The call for a quick and sustainable solution to the current housing shortage has created an opportunity for offsite construction to become a key building method to meet the demand in the housing industry. Kingspan Timber Solutions’ Business Unit Director, Ian Loughnane, offers his perspective on the offsite construction in the housing industry:

“Back in February 2013 the Offsite Housing Review was published by the Construction Industry Council – the most striking aspect of the investigation was the broad level of agreement amongst experts that the solution to the shortfall in housing stock would require the extensive use of prefabricated building techniques. The timber frame industry can certainly answer that call when it comes, which surely it must. The impetus required will undoubtedly be government led but it’s not just about the numbers. As a nation we need affordable, well designed and energy efficient homes that address the significant issues of fuel poverty and climate change. This combination of requirements plays to the strengths of timber frame and structural insulated panels (SIPS), which deliver the sustainable solution.

Energy efficiency doesn’t mean an explosion of high tech, expensive and ultimately obsolete eco-bling. The industry has invested heavily in getting fabric solutions that deliver high performance without the future maintenance costs that non-fabric solutions entail. This approach, synonymous with offsite construction, focuses on the delivery of an airtight building envelope to achieve sustainable and energy efficient new homes, reducing CO2 emissions, energy consumption and associated costs.

In the two years since the publication of this report we have come a long way. Offsite construction technology delivers a predictable performance level, with fewer construction defects or wasted materials. We are able to provide a marked decrease in the build time with a marked increase in the standard of build. This combination of requirements plays to the strengths of timber technology which offers a low-energy design as standard.

The compounded problem of lack of delivery of housing stock during the recession is now reversing to a large pipeline of activity where the pressure is building and the tap is about to be opened. Research finds that there are no regulatory barriers to the increased use of offsite methods and it is predicted by industry professionals that at some point there will be a transition that will see offsite components increasingly being used in place of conventional site-based construction methods.
Housebuilders have concerns over the declining levels of traditional skills, however as a timber frame manufacturer and supplier, I recognise that new skills are required for offsite construction and gaining the right skills will offer employment opportunities for many.

Many purchasers have no clue that their new home may be five years out of date as far as energy performance is concerned. The need to bring these matters to the fore is why the BRE developed the customer facing Housing Quality Mark scheme, which includes energy performance. The sooner the house buying public begins to look at home energy running costs in the same way as car buyers look at MPG, the better.

The market is definitely showing higher levels of optimism amongst the timber offsite solution suppliers, with more positive signs of investment and an increase in activity levels. The transition to a low-carbon economy presents our industry with great opportunities for growth. Environmental considerations will transform how our buildings are constructed, what materials are used and the methods employed. I believe that we are now on the cusp of the predicted ‘sea-change’ and that the time is right for the construction industry to embrace innovative timber technology and offsite techniques to develop better buildings at a rapid rate to enhance lives, minimise the environmental impact and reduce energy costs for occupants for many years to come.”

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