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BSRIA Residential Network Event: Building Better Homes Faster 3 - offsite an answerAugust 2018


Lord Stunell OBE
BSRIA’s Residential Network event, Building Better Homes Faster 3, took place on Friday 13th July 2018. The key messages were: when it came to quality – prevention is better than cure; upskilling and innovation are needed; attracting new entrants – including women into the industry and new and modern methods of working – including offsite build.

Executive Summary

The Rt Hon Lord Andrew Stunell OBE opened the event and set the tone with three clear themes.

He declared that all political parties needed to work faster to offer prevention in housing quality – better than cure as an over-arching mantra. Housing quality needed to be improved – especially at the design stage – right through to the completion stage.

He said that the “challenges and opportunities are huge and deep and difficult with research and development and training and skills needing to be transmitted to the rest of the industry”. His message was stark:  upskilling and innovation was needed!” And that industry needed to be seen as attractive to daughters! And to appeal to a “diverse” workforce: industry was too “pale, male and stale!”.

His solution was to “change it round a bit”, don’t think of ourselves as victims and “be in charge of our own fate”. As an industry – we need to hold government to account to deliver on the housing pipeline. He referenced the recently-launched government-industry Construction Sector Deal – worth £420 million to transform construction through innovative technologies to increase productivity and “build new homes quicker” with “less disruption” – as a tool to kick-start this. And to treat it as an opportunity for industry to deliver such housing.

Adding that “long term thinking was vital”.

He also recommended offsite construction was the way forward – “factory not field” with passion and vision adding that today’s successful case studies will give impetus to that progress.

Not a “talking shop”: offsite solutions

Debansu Das, Technical Manager, Caledonian Modular, looked at challenges in delivering urban residential developments with modular construction and opened with an Einstein quote: “if you always do what you always did – you will always get what you always got” – or – if we do nothing, nothing changes – to summon fresh practices needed into the industry. But insisted the “right signals” are there.

He referenced the successful Hinkley Point Key Worker Accommodation as a recent case study at a value of £52m with “on pad foundations” from a factory process. Each module is 96 per cent complete prior to shipping. From the first module arriving on site, each building is fully operational within six weeks. No scaffolding is required.

This was a lucrative and worthwhile project for a myriad of reasons: 926 modules with only two different sizes; “hotel layout”: rooms contained within the module width and “very efficient design” which equates to being “very cost effective”.

Debansu said: “standardisation in all offsite projects is key – without removing competition or the USP and to keep it simple – it will be a smooth process if the design is right”.

Presenting on offsite construction and the tallest modular building, Rory Begin, Partner, HTA Design LLP, also reinforced the offsite answer, giving some salient statistics: as a comparison between traditional and offsite building – 42 per cent more houses were built in a three year period with a saving of 7,284 man hours – all good for the zero carbon remit and a 10:1 ratio in time saving for offsite build. If you pay two per cent extra for offsite build – you get five per cent back. Adding: “we can do more of it!”.

Rory said that for prefab – turnover can double. Building is like lego pieces! And “scaling up and stacking vertically” when done well with such offsite methods is a good thing. (In the aftermath of Grenfell – quality scaling up should still be considered as part of the housing mix.) But you need to be consistent – so that the first floor is the same as the fifth floor and deliver a finished building. And the best procurement versus traditional procurement can yield “double” the profits.

The tallest modular building is Apex House in Wembley – a 28 storey building with 521 student homes – taking 11 months to construct and “focussing on the end goal”.

Other projects included: Dexion House, Wembley – with a 25 metre swimming pool; Karma House, Wembley and Savoy Circus, Brent.

Rory also said that robotics, automation and digitising the custom build are the future.

Solutions to build problems

Variable quality – especially overheating in buildings can be problematic. Windows can be a double-edged sword: providing more luxury and daylight. But more glass also has a consequence on the building with problems with noise and IAQ – when you can’t open the windows.

“The focus of the UK building regulations remains on keeping people warm in the winter and not cool in the summer” said Professor Kevin Lomas, Loughborough University.

Carlos Bernal, Energy & Sustainability Consultant, TUV SUD Ltd sketched out M&E – overheating in dwellings highlighting Trafalgar Place – Elephant and Castle as a an example of a successful solution.

The development has been designed to achieve a high level of energy performance through a combination of passive and energy efficient measures. All heating and hot water requirements will be provided by the nearby Heygate Energy Centre. The scheme includes PV and a “blue roof” system (roof design that is explicitly intended to store water, typically rainfall) all contributing to the sustainable design.

The scheme won the “Best New Place To Live” award, the “Mayor’s Award for Planning Excellence” and was a Stirling Prize nominee.

Gwyn Roberts, Homes & Communities Lead, BRE, summarised the need for delivering better homes with the Home Quality Mark (HQM) saying that ultimately, the HQM can help consumers make shrewd investment choices when renting or buying a home. And “big bills out of the blue” caused by unforeseen disasters – for example – flooding or overheating, should reduce.

In a recent report, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Excellence in the Built Environment (APPGEBE) called on government to make it mandatory for all housebuilders to belong to an independent ombudsman scheme. But BSRIA recommended that “prevention is better than a cure”. HQM complements this.

A holistic approach is required and BREEAM “joins all the dots” and the LENDERS Project (Levering Economics for New Drivers to Energy Reduction & Sustainability) aims to better reflect household energy costs into mortgage applications. Gwyn asked if we should have a quality “star rating” system a la tripadvisor?

While Marc Separovic, Technical Officer, NHBC, considered construction quality within the house building industry. Its work in “identifying quality issues and problems at the planning stages” and “designing out the complexity of buildings” resulted in positive feedback in a new home customer satisfaction survey taken from 2016 – 2017. In this – there was a 35 per cent reduction in claims; 66 per cent of work is seen as “built right” and 86 per cent of new homeowners would recommend their builder to a friend.

Housebuilding as an attractive career choice

Rory said that a career in construction and design for manufacture is “exciting” and is an “inspiring career”: “there’s nothing like watching a large construction take place”. Clearly a call for attracting new entrants – of all backgrounds – and both genders into the industry!

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