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Can offsite construction fill the affordable housing gap?

We need more houses in the UK, especially affordable homes. One estimate of the gap between what we have and what we need is as high as 290,000 new homes. That’s a considerable challenge.

Securing land and funding for affordable homes are the first steps in addressing the current housing shortage. Once these are in place, the focus is on building high quality, energy efficient homes quickly, taking advantage of land availability and ensuring cost-effective builds.

But when it comes to affordable housing, providers face a number of challenges. Firstly, they need to deliver new homes quickly and cost-effectively to meet growing demand. Secondly, homes need to be highly energy efficient and make the most of available land, most of which is brownfield. 

Offsite construction can deliver on all fronts. It enables volume manufacture that supports speed of build and enhances cost effectiveness, while ensuring consistent quality control.

Building efficiently is key to volume housing delivery. Offsite construction enables structurally robust building components to be constructed in a controlled factory environment, enabling volume manufacture for housing and flatted developments.

Another benefit of offsite construction is its cost effectiveness. In the case of timber systems, offsite construction contributes to various cost savings including foundation costs and preliminary site costs, which can be reduced by up to 30%. With guaranteed manufacturing consistency as standard, designs are drawn in advance and called off as required, providing short lead times and in-time delivery to site. Scaffolding costs are lower with less time on site; site waste and disposal costs are lower too with waste being managed at the factory site. There are also labour savings with fewer requirements for trades on site and, as windows and doors can be factory fitted, there are further reductions in on site costs.

As quality is guaranteed in the factory environment, there is less reliance on site supervision to check quality and reduced requirement for follow on trades. The on site build programme can be reduced. 

Finally, offsite construction significantly reduces environmental impact. Products are produced in a controlled factory environment with greater control over everyday processes and waste management. The enhanced design and material management available through a factory manufactured process also provides options for various value solutions in attaining thermal regulations and acoustic performance cost-effectively.

In short, offsite construction houses to be built quickly, minimise cost and deliver high quality, high performance housing.  

With increasing demand on local authorities and housing associations to provide suitable housing as quickly as possible, offsite construction appears to be the only choice in delivering affordable homes quickly while achieving high performance standards and maintaining budget.

  • Alex Goodfellow is group managing director of Stewart Milne Timber Systems

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