Optimizing construction costs—how the practitioners do it

June 11, 2019

What can the construction industry do to keep rising housing costs in check?

Construction needs to be digitalized. Everyone is saying modular and serial, standardized construction would help—as a result, aesthetes are concerned that communist-era East German prefabricated concrete buildings, dreary apartment blocks like those in Munich’s Neuperlach district and Berlin-Marzahn could become the model for modern apartment buildings.

Radically low-cost: mikroLOFTs keep rents down, but do not skimp on aesthetics

However, in the mikroLOFT project, one German housing association—Familienheim Schwarzwald-Baar-Heuberg eG—is showing that low-cost construction does not have to mean ugly buildings. The aim of the prototype from 2014 was achieving rents below 7 euros per square meter. It was developed in close collaboration with an architect and specialist planner. Sebastian Merkle, chairman of the Baden-Württemberg-based association that boasts 4,100 members, explained the requirements for the project as follows: “The apartments should be equipped in an aesthetically attractive way and prove that low-cost construction does not have to look cheap.” They are now getting right down to work.

Making use of savings potential—and at the same time accommodating mobility-impaired tenants

The first mikroLOFT on Rote Gasse in Villingen goes without garages and basements. Instead, it uses ground-level storage rooms and parking. The windows are standard-sized and feature aluminum sliding shutters instead of rolling or hinged shutters. There is no stairwell—this is the savings potential you can see.

These features are combined with finishing touches that have been refined from project to project: the standard floor plans remain unchanged, areas to move around in the apartment are thus used as effectively as possible, level-access showers are installed instead of bathtubs and there is only one services shaft per apartment—regardless of the apartment size. This concept saves one row of bricks per floor which speeds up construction.

In the latest mikroLOFT projects, like in Bad Dürrheim, storage rooms are no longer placed on the ground floor, but instead on each floor. This makes life considerably easier for tenants with limited mobility. Apartments with one to four rooms are built; the most frequently rented type of apartment has three rooms.

The greatest challenge for budget-conscious building owners: material shortages and rising concrete prices

Familienheim also wants to set a ceiling of 7 euros maximum per square meter for its new construction project in Tettnang near Lake Constance where rents are very high (12 to 13 euros are normal in the region). Nevertheless, even budget-conscious owners cannot get round rising construction costs. For the mikroLOFTS, they have risen from 1,727 euros per square meter (without lot) in 2014 to tendering costs of just under 2,500 euros per square meter in 2019. Wherever indispensable construction materials like construction sand are becoming scarcer and more expensive, concrete prices are rising despite all efforts to make savings. Cost discipline and a clever choice of materials are thus more important than ever.

The construction industry can therefore contribute to making affordable living possible by minimizing construction costs. Here is an article by ZIA German Property Federation President Dr. Andreas Mattner on how politicians can make a contribution to this.

Stephanie von Keudell

Independent journalist