expertise.

The reality though I suppose is that we don’t have a Government, or government, with the vision and capability to progress anything significantly different from what already exists, let alone challenging an entrenched construction industry to architect such a major, evolutionary advance. To achieve that in NZ, we’d probably first need to get rid of progress killing MMP.

Housing Hypocrisy in NZ

There continues to be a huge outcry in New Zealand that the cost of houses is too high, making it too difficult for low wage earners, and particularly for first time buyers, to afford a property.

 ‘Kiwibuild’, the Labour/Greens Government’s scheme to build affordable housing has been an abject failure, with effectively 600 houses being supplied versus a promised target of 20,000.

It turns out that in reality many Kiwis seem to be remarkably two-faced on this subject. On the one hand they decry the high cost of houses, expressing sympathy for those unable to afford a property (families living in cars etc), then cheer when the ‘housing market’ sees prices rise.  Political correctness warring against greed.

Economics 101, either supply is plentiful so that prices drop, leading to affordable housing, or prices rise, then some people make a lot of money to the detriment of low income earners and first time buyers.  So which is it?

Pretty clear really that ‘greed’ wins out; money for nothing on the backs of the less fortunate.  Evidence for this can be seen in the Labour/Greens Government back down on introducing a Capital Gains Tax, which was a key election promise (like Kiwibuid), intended to reduce the attraction of houses as an investment opportunities. This back down was clearly based on a realisation of the number of votes that would be lost; AKA ‘we’re listening to the people’ .. right!

Houses are a necessity for living, not much different in that regard from water, food, and power.  Nobody should be making a lot of money from selling houses,  unless it is a builder, building lots, efficiently, and at reasonable cost/profit. The rest is parasitic.  

My vote will go to whichever political party has the gumption to tackle house costs head on.  Something like:

a. Challenging the construction status quo by encouraging  (via tax relief etc) dwelling pre-fabrication. Also passing legislation that forbids and nullifies deeds of covenant and other devices that ban pre-fabricated houses and apartments.

b. Simplifying the resource management act and other legislation in order to significantly decrease the cost and time to build a house (factory built house components could have a different method of approving quality). Maybe also setting maximum planning approval and inspection charges (subsidise if necessary, much like for health services, e.g. GP ‘inspections’).

c. Investing in the development of new methods of building foundations and bringing services to properties. Then invest in the tools and materials needed to implement those methods.

d. Introducing a dwelling capital gain tax (which will help pay for a. b. and c.).

Climate ‘Consensus’

Harping on about ‘climate consensus’ really turns me off. Real science has or should have nothing to do with consensus. If it did, we’d probably all still be living on a flat earth or blood letting as a cure all.

Proper science is about support or not for a hypothesis, it is not about support for the apparent consensus about a hypothesis.

How ‘consensus’ can happen irrespective of truth is well explained in a 2017 comment by M Courteney on ‘What’s up with that’ blog site on global warming and climate change.

‘Research Funding will always be targeted proportionally to the expected impact of the work. In many cases that is unknown.

But if a field has many aspects and only one aspect has big implications (like the end of the world) then that aspect will get most of the Research Funding.

  • Research is proportional to the Research Funding. It has to be as it’s not free.
  • Therefore, in a field with only one aspect that has big implications the vast majority of researchers will be interested in that big implication. A consensus is formed.
  • Further Research Funding will be targeted according to the best understanding of the field, which is clearly the consensus. This re-enforces the consensus . The consensus is even more ‘certain’.
  • Eventually, the field is so bloated in the one aspect that there is no other research going on in that field at all. And, if that one aspect is no longer deemed to have a big impact, the field could not sustain enough Research Funding to employ the researchers. This polices the consensus.

How to break this up? Just stopping funding won’t work as there are loads of “experts” who will denounce any politician who tries it. The people will always trust an “expert” over a politician.

What is required is another gravy train to leach the “experts” away. Maybe try to mine the asteroids or build cities under sea. Farming the oceans could be useful. But a big Apollo programme will kill AGW more effectively than a hack-and-slash approach.’ 

In my view rather than ‘leaching the experts away’ with something like a ‘big Apollo programme’, it seems pretty clear that the big programme should be accelerated development of nuclear fusion power.  Indeed if I was a religious person, the fear of AGW could be God’s (or perhaps our alien curators’) mechanism for encouraging human progress to the next stage beyond stone age fire making, which is effectively what we are still doing by burning fossil fuels.

New Zealand English, ‘English’

Coming from London, nearly 30 years ago, some of the Kiwi English mangling that I find difficult to live with:

Women pronounced woman – apparently some kind of ethnic empathetic mispronounciation, which appears to have become increasingly popular (particularly amongst left leaning socialists) over the past 20 years.

If it was consistent men would be man.  Difficult to listen-to as the term ‘woman’ also refers to womankind (as does man to mankind), which to my ear diminishingly refers to women by their sex rather than as a group.  

‘Known’ pronounced ‘know-en’, and ‘shown’ as ‘show-en’, where did that extra ‘e’ come from – perhaps from a need to embellish what is otherwise a relatively clipped English pronounciation.

Debut – of French origin, which is pronounced in English as in the French (‘daybyou’) but without the accent – in NZ is being pronounced ‘dayboo’, strangely inconsistent with the almost correctly pronounced ‘debutante’, rather than ‘daybootant’, which it would be if the pronounciation was consistent.

Dates missing prepositions, so ‘two December’ or ‘December two’, instead of ‘the second of December’ – which is probably borrowed from watching too much American TV, although even Americans more often seem to speak the correct form.

Prices, particularly in advertisements, where  NZ$999, for example, instead of being announced as ‘nine hundred and ninety nine dollars’ becomes ‘nine ninety nine’, which by English convention would be referring to NZ$9.99. Pretty big shock when it comes to purchase!

‘Great buying’ (the inflected verb) when referring to a bargain item, rather than the adjectival phrase, ‘a great buy’.

Others such as ‘darta’ instead of ‘dayta’, for data, or ‘pro-ject’ instead of ‘proh-ject’, don’t seem so bad for some reason, although I think its a shame when American English pronounciation is adopted rather than British English.

‘Harass’ with emphasis on second syllable, for which there should be no emphasis, apparently a black American affectation, increasingly adopted in England (who also watch too much American TV) and by most Kiwis.

Schedule is ‘shedul’ in English, with ‘skedul’ being an American derived mispronounciation.

Anthony is pronounced an-tony in English not anth-ony.  Some people it seems are even mispronouncing their own name! 

‘Yum’ as an exclamation of tastiness, which is kind of short form of the babyish ‘yummy for my tummy’. Goo goo gah!  Perhaps those that use this exclamation do indeed have immature palates.

Recently we seem to be hearing the word ‘learnings’ on the radio, which should of course be ‘lessons’, as in ‘what lessons did you learn’.  There is no singular English noun ‘a learning’, so there cannot be a plural.  Not sure if ‘learnings’ is creeping-in as another ethnic empathetic mispronounciation, or ignorance of the English language, or empathy with the ignorant, or indeed all of the above. 

.. and now ‘trainings’. Same comments as above.  Seems like in sports speak it’s ok to be an ignoramus.

‘Homewares’ is in your face when you visit a leading NZ retail outlet chain. Could they really not afford to correct the signage. The plural of homeware is of course homeware, similarly software, courseware etc.

‘Feed’ instead of ‘meal’ is perhaps another ethnic misuse of English.  As a noun ‘a feed’ is used in the context of farm animals not humans.

More generally the Kiwi accent is quite pleasant to listen-to (much more so than Australian), apart from when it engages in extreme vowel throttling (which for some reason seems to be more prevalent amongst females  – ‘the woman’!). Erosion of language (whether English, Maori, or something else) due to increasing ignorance, or worse still mimicking the ignorant, has got to be a socially retrogressive phenomenon. Quite different from extension, or enrichment of languages to reflect new or changed concepts.

Indicating and Roundabouts

Turn signals are advanced warning indicators. A method of communicating intent so that other road users can be aware of what’s about to occur.  The point is to give those other cars, cyclists, pedestrians, or whatever, plenty of opportunity to react.  Apparently though maybe 90% or so of drivers in New Zealand these days use their indicators a split second before making a manoeuvre, after they’ve started their manoeuvre, or not at all.  The point being … ?

Perhaps some new road rule that encourages adding a little flashing light flourish to turns, perhaps to give them a bit more zest or zing?  Though I suspect those drivers are sloppily executing a kind of thoughtless mantra (like everybody else), aren’t paying attention to their driving, or maybe even take the view that it’s nobody else’s business where they’re going!

Ironically perhaps in situations where signalling isn’t really needed, such as at right turn only lights, everybody’s sitting in the queue flashing.  No sheep jokes I hear you say!

Then there’s roundabouts. Oh my god!  Which of course are supposed to enable traffic to keep flowing whilst interchanging.

With 4 exits you signal right if you’re taking the 3rd, then signal left before turning off at any exit. Simple … it seems not!  So many vehicles going straight over signal right (a rule that was changed years ago). Most dangerous is when traffic taking the 3rd exit doesn’t signal right. Then traffic merging from the 2nd exit (straight over) can assume those not signalling are going straight over and … bang!!

Bad or no signalling is so prevalent that most drivers will wait until a roundabout is clear before venturing forth, which of course defeats the point, shuts down the flow, causing congestion, creating impatience … bang!!

On 3 exit roundabouts as there is no 4th exit there’s no reason to signal right unless a vehicle is continuing all the way around back to the 3rd exit.  Probably 90% of drivers signal right when they are taking the 2nd exit (effectively straight on).  That behaviour is annoying and can disrupt the flow if the right indicator isn’t cancelled quickly enough so that drivers waiting to merge from the 2nd exit have to stop, assuming the vehicle is continuing around.

So roundabouts don’t work very well in New Zealand, being too complicated for the average driver who is unable to cope with even simple turn signalling.  It would be interesting to know whether actual vs theoretical roundabout behaviour is factored into flow models when road layouts are being designed. 

Climate Change

Or more properly Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW). With the name apparently being shifted a few years back, from a clear expression of the issue of concern, to one which is confused with the naturally changing climate.  Brilliant smoke and mirrors marketing to confuse the masses.