Jun 19, 2019

How offsite construction can help solve the housing crisis

Alex Goodfellow, Group Managing Director of Stewart Milne Timber Systems and Board Director of Stewart Milne Group, discusses how modern methods of building, such as offsite construction and timber systems, can help provide the solution to the housing crisis.

The literal meaning of modern is to ‘advocate a departure from traditional styles or values’, and it’s an attitude the housebuilding industry needs to adopt to meet ambitious Government targets set to address the current housing shortage. Government statistics state the UK needs an additional 120,000 homes each year to plug the housing shortfall - a challenge the sector will struggle to meet using traditional construction methods.  

In any intensive, large scale build programme there are cost pressures. Current pressures around the workforce facing the industry include skills shortages and an aging workforce, together with poor productivity, low output and a materials shortfall. Offsite construction provides the means to address these issues.   

Accelerating build time

An accelerated speed of build will be essential for the sector to increase the number of new homes delivered. Modern methods of building can tackle this specific challenge, including the ability to quickly produce large volumes of build systems to exacting standards. At our Aberdeen and Witney factories, for example, Stewart Milne Timber Systems manufactures high-quality, high-performance timber systems ready to be transported on-site, where a typical four-bedroom detached home can be erected, wind and watertight in as little as five days. Using offsite construction and timber systems, it’s possible to complete a project of ten blocks of terraced houses five weeks earlier than if building with masonry or other traditional on-site methods.  

Consistent high quality

This method of construction also ensures robust quality and guaranteed performance standards are consistently met. It enables a partnership approach as the design, engineering and technical teams work with housebuilders and contractors from the initial design concept and development through to manufacture, delivery and construction – crucial to ensuring high quality output and realising cost benefits.

Reducing costs and fast return on capital outlay

Offsite construction can significantly reduce both labour and material costs. There is less reliance on trade skills and on-site supervision, and the faster build of the main structures reduces the management required to supervise and co-ordinate on-site trades. The accelerated build time provides a quicker return on capital outlay, and on-site preliminary expenditure can be reduced by up to 30 per cent.

Making sustainability a priority

The Government’s planned introduction of a Future Homes Standard by 2025 – to ensure all new build homes are future-proofed with low-carbon heating and world-leading levels of energy efficiency – is welcome news for the housebuilding and offsite timber frame industry. 

The benefits of using timber are threefold: a low energy heating demand through air-tight, thermally superior building envelopes; carbon neutral raw material; and the mainstream adoption of a proven modern method of timber frame construction.

Future-proofing the market

Offsite construction provides housebuilders with many of the answers, but it’s collaboration within the industry that will be crucial in bridging the housing gap. Industrialisation through offsite construction and the adoption of other innovative construction methods, such as digital working and lean site assembly, can deliver high-quality homes costing the same or less than houses which have been built traditionally.

Stewart Milne Timber Systems is involved in a revolutionary industry project to promote these processes, with the aim of them becoming viable mainstream alternatives to traditional construction methods. The Advanced Industrialised Methods for the Construction of Homes (AIMCH) project has received £4 million funding from Innovate UK under the Industrial Strategy Challenge to develop industrialised, near-to-market panelised offsite solutions to deliver homes which are built 30 per cent faster with a 50 per cent reduction in defects. The idea is to develop digitally integrated solutions around design standardisation, linked to advanced manufacturing, supply chain integration, enhanced offsite panelised systems and lean construction practices. 

The initiative has the potential to deliver 35,000 homes across the UK each year and may be the stimulus the housing sector needs to move towards advanced, digitally integrated manufacturing processes.

The project goes some way in helping the sector address the challenges it faces, all while demonstrating construction methods which build high-quality homes both quickly and viably. These processes could become the new, ‘traditional’, mainstream way to build homes, and we’ll have implemented a lasting solution to meet current and future housebuilding demands.

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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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