Ensure prefab homes do not have built-in problems

I was recently at a sales launch of a condominium project and a friend highlighted to me that this project would be the first in Singapore, and probably in the world, to use prefabricated, prefinished volumetric construction (PPVC) on a 40-storey building.

The complete apartment with internal finishes, fixtures and fittings would be manufactured in a factory and transported to site for installation in a Lego-like manner.

He then explained that modular buildings in other countries are usually up to about 14 storeys, but anything higher would require additional structural bracing and construction tolerances would need to be extremely tight.

It is now mandatory for selected projects on Government Land Sale sites to use PPVC.

While PPVC is hailed as game-changing technology for the building authorities and many in the construction industry, it can be a life-changing lesson for home buyers when problems surface years after the defect liability period is over.

In 2012, the prefabricated toilets in 10 blocks of flats in Compassvale Link had to be removed and replaced with conventional ones after problems emerged, including creaking floors and a foul smell from stagnant water accumulating under the floor.

The flats were built in 2004, but the problems surfaced almost 10 years later.

Water leakage and maintenance problems related to design or construction faults are a major concern, especially to private home owners, as a statute of limitations states that developers cannot be sued 15 years after a building is completed.

Moreover, homeowners have no right to sue the developers at all if they purchase their properties in the resale market.

As more residential projects using PPVC come on the market, I hope the authorities and developers will provide more information on the track record of the builders and their PPVC system, the manufacturers of the PPVC and material specifications and the restrictions on future renovations of the apartments.

Chee San Chuan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 10, 2017, with the headline 'Ensure prefab homes do not have built-in problems'. Print Edition | Subscribe