May 31, 2016

Offsite construction can unlock year-end success for housebuilders caught in skills and block shortage trap

Offsite construction of new homes could overcome year-end pressures on housebuilders struggling with the skills and materials shortage in the building industry.

With a key selling time upon housebuilders, it's imperative that the shortage in blocks and the ongoing skills issues do not impede market growth. The Federation of Master Builders (FMB) recently told its members that block supplies are being squeezed across the industry, delaying lead-in times.

A lack of appropriate labour has also been an issue throughout the last year, according to Alex Goodfellow, Group Managing Director of Stewart Milne Timber Systems, but he said using offsite construction as part of building programmes could overcome materials shortages and reduce costs caused by the skills shortages.

Housebuilders can cut the build time for a new home by nine weeks using timber systems and offsite construction, and with the building components ready to erect by the time they get to the building site, labour and site supervision can be significantly reduced.

Timber is the material of choice in many European countries and in the US, and Alex Goodfellow said the rest of the UK market was starting to acknowledge the same benefits.

Alex said: “The housebuilders we work with are extremely focused on growing their businesses to meet increased consumer demand.   The frustration for them is the lack of available skills to complete the projects in the pipeline, and it can leave them working under very tight time pressure to have everything finished and handed over to customers. The added long lead times for delivery of blocks isn't helping.

“Offsite construction means that a lot of the work is done before anything arrives at the site, so the manufacturing process can begin while the site is being prepared. It also allows for very high levels of quality assurance because everything is manufactured under robust quality controlled conditions.”

Stewart Milne Timber Systems owns and operates two factories at its Oxford and Aberdeen factories, capable of producing more than 10,000 units each year. The timber systems are transported directly to building sites, where a typical four-bedroom home can be erected in as little as five days.

That process significantly reduces both labour and material costs. There is less reliance on trade skills and on-site supervision, and the faster build time of the main structures reduces the management required to supervise and co-ordinate on-site activity.

Alex Goodfellow said: “Construction is changing and as young people look to other industries when they leave education, the skills shortage will continue. We need to do more to encourage people into what is an exciting industry that offers so many career choices. We also need to look to more advanced build methods to take advantage of cost savings, increased quality, better health and safety and an increase in output to meet the demand for homes.

“Offsite construction is a robust way to overcome these challenges and bring real benefits to the industry, shareholders and consumers".

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Homes For Scotland Home Builders Federation National House-Building Council Royal Institute of British Architects Structural Timber Association Constructionline British Board of Agrement Wood Campus Build Off Site Building Research Establishment WOOD FOR GOOD

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