Did you know that 2020 was one of the warmest, as well as one of the wettest and sunniest, on record? Weather in the UK is becoming increasingly unpredictable and scientists state that extreme weather will affect Britain more regularly as a result of climate change. Is moderate British weather rapidly becoming a thing of the past? How will this affect construction? MMC Editor Joe Bradbury discusses:

 

The climate in the UK is already shifting. The degree of warming observed in Britain is generally consistent with what is also being observed globally, indicating that our overall environment is becoming both wetter and warmer.

Weather records

The UK’s weather records date back hundreds of years. We’ve been keeping track. For example, a series of temperatures for central England goes back to 1659, while other temperature records reach back as far as 1884. Analysis of this enormous body of data shows that the most recent 30-year period (1993-2022) is 0.9C warmer than the earlier 30-year period (1963 to 1992), and the UK has had an average 6% increase in rainfall over the more recent period.

Long-standing industry studies have shown that the UK’s unpredictable weather can cause disruption and delay to construction projects. Could this be another incentive for the building sector to embrace Modern Methods of Construction, which offers a more reliable environment in the face of more erratic and sometimes dangerous weather conditions?

Increasingly erratic conditions

The recent heat wave has been unwelcome (to put it mildly) in a sector that has faced challenge after challenge in recent years and aspires to return to pre-Covid levels of production.

Although there is currently no established legal limit on how high outdoor temperatures can be beforework ceases, companies nevertheless have a duty of care to their staff. Dehydration, lightheadedness, fainting, heat stroke and an increase in the risk of skin cancer can all be brought on by excessive heat and sun exposure. The previous notion of making hay whilst the sun shines is now being thrown into repute.

Historically, the building industry has always benefitted from the UK’s dry summer months. However, if our summers are to get hotter and heatwaves to become more commonplace, do we anticipate a time when outdoor temperatures and conditions may impede proceedings? Indeed, some trade unions are already calling for restrictions on allowing workers to be exposed to high outside temperatures – as well as low.

It isn’t just the summer that is expected to be affected. Although UK’s average annual temperature will (and is) rising due to global warming, this does not indicate that all of our seasons will get warmer. In fact, most climatologists believe that future winters in the UK will be colder and harsher, in spite of summers being significantly hotter.

The climate in Britain is becoming significantly wetter than in the past, as a result of the globe warming. This is due to the effect of greenhouse gases on our atmosphere.

Because greater greenhouse gas concentrations warm the air and increase the moisture that feeds storms, extremely rainy periods and the accompanying flooding are getting worse. UK infrastructure was not designed to withstand the type of rainfall, heatwave temperatures, cold spells and storms that are anticipated to occur more regularly; these extremes are likely to pose increasingly serious issues as time progresses.

How weather impacts construction

Rainy weather can result in a variety of delays and problems. Severe storms and strong winds can exacerbate already difficult operating circumstances. A building site may experience delays due to storms with strong winds. We are forced to avoid utilising lifting machinery or equipment while gales are blowing because the wind can make it harder to work safely and efficiently and can increase the quantity of dust being thrown around.

A building site is also significantly more affected by the cold than you might initially believe. In addition to being hazardous for the employees, these conditions can also influence the machinery, creating a variety of hazards on a building site with the introduction of ice and frost. The placement of foundations, slabs, and brickwork is slowed down by the need to wait longer for concrete to set in colder weather, which adds time to the total schedule. The cold might also have an influence on our supply chain, in addition to the building site itself.

When working on a building site, dry and warm weather that is neither too hot nor too cold and devoid of rain is ideal. However, this poses its own set of issues if it becomes overly hot and dry. It can be hazardous for your workforce to operate in the hot sun. Additionally, dry heat can increase the amount of dust and airborne filth, which is hazardous for your employees to breathe in and can harm some equipment, clog filters and reduce overall efficiency.

It’s also crucial to take into account the effect on the site and the materials. Extreme heat can have an impact on a wide variety of materials, including concrete and brick. For example, if the bricks get too dry, they can weaken the masonry and generally lower the quality of a building.

The benefits of MMC

Due to less reliance on HGVs, the geographic concentration of MMC personnel within one or fewer facilities, and a decrease in pollution and waste, the advantages of MMC are frequently future-focused and centred on the reduction of emissions.

The recent heatwave has brought the consequences of not adopting MMC to high enough a level into stark view.

Efficiency is something MMC can provide for the industry, and according to the NHBC, 81% of developers feel that this is a major element in the adoption of MMC processes. When it comes to building processes and materials, the ability to maintain consistent climate and conditions within factory-controlled environments means that the properties of materials do not change, e.g. timber does not swell due to moisture, cement and bonding agents are able to set, etc., so the manufacturing process is unaffected along with a reduction in material waste.

At the human level, days lost due to weather (rain, wind, snow, or heat on any particular day) can be written off, negating the risks associated with working outside, a factor that is expected to worsen again as temperatures become increasingly volatile.

Buildings fit for our future

It is more crucial than ever that our structures, especially our homes, can function as they were intended to as we adjust to a world with colder winters, warmer summers, droughts, and floods. That raises the issue of workmanship quality; if passive cooling or thermal efficiency techniques need on tolerances that cannot be met, there is little use in an architect creating them. MMC has an additional advantage in that it delivers a more predictable product with fewer flaws because to the production procedures and, ultimately, superior quality control.

In summary

 

Now’s the time to give MMC and the advantages it provides the care and consideration they deserve as the industry seems to face one issue after another. It is true that MMC is not always the greatest option for a project, and traditional building techniques will always have their place. However, we’re setting ourselves up for a fall if we do not pay attention to the changing environment we find ourselves operating within. Let’s deliver a built environment to be proud of; one that serves us well in uncertain times.
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