Maybe now’s the time we stopped talking and thinking about offsite construction as an interesting technology, or something we can imagine being a mainstream option at some time in the future. The time for offsite has arrived.
The construction sector faces challenges and problems for which traditional methods don’t have the answers. But more than that, there are positive advantages that should make techniques such as panelised offsite the preferred way of creating buildings in the 21st century.
There is no coherent explanation for how, using traditional methods and skills, the UK will not only build 300,000 new homes each year, but also dramatically expand schools capacity while also executing large scale infrastructure projects. There’s evidence that Brexit is already starting to worsen the existing skills crisis – so who’s going to build all of this?
The underlying challenge is productivity. Here, we don’t need some marginal gains, we need a massive step change. This level of improvement will not come from making existing processes a bit more efficient; it’s the type of transformation that can only come from doing things radically differently.
It’s easy for thinking and creativity to become constrained by the construction methods available. Deviate too far from the norm and there’s the risk that your design will not be practical to build. Straight away you are introducing timing and cost risks to the project because technical issues will have to be resolved onsite.
Panelised offsite removes many of the design constraints because the configuration of the panels is so flexible. It suits any size and shape of building, either as a Structural Insulated Panel (SIP) structure or as infill for steel or concrete. And because it’s a design and engineering-led process there is certainty that whatever is designed can be built in exactly the way envisaged.
Time and Cost
We know that SIP built offsite buildings are quicker to construct. Groundworks and site preparation continue in parallel with the creation of the structure. Onsite time can be reduced by up to a half. This is the type of re-engineered process and radical productivity improvement we need.
The costs are more certain and, when products are standardised, we also know that panelised offsite returns financial savings.
Energy and the Environment
Targets for carbon emissions and concerns over future energy security and costs mean that whatever we build must be highly energy efficient. SIP built technology has been proven for creating highly energy efficient buildings – up to Passivhaus standards. Again, there is no risk that the ‘as designed’ levels of thermal performance will not be matched by the ‘as built’ levels.
SIP based offsite has the answers to the problems and many positive benefits besides. Production capacity can also be expanded relatively easily to meet the demand. All it needs is a clear commitment and a long-term line of sight on real project opportunities. The time has surely come to make this happen.