Apr 14, 2016

Stewart Milne Timber Systems: Alex Goodfellow for the Housing Association Yearbook 2017

Group managing director of Stewart Milne Timber Systems, Alex Goodfellow, explains why offsite construction and timber systems could be part of the answer in reaching the Government’s 2020 social housing target.

With demand for new affordable and social housing stock showing no signs of abating, the Government is under serious pressure to provide high-quality new homes. The ambitious Government target to build 400,000 new affordable homes by 2020 calls for an innovative approach to enable volume without compromising on quality or energy performance.

Not only has the Government pledged to build 400,000 affordable homes, but has also promised to deliver a million new homes in England in total. This is no mean feat – and for housebuilders, clear pressures present themselves: speed of build, cost and quality control, sustainability and skills.  

Offsite construction provides affordable housing providers with many of the answers. Highly-customisable and build to precise requirements in factory-controlled conditions, offsite construction allows a build system that achieves the highest levels of fabric and energy performance – and at a high volume to meet the demand.

Accelerating the build time

An accelerated speed of build will be essential for the sector to make progress against the Government’s stiff target. Offsite construction can tackle this specific challenge, including the ability to quickly produce large volumes of build systems to exacting standards. At our Aberdeen and Witney factories, we manufacture innovative, high-quality, high-performance timber systems ready to be transported on-site, where a typical four bedroom detached home can be erected, wind and watertight in as little as five days. Using offsite construction and timber systems, it’s possible to complete a project of ten blocks of terraced houses five weeks earlier than if building with masonry or other on-site solutions.

Ensuring high quality is maintained

Offsite production of timber build systems ensures robust quality and guaranteed performance standards are met with ease. Our design, engineering and technical teams work in partnership with housebuilders and contractors from the initial design concept and development through to manufacture, delivery and construction. The partnership approach is crucial to realising cost benefits and ensuring that the build is designed to optimise profits throughout.

Reducing overall costs

In any intensive, large scale build programme there are cost pressures, but offsite construction can significantly reduce both labour and material costs. There is less reliance on trade skills and on-site supervision, and the faster build of the main structures reduces the management required to supervise and co-ordinate on-site trades. The accelerated build time provides a quicker return on capital outlay, and site prelim expenditure can be reduced by up to 30%.

Keeping sustainability a priority

According to recent industry research carried out by Smith & Williamson, 75% of construction firms believe eco-homes will be a dominant trend in the years to come. This is in line with the Government’s vision of a sustainable future and will be a crucial part of ensuring maximum efficiency in the thousands of new build homes.  

Using offsite construction and timber systems can ensure that sustainability is built-in during the design and manufacturing processes. Many of our recent developments have achieved the BREEAM status of ‘excellent’ or ‘outstanding’, the highest sustainability credit offered to buildings in the UK and an accolade increasingly sought after.

An example of an effective offsite manufactured product which can increase efficiency is our Sigma II build system. This has been used in a number of our private, affordable housing and commercial projects to help them achieve a BREAAM status.

The Sigma II build system is a fabric first solution, which is affordable and reliable, promoting a “fit-and-forget” approach. It means energy performance is built into the build system, with no need to retrofit aftermarket energy efficiency measures.

Case study: The Serpentine, Aylesbury

Working in partnership with Thames Valley Housing and Make Architects, we played a crucial role in delivering an innovative, affordable housing project named The Serpentine. It is a modern interpretation of the traditional Victorian terrace – an ‘S’ shaped building comprising of 94 houses and flats over three floors.

We were involved in the initial design concept right through to the supply and erection of the closed panel timber build system. The success of this unique design showcases the flexibility and cost effectiveness of building offsite with timber, especially in the social and affordable housing markets, where offsite construction can really make a difference to the speed, cost and performance of the overall build.

Homes For Scotland Home Builders Federation National House-Building Council Royal Institute of British Architects Structural Timber Association Constructionline British Board of Agrement Wood Campus Build Off Site Building Research Establishment WOOD FOR GOOD

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