Rethinking Residential Construction

You’ll hear a lot about the UK’s housing crisis over the coming months. Sky-high prices, soaring demand and constricted supply have all taken their toll on the residential market, and the issue is ripe for political wrangling as we approach election time.

But while debate rages on about the need to rethink housing in the UK, another less contentious rethink is taking place that could have an enormous impact on the shortage of residential properties in certain locations.

The industry is starting to think again about how homes are built.

The UK is known throughout the world as an exporter of prime construction expertise. In many ways though, closer to home, the UK is stuck using outdated building methods and technology.

You could argue that this is because of consumer tastes. British people overwhelmingly prefer the bricks and mortar aesthetic – a fashion that has shown no sign of abating despite the creeping popularity of other styles of residential architecture.

Until now, this meant that the starting point for many residential developments has been technology and processes that have changed little in well over a century. The brick and breezeblock dwelling lived on, stubbornly defying the changes in technology that should have made it obsolete.

That is all changing now though, with a perfect storm brewing that is fundamentally altering the way we build residential property in the UK. In short, the factors at play are:

  • The desperate need for new housing, combined with a shortage of development-approved land in the right areas, is driving development upwards once more, and necessitating construction on ‘tight’ sites with limited access.
  • A chronic shortage of labour in certain trades has put pressure on project delivery times and staffing levels.
  • Ever-tougher building regulations mean contractors and specifiers are facing greater challenges to meet improved performance standards using outdated built-up technology.
  • At the same time, product innovations like BENCHMARK Konnect, a BBA certified insulated panel engineered façade system, and the development of brick cladding systems, have removed the final barriers from the use of new technology in large-scale and high-rise residential developments.

All of these factors have driven a groundswell of specifications of engineered, complete envelope systems.

Engineered façade systems are the most cost-effective way to build residential properties for a number of reasons. They offer far quicker build times than traditional built-up systems, allowing M&E and fit-out operations to commence sooner and bringing forward the final delivery date of the project.

The systems also allow for more efficient use of resources. Up to 50% fewer personnel are required on site to assemble an insulated panel system like BENCHMARK Konnect, and the mechanical handling equipment used reduces the risk of injury to contractors. Both of these factors are especially valuable as the nation faces a shortage of skilled labour.

The pre-fabricated nature of the system also means far less space is required on site for storage or construction – enabling the development of previously inaccessible plots with minimal disruption to the surrounding area. With development on green belt land unlikely to ramp up any time soon, more efficient use of existing brownfield and in-fill sites will become a key component of the UK’s housing delivery plan.

Talking of space, systems like BENCHMARK Konnect also allow developers to maximise the usable space within their buildings. Because the panels are fixed to the outside of the building structure, rather than built up within it, they take up less valuable floorspace. In a high-rise residential building, this can add significant extra value to each individual dwelling, potentially equivalent to the addition of an extra unit per building.

Beyond the construction process, insulated panel systems also offer greater thermal and air leakage performance than traditional built-up systems, in a much thinner construct. This leads to lower energy bills for tenants and homeowners, and more valuable, saleable assets for developers.

The benefits of engineered façade systems extend beyond their current performance. Because of the flexible nature of insulated panel products, they offer enormous potential for future innovation and development. Their functional performance is constantly being improved by developments in core technology. At the same time, new finishes, styles and details are regularly being added to give architects ever more freedom to design the buildings they want to, without compromising on either form or function.

All of this makes a compelling case for the use of engineered façade systems in urban residential development. At BENCHMARK, we are having more and more conversations with architects, specifiers and developers about these systems, and how they can solve the complex challenges of today’s built environment. Many projects are now in the pipeline, and we anticipate a surge in specifications as the industry begins to see these projects delivered ahead of time, on difficult sites, and to unprecedented standards.

The future of urban residential development is engineered façade systems, and that future is now.

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