Modern methods of construction? Offsite construction? Modular housing? It’s pre-fab but not as we know it. Gone are the images of post-World War Two homes, quickly constructed to house returning soldiers and their families whose homes had been bombed during the war.
Today, offsite construction has much higher aspirations. Though the turnaround for this style of build is still quick, there is no compromise on quality, strength, thermal insulation, or longevity.
Britain’s housing crisis has been high on the agenda for years but the volume of housebuilding still can’t keep up with demand. Owing mostly to the recession, skilled labour shortages and rising material costs for traditional build methods are stumping the growth of the housebuilding sector. Hence Mark Farmer’s ‘Modernise or die’ report. The UK housebuilding sector is positioned as afraid of change and stuck in the industrial age.
Innovation in the housebuilding sector is key and offsite construction is the solution. Homes constructed offsite can be turned around in a matter of weeks. They are designed using the latest technology, ensuring minimal waste and allowing for increased quality control checks. Factories for modular homes can support the local economy by providing jobs for local people too.
During installation, disruption to surrounding residents and businesses is minimised with time on-site reduced by more than 70%. Less time on-site also lowers the risk of accidents for installers. Buildings constructed offsite are also lightweight, so the amount of tonnage transported on the road is also reduced.
The housing industry is catching on and both Legal and General and Swan Housing Association have invested in factories solely for offsite construction using Cross Laminated Timber (CLT).
CLT can be used for a variety of housing projects ranging from terraced homes, detached homes to apartment blocks. The timber engineering used to create CLT ensures greater energy efficiency, strength, durability and outstanding acoustic qualities.
Meanwhile, Winchester City Council chose timber frame for the first houses it had built in 25 years. The council needed to provide affordable and adaptable homes to meet the needs of the local people. The use of timber frame was ideal for the constrained site as it resulted in less raw materials needing to be delivered and stored on-site compared to traditional methods of construction.
With less loadbearing walls, the homes can easily be adapted in the future to suit the needs of the tenants. This along with the high levels of air tightness achieved shows that timber frame can be an ideal solution for quality affordable housing.
Offsite construction is a cost-effective model, ideal for housing associations under pressure to deliver high-quality, energy efficient homes. In response to this pressure, Swan Housing Association established its NU build brand to build many of its new homes offsite, enabling it to cut its usual construction timescale by half.
Offsite construction reduces manufacturing process costs while providing local people with energy efficient and sustainable homes. It’s estimated that four million people in the UK are living in fuel poverty so making housing stock more energy efficient is essential.
While offsite construction is already a proven success in Europe, the UK lending community is only now coming around to the idea of modern methods of construction. The Buildoffsite Property Assurance Scheme (BOPAS) gives lenders assurance that offsite constructed homes have a minimum lifespan of 60 years.
UK lenders need to get on board before foreign investors and developers jump in. It’s an opportunity not to be missed by the private rental sector too. The fast turnaround on construction means a quicker return on investment and with build costs lower than traditional methods of construction, profit margins can also be higher.
CLT incorporates all of these qualities while being lightweight and durable. It combines modern engineering techniques with one of the oldest building materials.
CLT specialist architect Waugh Thistleton was ahead of the curve when it built the first CLT apartment block, Stadthaus, in 2009. Every year for London Open House Weekend, founder of Waugh Thistleton, Andrew Waugh, gives talks outside Stadthaus where he’s joined by residents who speak about how they can’t hear their neighbours and how some have never needed to use their heating. As a champion of timber, Andrew lives in a CLT building himself.
To find out more about offsite construction, CLT or how wood can be used in the built environment visit www.woodforgood.com
Sources: NU build; BOPAS; Offsite magazine; Elite Systems; Mortgage Introducer; Estates Gazette; TTJ; Legal and General