A whole different home game: Deborah Smyth, CEO of Tempohousing Ireland

by | Apr 5, 2023

How embracing Modern Methods of Construction can positively impact the delivery of social and affordable housing while also helping resources go further

“Being an estate agent was rewarding,” says Deborah Smyth, CEO of Tempohousing Ireland Ltd, as she describes her more than 15 years’ experience working in the property and land business.

“To help someone set up their new or first home, it’s a very personal thing. It’s good to be part of that process, even helping unload their vans at times.”

That same pride in helping people find their homes continues to motivate Smyth in her current role as CEO. She is the owner of
Tempohousing UK & Ireland, an off-site manufacturing business specialising in high quality, rapidly built, modular homes.

Smyth believes with passion that modular can solve Ireland’s housing crisis.

Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) can “control quality, cost and performance at a time when the construction industry is under so many constraints due to material shortages, rising costs and a lack of skilled trades,” she says.

Smyth aims to demonstrate just that with Tempohousing’s scheme in Dublin, exemplifying the potential to build affordable zero carbon homes. With a history working in property, going back to 2005, Smyth was buying and selling properties and land for development.

Working as she did in cooperation with much modular construction. “Trips to Europe really opened my eyes to MMC as a solution,” she says. She describes the potential for modular homes to deliver quality homes.

“When I looked at the market, I saw there were no modular systems out there for clients and developers, plus there was a real lack of knowledge in the area.”

Innovation is at the core of her work, and with an eye to the future she talks of how her company simply doesn’t want to adopt traditional building methods.

“We decided to come up with a design that would meet all the requirements of the Irish building regulations,” she says. “Not just now but in the future as we move towards zero carbon.”

Modular building offers a number of advantages that are uniquely positioned to address the challenges facing the industry.

“We are in the middle of a housing crisis with supply chain pressures that are pushing up costs and materials availability every day, so we are controlling our costs through manufacturing the modules.”

Much as before, in spotting the gap in the market for modular construction, Smyth describes a mindset that always keeps one eye on the cross-industry market landscape in order to adopt lessons that may be beneficial to the construction sector.

One key element of that approach is to build the team that will deliver on projects.

“We have a team who are experts in engineering, fabrication, BIM, lean construction and quality control,” she says. She recalls advice she received early on from a developer who told her ‘you don’t need loads of people, just a few good people’.

“So, I have built a really strong team around me with the same goals and ambitions,” she adds. “We look at other industries that have excelled in manufacturing to see how we can adopt their methods and processes to improve our products.”

Companies within the industry need to be more proactive in adopting the techniques offered through MMC, Smyth believes. The greatest benefits with modular construction can be realised with early consideration in the design process, saving on time, materials and costs.

“Many builders are nervous of using MMC to deliver the homes needed,” she says. She equates much of this hesitation to old perceptions of prefabs, despite the inability of traditional building methods to address the housing crisis.

“The perception of prefabs still hangs in the air, while struggling to deliver homes with traditional construction.

“We would like to see more education in MMC for landlords, developers and architects. We want our products to be considered early on in the feasibility stage of projects. We want more SMEs to understand the benefits, to give them more opportunities to flourish in this space.”

Modular construction is driven by the same key principles of any construction company – cost, quality and time are as relevant as ever.

“And, of course, add in environmental impact,” Smyth says.

The advantage of MMC in this regard has been well-documented in manufacturing industries, with the controlled production space of the factory floor waste material is reduced in the design stage. This places MMC, in Smyth’s view, as crucial in delivering more affordable homes in both the UK and Ireland.

“The biggest impact will be on social and affordable housing,” she says.

The industry in Ireland has some catching up to do when compared to our neighbours on the other side of the Irish Sea. With Tempohousing working across both the UK and Ireland, Smyth notices the advantage the UK has at the moment.

“The UK has a head start on Ireland through funded innovation projects and investments from bigger players in manufacturing industries,” she says.

The challenges are present every day in the industry but she describes “the satisfaction of building social housing and seeing people move in to their new homes is very rewarding”.

There are opportunities too. Offering advice to those considering joining the industry she talks of how it is growing, with new roles emerging. There is now a wider field of specialities and skills required in diverse areas like digital management, green energy, sustainability and in her own area of manufacturing for the construction industry.

“It’s an exciting time looking forward as we embrace new technology and as we embrace lean construction, we’re reducing waste so scarce resources can go further,” she says.

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