Jul 29, 2016

The benefits of offsite construction

Alex Goodfellow, Group Managing Director at Stewart Milne Timber Systems and a main board director of the Stewart Milne Group, uses over 30 years’ experience in house building to talk about the benefits offsite construction can offer.

How do you think uncertainty in the market will affect how housebuilders build homes? Will there be a flight to more traditional methods?

The demand for homes in the UK has not reduced and now more than ever with Governments targets to achieve over 200,000 homes, the industry is looking at how we can achieve that volume in a cost effective manner, while maintaining quality and profitability. Offsite construction offers a tried and tested way of building homes with guaranteed quality to a variety of performance standards while also reducing the need for additional labour on site. This is particularly key at a time when we have a skills shortage in the industry. Add to that the speed of build that offsite construction and timber systems offers and it’s an option that many house builders are attracted to.  

Offsite construction poses a huge number of benefits to housebuilders over other, on-site solutions. The most important being cost effectiveness, speed, capacity and reduced labour on site. 

Offsite construction significantly increases speed and volume of build. At our Witney factory, we have the capacity to produce around 10,000 timber units per year. Manufacturing offsite means we can build ten blocks of terraced houses five weeks earlier than if building with masonry or other on-site solutions. In addition, once on site, a typical four bedroom detached home can be erected, wind protected and made watertight in as little as five days.

It’s cost-effective as offsite construction can significantly reduce both labour and material costs and there is less reliance on trade skills and on-site supervision. 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%.

Why should housebuilders continue to innovate with the systems they use?

There has never been a more important time for the industry to consider innovation – in particular if that can contribute to a more efficient, sustainable, high-quality and cost-effective business. We invest significantly in research and development: we have a Centre of Excellence at our Witney automated facility and we partner with various universities and house builders to develop new products to bring to market that, in turn, will deliver better homes for the future.

When housebuilders engage with us to produce timber systems for their projects, we get involved from the earliest stages. This enables us to value engineer the project, work with client teams to improve build programmes, deliver efficiencies and reduce cost.  From initial concept and design stages through to construction on site, our project teams are very experienced in their field, bringing that expertise to better meet the client’s objectives.  

One of our most successful product innovations is our award winning Sigma II Build System, a closed panel system that is BBA Certified, can be built up to six storeys and delivers performance standards to BREAAM Excellent. Used for both housing and commercial projects, it has become a sought after product that also offers BOPAS accreditation.

Will modular systems ever displace brick and block as the favoured building system? Why?

With the volume of homes needed in the UK, house builders will continue to test various forms of construction. Timber Systems offers a very tried and tested way of building in factory controlled environments, with flexibility and no constraints on capacity. It’s also a sustainable building material which is important as we seek to drive down carbon emissions and move to a lower carbon industry. Offsite also supports housebuilders at a time when the skills shortage threatens growth and material increases in some areas puts pressure on profits.  Timber Systems has a long-term sustainable material supply with direct partnerships with sustainable forests, strong partnerships with our supply chain and as the build systems are manufactured offsite, there is less need for on-site labour. It’s a win win.

Do home buyers understand or care about the advantages of offsite systems?

Home buyers want a home that they are proud of, one that meets their needs at varying life stages and one that will last. That means a quality home that is low maintenance. Timber Systems designs and manufactured build systems that alongside our house building clients, meets those needs.

Using timber frame construction, a home can be designed as one integrated system with a fabric first approach. For home buyers, this means energy efficiency is locked into the home’s core; reducing the need for other micro renewables or for new and un-tried ‘bolt-on’ technologies to be added. Ultimately, this saves the home buyers money and gives them peace of mind.

What advantages do your systems offer in a more challenging market?

Speed of build, expertise, cost effectiveness and no capacity constraints – we can deliver with a three week lead time from sign off of design.

For volume and speed of build, our factory in Witney is unrivalled in being able to produce timber units quickly. It takes approximately 120 minutes to build the timber system for a typical four bedroom house.

All of our timber systems are precision-engineered and rigorously inspected to ensure they are manufactured to the highest possible quality. It is through this careful manufacturing that we factor in energy and fabric performance, with the highest levels of sustainability guaranteed.

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

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