Precast homes

Tags: Real Estate

To achieve the target of providing housing for all in India, and keeping in mind the ever-increasing input cost of labour and material, precast technology may be a feasible model

Precast homes
As the scarcity of labour and material, as well as ever-increasing input cost hits construction activities, India is adopting a new technology that is cost-effective, fast and sustainable. Precast technology, say industry experts, provides an ideal solution. It shrinks the onsite work with a majority of the parts for building being made in a far-flung factory and transported to the site.

Sumit Rakshit, executive director – India, corporate occupier and investor services, Cushman & Wakefield, says the precast technology is a quick answer to India’s problems. “Labour and material have increased by 20 per cent since 2010, and this technology being cost-effective, is the final answer to the lingering problem. Also, due to the widening demand-supply gap, there is a need for more homes in a short span of time, which can be possible with the use of this method.”

Since the parts for building are made in a factory, the quality of the product is better monitored, and thus, this technology helps in maintaining efficient quality, health and safety standard control. This kind of construction is also independent of weather conditions.

Rakshit estimates the number of man-hour gets reduced by 50-60 per cent through this technology. For example, if a building would take one year to complete through conventional brick-and-mortar method, you can finish the same building in five to six months.

In India, the hybrid precast or prefabricated technology is under implementation. This means that the base of the building is constructed onsite, and the elements such as columns, beams, windows, walls and staircases, among others, are ferried from the factory situated in a remote location, and are installed onsite to complete the structure.

Rajendra Pate, director, Amit Ent­erprises Housing, which has been using alu-form (precast of aluminium) technology in three of its projects — Astonia Royale in Ambegaon and Amit’s Sereno at Baner in Pune and at Eka in Nashik also finds this technology accurate, highly consistent and resilient.

“Moreover, the use of this construction technology vastly reduces the chance of on-site mishaps, making it one of the safest systems for building construction available at present,” Pate justifies.

According to Prem Kumar, president of Andhra Pradesh Real Estate Development Association, residential projects still depend on the use of brick and cement for walls and others structures. Prefab will be the next wave to hit the construction industry, which is grappling with shortage of labour and skilled manpower, but as of now, it has not taken off in a big way. There are cases where builders have used ‘shuttering’ technology for faster completion of technology. In this, unlike in prefab technology where the structures are made at a different site, the structures to be assembled are made at the construction site itself.

“Shuttering achieves faster turnaround time compared to conventional construction, but still cannot be equated to prefab technology,” he says.

Commercial projects are seeing a lot of prefab structures, mainly of glass and steel.

However, M Karthik, director of Chennai-based VME Precast, sees the initial capital cost of opting for pre-cast method for construction to be high, as against conventional way of constructing a building. “There is a feeling that precast is costlier, but most developers do not look at the tangible benefits in terms of time saved and high consistent quality delivered with the finished product. As a result, this remains not so popular despite the major advantages.”

VME Precast has set up a facility with a capacity to make 10,000 sq ft of finished product, at Oragadam industrial belt near Chennai with technology support from Vabe, Finland. Explaining the benefits of this technology, Kartik says, “In large commercial buildings, this method can save up to 40 per cent of the energy costs. In the case of residential buildings, homebuyers will get a larger carpet area, since precast walls are thinner, compared with conventional brick walls, but at the same time of very high quality,” Karthik adds.

Globally, in most developed countries, precast is considered as a green and environmentally-friendly product. Hence, it is exempted from various taxes in most markets. However, in Tamil Nadu, precast makers end up paying an excise duty of 12.36 per cent and value added tax (VAT) of 14.5 per cent. This leads to higher cost of the end product. “In Chennai, at present, precast is more put in use for commercial buildings like offices, hotels and factories than in residential buildings,” says Karthik.

Rishi Jain, director, Jain Group, a real estate developer headquartered in Kolkata, thinks the use of this technology mainly in affordable or low-cost housing projects is due to the lack of skilled labour and manpower. The lack of awareness, especially among the contractors and construction segments, is also a contributory factor.

Noida-based Supertech claims to have introduced pre-cast concrete technology for the first time in India, and is coming up with a factory in Greater Noida with a production capacity of five million sq ft per annum. The company has set up two separate units — one for hollow slab and the other for precast wall panels.

RK Arora, chairman and MD of Su­pertech, said the new technology would help continue the hindrance-free construction work in any season. “Also, the quality is better in comparison with regular brick-and-mortar. Structures made up with such technology do not need plastering because it makes the surface very smooth which requires very less maintenance.”

According to Rakshit of Cushman, this technology can only be used for building repetitive structures, which are in a format of, say for instance, ground-plus-three, and has less utility in luxury housing segment due to the quality of finishing involved.

“Precast technology is not preferred for building iconic structures or high-end housing projects. Keeping aside a handful of developers like BG Shirke in Mumbai (who have used the precast technology for buildings with up to 20 storeys), this technology is not preferred for high-rise buildings. If a middle income group (MIG) township is being built where all the houses have same look with same room sizes, this technology can work out to be handy,” he adds.

As per the industry figures, precast technology is growing at 10 per cent year-on-year growth over the past five years, compared with overall 20 per cent growth in construction industry. Total volume of the construction industry is about Rs 35,00,000 crore, of which, only 0.5 per cent or Rs 17,500 crore is the volume of construction, including infrastructure projects and real estate. The market size of precast industry is Rs 2,000 crore (Rs 1,500 crore of infrastructure, Rs 500 crore of residential projects).

“To reach from a figure of Rs 2,000 crore to Rs 17,500 crore, the mindset of engineers should change, and real estate planners should recommend this technology to the end-users,” Rakshit adds. It looks a long winding road, though.

For realising the dream of providing a whopping 27 million housing units for all in India, and keeping in mind the ever-increasing input cost of labour and material in the construction industry, pre-cast technology may be a feasible model.

(With inputs from D Govardan in Chennai, Ritwik Mukherjee in Kolkata and B Krishna Mohan in Hyderabad)


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