How to Build More Homes and Build Them Better
Does building more homes faster inevitably mean poorer quality? That’s a question that exercised the All Party Parliamentary Group for Excellence in the Built Environment in 2016. They published a report More Homes, Fewer Complaints, which highlighted that as housebuilding has picked up pace, the number of complaints has escalated.
Alongside the rates of defects and complaints, some estimates say that there is often a gap of up to 30% between design and actual building performance. There can’t be many sectors where that sort of discrepancy would be unremarkable.
Time for some critical thinking about how we should address the growing housing crisis.
How should the industry rise to the challenge of building 300,000 homes each year when we know that around 25% of skilled tradespeople will retire over the next 10 years? Or with growing uncertainty over the availability and cost of skilled overseas labour?
Productivity and Quality
It needn’t be an either-or debate. To increase our housing supply, we need to diversify the way we build our new homes. There is a role for both traditional housebuilding methods and off-site manufacture– the case for significantly greater use of off site construction seems clear as a tool to tackle both productivity and quality.
Manufacturing structures in a factory and then assembling them onsite is faster. Dimensions and fit can be assured in the production process. And interfaces between building elements and materials are carefully engineered during the design stage. There are no buildability issues to be resolved on site and it is easy to design and replicate standardised structures to further reduce project costs and timings.
The building performance is engineered into the design and the fabric. It is further assured by the precise fit of all components and air-tightness of the finished structure. And the small onsite installation teams are not heavily dependent on traditional construction skills to put the structure together.
Sustainability and energy efficiency will be increasingly high-profile issues, particularly for social and affordable housing schemes. That’s just one more reason why developers, architects and contractors looking for certainty over performance will probably be increasingly drawn to offsite.
Balancing out the issues of speed, resources, cost and quality make offsite construction a logical and less risky choice. It may not be ideal for all projects but can, should, and inevitably will be used for many more than it is currently.
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