Construction High Tech Construction Insights

Can Irish innovation help resolve the UK housing crisis?

By Anne Corr, Market Advisor, Construction

The housing crisis in the UK is an issue fuelled by the rising population and soaring property prices. The challenge to keep up with these demands is not a new one, so perhaps it is time to start looking at new solutions.

Part of the challenge is also the limited space to build, as well as limited access to skilled workers and the shortage of new homes being built is an issue in London and other UK cities. Modular Offsite housing construction is one method of helping alleviate these pressures.

The Irish construction industry may be able to offer a remedy for this solution, using innovative modern methods of construction which can enable the majority of the build to be manufactured offsite. The UK and Ireland hold extremely strong trade ties and trade in Irish construction products and services to the UK has increased by 68% in the past five years (since 2012).

The benefits of building offsite are clear, and indicate an obvious choice when planning future developments, yet some developers are yet to develop the appetite and choose to continue with more traditional construction methods.

However, in the face of the current housing crisis in the UK the industry must innovate to meet the challenges and demands of society. Collaboration across the UK and Ireland can help with this; leaning on each region’s skills, innovation and ambition to solve the current situation.

Off-site construction technologies have advanced greatly in recent years and can offer shorter build times, better quality, better energy efficiency, less waste and lower cost for buyers.

Speed

The manufacturing of homes in factory conditions is unaffected by unpredictable factors such as the weather, therefore avoiding delays in construction. For example, heavy snowfall from the “beast from the east” forced Britain’s construction industry to grind to a halt, causing the biggest fall in activity since immediately after the Brexit vote.

One Irish company that delivered speed through its delivery of residential homes for Ealing Council is Extraspace Solutions, a provider of fast track offsite solutions throughout the UK and Ireland. The homes were completed in seven weeks, from breaking ground to handing over the keys.

With the main components of the homes being built offsite in a factory setting, the main site is able to facilitate other work which in turn speeds up the entire construction process.

Quality

Buildings that are fabricated offsite, are subject to strict, factory-controlled specifications. This means the assets created are less likely to have faults and more likely to perform as designed, once again saving time as there is little need for re-working of materials onsite.

Techrete, who design, manufacture and supply architectural precast cladding, worked in collaboration with architects to provide off-site solution for a 24-storey residential tower. They produced brick faced pre-cast panels manufactured offsite which they then installed to incorporate the glazing into the design of the panels.

Cost

Working in tandem with time saving is cost saving. Offsite construction can considerably reduce costs, as there are often fewer deliveries and hours needed to deliver a project compared with traditional build. Reduced energy costs are another tangible benefit of offsite construction, as fewer deliveries mean less fuel is used.

A reduction in cost in staffing can also be achieved, as the skills needed to assemble the modular  buildings are less than those on regular construction sites. This also addresses the skills shortage currently faced by the industry.

Sustainability

Building in a factory environment allows for higher levels of control in terms of energy and emissions, meaning less waste is emitted into the environment. Often materials transported are almost flat-packed and there is a wider scope for the use of recycled materials.

Reducing energy consumption can contribute significantly to the reduction of air pollution; Cygnum  is an Irish company which utilises Passivhaus, an energy efficiency performance standard, resulting in ultra-low energy homes through its robust simple designs and materials. The homes are extremely well insulated and designed to be substantially heated from passive gains such as the sun’s heat. Typically, these homes require up to 90% less energy for heating compared to a conventional house.

Construction is Ireland’s largest sector and maintains the highest market value of the indigenous Irish industries, positioning the country at the forefront of introducing innovative technologies within the industry to UK.

It’s imperative to find a quality solution to combat the UK housing crisis, and through harnessing Ireland’s support and the use of new and innovative technology it is absolutely a step in the right direction.

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