Tackling the housing shortage – going offsite

Offsite construction

“As recently as the 1990s, a first-time buyer couple on a low-to-middle income saving five per cent of their wages each month would have enough for an average-sized deposit after just three years. Today it would take them 24 years.”

 This short summary from the recent government housing whitepaper lays bare the crisis within the British housing market. Whilst there has been a gradual upward trend in house building over the past few years, the 153,370 starts in England in 2016 were still some 15% below the peak of 2007.

There is no single cause or solution for the housing problem. At a fundamental level, however, the mechanical processes of constructing a home must be considered. The popular masonry cavity-walled construction method has seen only incremental changes in the past century. Compared with other approaches, it is slow and labour intensive at a time when skilled workers are in short supply.

To address this issue, developers are increasingly looking to go offsite, embracing the precision factory design methods which have revolutionised other areas of the economy.

Offsite options

Until recently, prefabrication has been looked on with a good deal of scepticism in the UK. This view owes much to the temporary buildings of the post-war era. Many of these were constructed from cheap materials with little or no insulation and were used well beyond their expected lifespan.

Over the past couple of decades, things have started to change. Modern offsite construction methods are vastly superior to their predecessors, offering significant design freedom, excellent fabric performance, reduced onsite waste and streamlined constructions.

One of the more popular offsite options are structural insulated panels (SIPs), such as our Kingspan TEK Building System. SIPs comprise an insulation core typically faced on either side with particleboard or oriented strand board. The panels are pre-cut to a project’s unique design in a factory, and once delivered to site, fit together tightly like a 3D jigsaw. If you’re interested in finding out more about SIPs, their history, and how they’re used today, we ran a series of blogs last year which is well worth checking out.

SIPs are one subset of the wider structural timber frame construction approach. This field has grown rapidly in recent years. In 2005, structural timber frame constructions accounted for 19.7% of all house constructions. By 2018, it is expected to account for one third of developments.

Standard open panel timber frame constructions require more site work than a SIPs construction, as elements such as wall insulation must be fitted on-site. However, they still offer significant timescale benefits when compared with standard, masonry cavity wall constructions.

In the next blog, we’ll take a closer look at the open panel timber frame construction methods, their advantages, and how these can be maximised with the use of the latest insulation materials.

This is the first in a four part series on timber frame construction. View the subsequent posts here:

2. Back to the future – the revival of timber frame construction

3. Insulating timber frame – new build

4. Installing insulation between timber studwork – retrofit

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Kingspan Insulation is a market leading manufacturer of optimum, premium and high performance rigid insulation products and insulated systems for building fabric and building services applications.

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