Innovation in build methods can speed up housing delivery, says John Churchett at H+H
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The need to build more homes is not in question, and the need to build them fast is equally apparent. There are many constraints to delivering an ambitious increase in volume. Faced with any degree of assurance that demand will be maintained, the industry itself can deliver innovative solutions to address the need for speed.
This does not need government intervention to promote one building method over another, but does require collaborative thinking to come up with a range of solutions that meet the preferences of builders and housing owners.
We are seeing the development of an increasingly polarised debate around the relative benefits of offsite and traditional construction methods, with the government weighing in to support offsite manufacturing. My view is that the picture is far more interesting, with a whole range of solutions being developed that sit somewhere between the two extremes.
Construction in the UK is an inherently conservative industry and real innovation takes time to percolate through the system. Despite successive governments supporting the concept of offsite manufacturing and scores of attempts to establish ‘house factories’ to deliver a completely prefabricated solution, we still see that traditional methods remain the first choice for house builders.
As a manufacturer of aircrete blocks, H+H is keen to support what we see as the performance benefits of traditional building methods, but still recognise the need to innovate to improve the speed of construction and reduce the reliance on skilled site workers.
“Construction in the UK is an inherently conservative industry.”
To meet these objectives, the SIG I-House System has been developed through a unique collaboration between H+H and SIG Offsite. The system provides a way to build the entire weatherproof structure of a new home on site within one week, removing brickwork from the critical path of the building process and knocking significant time off the build programme.
At the heart of the I-House System are the Celcon Elements: storey-high panels of aircrete. They are craned into place onto traditional foundations to make up the inner leaf of the external wall and internal separating walls, and bonded together with a fast-setting thin-joint adhesive mortar.
Combined with prefabricated floors and roofs and wrapped in insulation, the SIG I-House is built on site by a single contractor and handed over ready for the internal trades to start work simultaneously with the bricklayers building the external façade. Is it offsite or traditional build? Familiar material, familiar processes and tried-and-tested performance – but delivered with help from offsite manufacture to speed up the process.
While vociferous commenters focus on the offsite/traditional debate, the housebuilding industry is developing its own revolution: introducing innovation while still appreciating the value of traditional products and techniques. Radical new approaches do not necessarily require established methods to be overthrown.
It’s an exciting time to be involved in housebuilding and I believe the next decade will see the introduction of a whole range of new solutions. I don’t expect to see a wholesale migration to prefabrication, but I do expect to see technical innovation and collaborative working from all parts of the supply chain to support the work to deliver the sheer number of new homes we need.
John Churchett, director of social housing and construction, H+H