TopHat – Modular Excellence

TopHat designs, manufactures, delivers and installs modular timber-frame houses that are both affordable and meet the latest sustainability requirements.

The company utilises precision-led modern methods of construction (MMC) technology to produce high-quality, customisable homes at pace. TopHat was founded in 2016 to take a different approach to house building – the company manufactures homes in a controlled environment to remove uncertainties, improve quality and to reduce costs. “We have a simple vision,” says Jordan Rosenhaus, TopHat’s co-founder and CEO. “To manufacture beautiful homes to the highest quality and environmental standards, using the latest technology to keep costs as low as possible.”

TopHat commenced production in early 2018 at its manufacturing facility in South Derbyshire, implementing industry-leading technology and manufacturing processes. Last year TopHat secured a £75m investment from Goldman Sachs, a clear endorsement of the company’s fast, efficient and high standard way of working, as well as of the concept of modular housing as one answer to the UK housing shortage. With sound financial backing, the company is in robust shape and is now entering an exciting phase of increasing sales and growth.

High quality and affordability were the company’s key drivers at the beginning and continue to be its core aspects today. Using the latest production technology and advancements in engineering, the company has increased productivity, controlling every aspect of product delivery to waste less material, save time and improve quality. The technology governs the end-to-end production process from the initial design through manufacture to delivery and installation. TopHat’s software enables smarter design and ensures that the quality of the product is traced through every step of the manufacturing process.

Innovation is a continuous process at TopHat. One example is its proprietary cladding system – TopHat’s “3D-printed” bricks come in a huge array of colours and designs and are virtually indistinguishable from the real thing while increasing thermal performance and build quality. It has also been rigorously tested against fire, making it one of the safest systems in the industry.

Affordable high-quality

So what are the benefits of a timber modular home for a resident? “The houses are built in a controlled factory environment, which means better quality. Think of precision engineering with a couple of millimetres’ tolerances. In the factory there are some 27 quality stations checking every stage of the work – that level of supervision and quality can never be achieved on a building site,” says Neill Tickle, Director of Partnerships and Business Development.

“So the first benefit is quality, and the second is the lower cost. That’s both lower capital cost to build the homes as well as cheaper costs to run the homes once built. We source our materials in a sustainable manner, we buy in bulk and our labour cost is lower. In summary, our houses are built better, are considerably cheaper than other build methods and they are quick to build and assemble. This means developers get income faster and more importantly, people are housed sooner. From the point of order placement, it takes just six weeks from starting the process in the factory to a happy resident moving into their completed property.”

The homes arrive on site 90% completed and need only final adjustment and finishing so the process is dramatically shorter than more traditional build methods.

He further points out that TopHat’s unique selling points include the range of options customers get when buying a home (similar to choosing the options when buying a new car), including increased energy performance. “Energy efficiency is another clear competitive advantage, the result of the way the homes are built and the way the quality is assured at each construction stage. We deliver outstanding energy performance as standard and can offer heat recovery and solar PV to achieve zero-carbon accredited homes at minimal additional cost.”

Sustainable homes for an affordable price

Modular construction, although not new, seems a promising upcoming solution to the UK housing shortage, promoted by advancements in artificial intelligence and virtual reality assisted design, as well as improved offsite manufacturing techniques for houses and apartments. “The time feels absolutely right now,” affirms Mr Tickle, noting that increased demand is already evident.

The first residential site that has used TopHat’s product is the historic Kitchener Barracks in Chatham, Kent, a showcase for the company’s unique and design-differentiated products. The first phase of the project has been completed with residents now moved in, with the second phase already underway.

Recently, the company has received a major boost when BoKlok UK, jointly owned by Skanska and IKEA, appointed TopHat to deliver its housing offering in the UK. The five-year contract will see TopHat work with BoKlok on a number of development sites nationally. The first of the schemes will be Airport Road, Bristol.

The houses delivered by TopHat homes will be made with timber frames and will feature key BoKlok characteristics such as natural light, low energy consumption and IKEA fittings. All homes will be BOPAS (Building Offsite Property Assurance Scheme) certified.

“The new partnership is a really good endorsement for us. BoKlok is a well-established company who have vast experience building timber homes in their native Scandinavia and we look forward to working with them as they enter the UK market,” says Mr Tickle.

Growing with demand

There are a number of exciting deals in the offing as MMC becomes more commonplace and people become more aware of the clear benefits. Developer Urban & Civic recently announced their deal with TopHat on their development in Houlton, Rugby.

“Our Derby facility can produce about 1,000 homes a year at full capacity while sustaining very high quality, and we are considering where our next factory may be – growth is very much the plan,” admits Mr Tickle.

Concluding, he affirms that TopHat is always looking at new partnership opportunities. “We work with housing associations, councils, investment funds as well as developers and contractors to find ways in which our solutions may help the community. The fact that the government has expressed strong support for modular housing, that means housing that is green, high quality and affordable to address the new home requirements, clearly plays into our hands. Based on the three attributes of high quality, sustainability and affordability, our concept meets the upcoming needs of the housing market just perfectly.”

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