UK Residential: An Insight into Offsite construction

Residential UK: An Insight on Offsite

In this article, Luke Petty, discusses the current shift taking place in residential construction from onsite construction towards factory construction. 

In the UK we are fast reaching a tipping point where residential construction is shifting from onsite into factories. This trend is set to accelerate as the demand for housing increases inexorably and the shortage of skilled construction workers becomes ever more acute.

Given the challenges that this sector has faced in the past, in the article below we will look at how UK market conditions are changing to make Offsite construction a real solution for the UK housing crisis.

The Political View

At the 2015 'Explore Offsite' conference in Birmingham in July, Brandon Lewis, the current Minister for Housing and Planning, challenged the UK construction industry to embrace offsite construction in order to produce high quality housing both quickly and efficiently. He also noted that support would be offered to companies that sought to employ ‘advanced housing manufacture’ such as Offsite construction. Central Government backed this up by providing a £27m grant to Laing O’Rourke for their new factory to accelerate the use of pre-assembly systems in housebuilding. This will involve building a dedicated housing modular assembly factory capable of delivering 10,000 new homes a year.

Pressures on traditional construction

Large numbers of homes needed quickly

At the annual CIH Conference (Chartered Institute of housing conference) numerous speakers raised the now familiar UK housing shortfall statistics that we need to produce 250,000 houses a year in the UK and currently we are only producing c130,000 – half the required amount!

Impending skills shortage

Data shows (1) that UK construction companies would be very strained producing 250,000 houses per year. This is compounded by a reduction in the number of people chosing to enter construction trades as a career. These two elements create a skill shortage which is slowing housing construction. 

High quality homes needed

Building residential properties onsite has always been challenging. Unpredictable UK weather conditions often complicate developers ability to deliver their projects on time and cost effectively.   

So why offsite?

Cogent, strategic consultants, recently reported that the UK Offsite sector is set to grow from £4b per annum in 2015 to £7b by 2018. This is a 75% increase making it one of the fastest growing manufacturing sectors in the UK (2).

Quicker construction

Lang O’Rourke recently reported that their offsite projects spent 50% less time onsite. This fact alone provides a strong case for factory based construction.

Technology and methods improved

New technologies like Cross Laminated Timber and CAD / CAM processing are helping facilitate the scale and capacity of housing production.

A quality end product

As promoted in the Egan report (The governement Construction Task Force report) factory construction methods adapted from the car industry would allow more time for quality checks and detailed work without threat of weather disruption.

Repeatability / scale

Once a volumetric scheme is fully designed, tested and in production, significant cost savings will be generated by efficiencies of scale.

Economic viability

Given the dramatic increase in house prices we are reaching a point where the upfront costs for an offsite solution can be offset by profit and commercial gain from reduced time on site. 

How are we at Chapman Taylor responding to this challenge?

We have conducted alot of research into this area and we have created a number of offsite construction designs - many of which are currently live projects. These projects include ...

The chapman Taylor Prototype Project - 'Apartment 200'

Our Chapman Taylor Sustainability Group has been developing a Prototype Project that uses a factory built volumetric system to provide an apartment so energy efficient that the annual bills fall below the £200 mark at today’s energy prices.

- We have developed this solution by combining the extensive experience of our in-house residential design team: Stuart Carr, Cathy Jeremiah, Jeannette Veldkamp and Tom Klingholz amongst others 

- Our BIM knowledge which is essential in designing the modules, coordinating structure and services for plug-in systems.

- Our strong record of delivery in the residential sector. 

Taking principles established in the Prototype Project we have developed further studies and proposals like the ‘Umbrellahaus’ system (to the right) that addresses the needs of the UK housing market.

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