Solar energy is poised for what could be its biggest transformation in over half a century.

A group of materials called perovskites are being used to create the next generation of solar panels, which could eventually be twice as efficient as current models, and flexible enough to wrap around entire buildings.

The first solar cell capable of powering everyday electrical equipment was made in the 1950s at Bell Labs in New Jersey. Back then the silicon-based panels were hugely expensive and converted just 6% of sunlight into electricity.

Since then, costs have come down dramatically and today’s silicon solar cells can turn up to 22% of sunlight into power. But they’re nearly maxed out in terms of efficiency. Now, perovskites offer the potential for dramatic increases in power output, and they could ultimately replace silicon altogether.

Henry Snaith, left, and Christopher Case, of UK company Oxford PV, which is working with perovskite to generate solar energy. Case says the material is “the most significant development in solar photovoltaics in 65 years.”

Researchers at Oxford PV, a company spun out of the University of Oxford, made a major breakthrough in 2018. By coating silicon with perovskite they achieved 28% efficiency. The company believes it can eventually reach 40%, or higher.

Improved solar cell efficiency will enable installations to pump out more power with fewer panels, reducing costs, and the amount of land, labor and equipment needed to operate them.

“If we want to make it that all new power generation is solar photovoltaics, then we need to keep driving the price down,” Henry Snaith, professor of physics at the University of Oxford and co-founder of Oxford PV, tells CNN Business. “One way to do that is to keep pushing the efficiency or the power output of the module up, and this is where perovskites really come into play.”

Solar potential

Perovskite was discovered in 1839. Oxford PV uses a synthetic version, made from inexpensive materials that are abundant in the Earth’s crust, while other companies use variations of the original mineral, collectively called perovskites.

A tube of Oxford PV’s perovskite material, which is synthesized from materials that are abundant in the Earth’s crust.

As well as improved solar efficiency, they work better than silicon in the shade, on cloudy days or even indoors. Perovskites can be printed using an inkjet printer and can be as thin as wallpaper.

Oxford PV hopes perovskite will eventually replace silicon entirely.

“In the coming decades, all-perovskite solar coatings promise to raise efficiencies even further, reduce the weight and shipping cost of solar equipment,” says Varun Sivaram, energy expert and author of “Taming the Sun: Innovations to Harness Solar Energy and Power the Planet,” who worked with Snaith while studying at Oxford.

He says that as the technology develops, perovskite could be sprayed or rolled onto flexible surfaces. Semitransparent solar coatings could even be wrapped around whole buildings.

Oxford PV aims to begin producing cells made from perovskite on silicon early next year at a new purpose-built factory in Brandenburg, Germany. It estimates that panels made from the cells could save homeowners up to $1,000 on the purchase and installation of the average solar system.

Other companies working with perovskite include Warsaw-based Saule Technologies, which has secured funding of €10 million ($11.7 million) from Polish photovoltaics company Columbus Energy.

Last month, Saule Technologies’ new factory in Warsaw began printing perovskite solar cells using inkjet printers. Early next year, it will start supplying Swedish construction company Skanska Group, which says it wants to be the first developer to attach printed solar cells to the façade of a building on a commercial scale.

“It is set to be a game-changer in the energy sector, because it works in every lighting condition,” says Saule Technologies co-founder Olga Malinkiewicz. “You can make it flexible. It’s a wonderful material. Architects will love it.”



Source: CNN Business


Rapid Ramp, the UK’s leading modular ramp and step manufacturer continue to offer a nationwide supply and installation service.



Their modular products are off the shelf systems, available from stock with fast service and construction.

With a fully reusable and adjustable design, the products can fit various sized spaces and buildings. Plus, they can fully comply with Building Regulations.

Installations remain flexible and organised around the specific needs of each project, and existing wooden ramps can be dismantled and replaced.

An in-house designer creates 3D drawings with each quotation, and site surveys can be arranged.







Contact details:  E:  –  T: 01424 714646  –  W:


The Scottish Government’s recently announced £24bn infrastructure investment plan is a significant step forward for the country’s drive to stimulate post-Covid recovery.

From this, £2.8bn will deliver new affordable homes over the next five years. Not only will this bring essential social housing but it will also give a much-needed boost to the construction industry.

Together with 11 funding councils, we implemented our largest ever construction framework to support the public sector’s efforts to build new affordable homes throughout Scotland’s communities.

Scotland Excel has been developing construction frameworks for 12 years and our construction portfolio has adapted with the industry over that time to incorporate innovative building methods – including offsite construction and retrofit – creating more flexibility for contracting authorities. The portfolio now accounts for spend of around £760m per annum.

The new build framework builds on our experience and is live and ready to be used to underpin local and national efforts to deliver social housing.

It has been specifically developed to accelerate projects by significantly reducing the time it takes social landlords, including councils, to engage a contractor to build new homes.

It also helps buyers to find the best suppliers for projects ranging from small to large, including flats, sheltered housing, student accommodation, social rented and mixed tenure properties.

As well as being an enabler for national and local policies, public procurement also has a key role to play in delivering economic and social benefits.

At this crucial time when economic recovery is vital, the new build framework is good for local business.  It reflects our commitment to supporting smaller businesses, with 70% of the suppliers awarded to the framework classed as small to medium enterprise (SME).



And there is a sub-contracting commitment included for suppliers to bring supported businesses and social enterprises into the supply chain where the work value is more than £1m.

These steps to open up opportunities for small, local organisations will bring social and economic benefits that can revitalise communities and bring lasting impacts. Scotland Excel has always been an advocate for community benefits being achieved through our frameworks – and new build is no different.

As councils and housing associations invest in projects through the framework, it will ensure a return on social value in several ways. There is a commitment from suppliers to pay the real Real Living Wage and to create employment and training opportunities.

While hugely challenging, Scotland’s recovery from the impacts of Covid-19 also brings significant opportunities to improve how we work and to do it in a much more sustainable way.

The Scottish Government’s new mission to ‘help create new jobs, good jobs and green jobs’ is something Scotland Excel celebrates and supports. Many of our frameworks already embody this – with all frameworks having sustainability as a key consideration at development stage. This is an area I am keen to do more on.

We have always evolved in line with the needs of our members, and as they work to address the problems caused by Covid-19, supporting their efforts to deliver local services with a stronger focus on community wealth building, is our top priority.

I look forward to working with councils and housing associations to support their new build projects and to underpin mobilisation of the government’s investment plan, through our framework’s lens of delivering economic and social benefits.

Working together through the recovery, we can help to ensure everyone has access to a safe, warm and affordable home.

Source: Holyrood



MEDITE SMARTPLY has now launched SMARTPLY MAX FR B, the brand new Euroclass B OSB3, a market innovation bringing increased safety and reliability to an industry contingent on safety and predictability.


SMARTPLY MAX FR B is the first Euroclass B board—the maximum Euroclass rating for a timber panel—manufactured in the UK and Ireland to feature wood flakes treated with flame retardant solution before pressing. This ensures its flame retardance is integral and maintains its structural integrity, unlike many post-treated alternatives, making it the safer choice for use within timber frame construction, or projects that will require a large amount of timber product.

“We are extremely excited to introduce SMARTPLY MAX FR B to the marketplace, expanding our already extensive SMARTPLY OSB range,” comments Richard Allen, Sales Director at MEDITE SMARTPLY.



“In SMARTPLY MAX FR B, customers can expect all the fantastic benefits of a SMARTPLY OSB board, with the addition of ZeroIgnition® solution, a water based and environmentally friendly flame retardant which is added during panel production.

“This is a solution that has potential in a huge range of applications and industries, encompassing many modern methods of construction such as offsite and timber frame construction, light gauge steel and modular construction systems, as well as temporary structures.

“Whatever the sector, all customers can rest assured that this board’s flame retardance will hold to Euroclass B standard, even when cut to size, which makes it different to other FR boards out there.”

Manufactured using advanced resin technology that results in a high performance, no added formaldehyde panel, SMARTPLY MAX FR B can help specifying architects, contractors and fabricators contribute to the creation of safer, healthier environments.

This includes not only the built environments actively created but the natural environments left behind: SMARTPLY MAX FR B is sustainably produced using timber from sustainably managed Irish forests.



“At MEDITE SMARTPLY, we want to support a safer, wider future for timber buildings, that will enable the wider construction industry to work more sustainably and more efficiently, truly building for the future. This has been one of our main motivations in developing SMARTPLY MAX FR B.”

SMARTPLY MAX FR B also complies with the performance requirements in the Structural Timber Association’s (or the STA’s) FR BUILD “Design guide to separating distances during construction” for timber frame buildings above 600m² total floor area. We refer to this product as SMARTPLY MAX FR/FR BUILD within our range.

SMARTPLY MAX FR/FR BUILD can be used in a timber frame building when mitigation measures are required due to the distance from neighbouring buildings. There are wall and floor systems outlined within the guide which give points towards the overall building, this satisfies any mitigation that may be required. Please refer to the STA guide for more information.

Finally, SMARTPLY MAX FR B meets with the requirements of European Standards EN 300 and EN 13986, while also complying with the European reaction to fire class B-s2,d0 and Bfl-s1. Boards can be manufactured in largescale formats of up to 2.8m wide by 7.5m long, making it ideal for offsite manufacturing, alongside traditional building.


For more information of the new SMARTPLY MAX FR B, click here:

Acciona, a global leader in sustainable infrastructure solutions, is taking part in the United Arab Emirate’s 3D Emerging Technologies exhibition, the Middle East’s largest and most influential event for the additive manufacturing industry.

#3Dprinting #emergingtechnologies #mmc #construction

The company will exhibit some iconic 3D printed pieces made at Acciona’s 3D printing hub in Dubai. The exhibition, which opens on October 11th, is being held at the Sharjah Research Technology & Innovation Park Headquarters and will bring together 3D industry leaders, government ministers and academics. It’s goal is to foster greater collaboration in the expanding field of 3D printing.

Luis Clemente, Acciona 3D Concrete Printing Business COO, said: “We are very grateful to have the opportunity of showing some of our iconic 3D printed pieces to the general public at this event. The exhibition is going to give us the opportunity to identify innovative ideas, launch revolutionary new products, and strike diverse partnerships and business agreements.”

Instead of milling a work piece from a solid block, 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, builds the part up layer by layer from material supplied as a fine powder. Various metals, plastics and composite materials can be used. The benefits of 3D printing technology include less waste, fewer CO2 emissions and total freedom of design.



Acciona owns and operates the largest fully functional concrete 3D printer in the world with the Powder Bed technology. This printer is particularly suitable for manufacturing pieces with complex shapes that require structural resistance. It works with concrete as the raw material, making it an ideal solution for the use in architecture, urban planning and building.

Accions chose Ras Al Khor Industrial Area to install its 3D printing hub to support “Dubai 3D Printing Strategy” and their commitment to deploy this technology in all areas of the economy and, specifically, in the construction sector.

Acciona’s 3D projects in the region so far include the Middle East’s first 3D printed concrete bus stop for the Ajman Transport Authority as well as some urban furniture for local museums. In Spain, it has also used 3D printing to build the first 3D printed bridge in the world made with concrete in Madrid and a replica of the Arch of Duenas for the archeological museum of Madrid, to name a few.


Source: Construction Business News



In this most challenging of climates new opportunities are becoming apparent particularly in the construction sector

#modularconstrution #wales #builtenvironment #sustainability #socialhousing

Trying to establish the optimum way forward for our built environment at a time when we are still very much living in the presence of Covid19 is filled with uncertainty.

For example, we can’t be totally certain that working from home will become a lasting change, and if it does we can’t automatically assume the behavioural changes that would emerge as a result. Equally, we haven’t yet seen the full impact of the pandemic, and in the coming months many businesses, particularly those in the hospitality and retail sectors will be facing an even greater fight for survival as lockdowns continue and government financial support is reduced.

However, in this most challenging of climates new opportunities are becoming apparent particularly in the construction sector. These have the potential to play a key role in our economic recovery, whilst also helping to transform our built environment. In August the Welsh Government announced a £9.5million programme to reduce housing’s carbon footprint, with the focus on retrofitting social housing. In addition the Welsh Procurement Alliance is inviting businesses to bid for places in its pool of contractors, with the intention of delivering  new housing across south and mid-Wales. Reporting on this, Construction Enquirer have quoted the overall value of the Welsh Housing Framework being a substantial £5billion over a ten year term.



Importantly Wales is changing the way it builds, in part to ensure we meet our carbon emission targets, and also to construct homes that reflect the changing ways in which people are living their lives.

This will see an increase in homes being built that:

  • Are designed from the outset to be highly energy efficient
  • Use ground source heat pumps and photovoltaic panels
  • Are constructed using modern methods of construction including: modular/volumetric, prefabricated panels and standardised components
  • Are manufactured off-site in factories
  • Make use of a wider range of sustainable materials, in particular timber.

In practice this highlights the very immediate need to ensure we have a skilled workforce in place to build the new houses and retrofit existing housing stock. As this is combined with adopting new ways of building we need our workforce to be equipped with the right skills, and this is an area where there is an acknowledged skills shortfall. New training opportunities and apprenticeships need to be made available as soon as possible, not only to ensure we can build at scale, but also to help create much needed new employment opportunities.

To gain an idea of the scale of the issue, UK Construction Media have highlighted that in England alone a staggering half a million builders are needed. In Wales we have a dynamic housing sector with a clear determination to bring the housing crisis to an end, whilst ensuring that we fully embrace a zero carbon future, and to achieve these ambitions further illustrates the need for a highly skilled workforce. To put this in context Wyn Pritchard, NPTC Group, Director of Construction Skills explains the scale of the requirement to ensure we can rapidly create a workforce with the news skills the construction industry needs:

“Having been involved in the skills and construction sector, specifically for over 20 years, I have seen key strategies being implemented with varying degrees of success. All involved are well meaning, but most strategies, revert to type and are not radical to make the real difference. This is the opportunity, and with strong Government endorsement in Wales, to create the programme needed to deliver the changes needed. We need to ensure all parties and programmes are aligned, with timing of the implementation critical, too often has the skills agenda been an afterthought, this needs to placed at the heart of the approach. WE CANNOT afford to miss such a key opportunity for employment and environmental outcomes for our Nation. We, at NPTC group of Colleges, are already engaging with partners, industry and trade Federations to ensure our training offer for the new and emerging skills needs reflects their requirements, as well as growing the economy in Wales.”

The sense of urgency can’t be underestimated, we know the direction of travel for the construction industry, we can see finance being put in place and there is a clear desire to build highly energy efficient homes at speed. In this respect having a skilled workforce is the final piece of the jigsaw and it’s an important one to put in place.

How we inspire and educate our future generations is another key requirement that needs to be addressed to provide a rich pool of talent to become the creators of our Built Environment. Helping to achieve this is MOBIE an education charity founded by George Clarke in 2017, and Chief Executive, Mark Southgate explains how their courses and schools outreach programme is working to inspire a new generation to define how we’ll live in the future:

“Home is the most important piece of architecture in our lives. It shapes the way we live and how we grow as families and communities.  The Covid-19 crisis has heightened our awareness that a well-designed home can promote our health and wellbeing.  We’ve seen that our needs from a home have grown – now it needs to be an office, a schoolroom, a gym and so much more.

MOBIE exists to create a generational shift by inspiring, training and retraining young people who will deliver the homes and places of the future.  There are incredible opportunities to create a new built environment, one that is truly green, affordable and that promotes health and wellbeing.  Through our design challenges and education pathway from BTEC to Masters Degrees we are supporting a new generation to transform the way we think about home and to give them design, digital and manufacturing skills that will help create a homebuilding revolution.”

At the start of this year none of us could have imagined that our way of life would have changed so significantly as a result of a pandemic, and even now we are still living through this period of fundamental change. However, our built environments are robust and have a proven ability to adapt, and today we can see a clear need to adapt. We are being presented with an exceptional opportunity to transform our construction sector in a way that will allow it to support our economic recovery and at the same time help us meet our emission targets. To achieve this opens up a further opportunity for people to retrain to become the skilled, well paid workforce that will be needed to build our energy efficient homes. Equally, to ensure our built environments are equipped to anticipate and embrace change it is imperative to invest in education programmes that will equip the upcoming generation with the skills they need to effectively drive forward the much needed housing transformation.


Source: Business News Wales



The Canadian company Bone Structure can produce zero net energy homes months faster than a traditional builder. But its challenges highlight the difficulty of disrupting the entrenched construction industry.

#modular #canada #construction #robotmanufacturing

Marc A. Bovet wanted to build a house, but when it came to the actual construction, he was overwhelmed with options. He had bought an empty lot and hired an architect to design a custom home in Montreal for his wife and four kids. He had all the permits and approvals, so he began looking for builders. When quotes started coming in, he was stunned to see that the highest estimate was almost twice as expensive as the lowest.

“So that’s where you go, ‘Wait a second here. This is the same set of plans,’” he says. “I even called back the architect to say, ‘Did you send the same set of plans to everyone? Because there’s something totally wrong.’”

That experience led Bovet to develop a system that uses robotic manufacturing to wring inefficiencies out of the building process. Though about 15 years old, the system is taking on new urgency as climate emergencies like wildfires force more and more homeowners to rebuild. But the system has limitations that underscore the wildly complex nature of the construction industry. Prefab methods, like Bovet’s, have long been held up as a solution to a range of housing problems. But in building and construction, there’s no easy fix.

Identifying the real problem

An entrepreneur who had run a men’s clothing line and marketing agency before becoming director at the international transportation company Bombardier, Bovet had a sense for production. The bids he was getting for his home project seemed completely arbitrary, and he wanted to understand why. So he started showing up to construction sites and asking contractors questions about the building process. Almost every question he asked got a different answer at each building site. There was no standard building approach, and the ultimate cost to build his house would depend primarily on however his builder chose to embark on the project. For Bovet, this seemed like a problem that needed solving.

He saw a solution in industrialization, but he knew that prefabrication and modular construction had been tried many different times in many ways. So he hired a researcher to look into all the different systems and patents that had been developed over the years. “We got into this micro-level research, figuring out what Frank Lloyd Wright had done; even Edison, the light bulb guy, had his own prefab system. Mies van der Rohe. Le Corbusier. You name them. From engineers to architects, everybody had their own perspective,” he says.

Bovet and his researcher found that developing a building system wasn’t the main challenge. The bigger problem they needed to solve was labor. There have been shortages in labor and skilled tradespeople in the homebuilding industry for years, as workers have fled construction jobs tied to the volatile housing market in the years since the great recession and shifted to higher-paying jobs in other sectors. More than 80% of builders have reported shortages of framing crews and carpenters, according to the National Association of Home Builders. Availability of labor remains builders’ top concern.

So Bovet began looking for ways to make a process-based industrial building system that could be assembled even without skilled craftspeople. “Because you spend three or four years to plan your project, you get some architects, you’ve bought the land, you’ve got your financing, and now 80% of builders cannot get carpenters to put it up,” he says. “You don’t have the labor. And even more so now, with COVID. So what do you do? You scrap your project? Or you try to find a platform. Well, the platform is what we offer.”

A kit of parts, no skilled labor needed

Bovet’s platform is called the Bone Structure, a steel-based construction system that is robotically manufactured, cut, and shipped to the building site where it’s fastened together with little more than screws and a drill. The company offers dozens of predesigned home models to choose from, and can also be used as the structural system for architect-designed projects. Made mostly with recycled steel and with foam insulation that can reduce energy costs up to 90% compared to a traditionally constructed home, the Bone Structure system can meet environmental certifications like LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), and has been used in hundreds of homes, mainly across Canada.

It can be built almost months faster than traditional construction, which is how the company began marketing itself in wildfire-damaged regions of California, especially after the fires of 2017 and 2018 that devastated towns like Paradise and claimed homes in cities like Santa Rosa.

Brendan Kelly is an architect based in Napa, and he learned about Bone Structure like many people in the region—through presentations given after the 2017 fires. His firm had a client who wanted to rebuild a home that was destroyed in Santa Rosa, and Kelly went to see if the system could help. “I was very sensitive because I’d seen things happen in the fall and winter after the fires, with a lot of companies and builders coming in, and I think kind of taking advantage of some of these victims,” he says.

Builders were getting people to sign construction contracts and locking in prices on rebuilds that might not have been the best deals for people who had lost nearly everything, according to Kelly. “Everybody wanted their houses back so quickly,” he says. “So I went [to the presentation] ready to sort of challenge them.”

But he was won over. “The initial part I liked about Bone was that it was a system of building,” he says. Like many architects interested in the processes and systems involved in construction, Kelly is a self-described “geek” for industrialized systems and prefabrication. “I drank the Kool-Aid a long time ago.”

And so had his client, a retired engineer. Though Kelly had already designed the home to be constructed out of wood, he reworked the drawings to function with the Bone system. After less than a year of construction, the home had been rebuilt to be zero net energy, 100% electric, and powered by solar panels. And though the construction time was faster than a traditional wood-frame house, Kelly says the cost ended up being about the same. “There’s no budget version of Bone,” he says.

A solution begets other problems

The system is laser-cut and shipped to the building site in a precise package. But it’s not always easy to fit in with the way homes are permitted and approved. Anders Lasater is an architect based in Laguna Beach, California, and one of his clients had come to him asking about new prefab systems they might be able to use on a duplex project. Lasater had seen a Bone presentation and suggested they take a look. The client was enthusiastic, and Lasater began working out how to adapt his design to the Bone Structure system.

“If you went to their website and looked at any of their designs, they’re very rectangular. They’re boxes. They’re really simple because their system tends to work best when you have a simplified essential geometry,” he says. “And in our case, we had a little more complication to deal with.”

The Beachitos residence in Orange County, California, Anders Lasater Architects [Photo: Chad Mellon Photography/courtesy Bone Structure]

The duplex he had designed was a V-shaped combination of volumes, with an angular courtyard and atrium in the middle. Adapting the off-kilter plan to the grid-centric Bone system required some long conversations with Bone’s engineering team. It also required a fair amount of convincing in the city’s building department. “They’d never seen anything like it before, so it was like speaking a foreign language with those guys,” Lasater says. “That was a little challenging.”

Eventualy the city, the architects, and the Bone Structure team got on the same page, and the project got built. A city building official even brought his community college class to tour the construction site. “In some ways I think the challenge was one that normally we would have avoided, but I’m really pleased with the result,” Lasater says. “Once we got it all approved, it went without any problems.”

He says he would be open to using the system again, but it may be better applied on a more simplified design, and may even be more economical to use on a multiunit project. “It will probably take you as long to build 15 as it took us to build our one,” he says.

That may be where systems like Bone Structure make the most sense, according to Caitlin Mueller, an associate professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology School of Architecture + Planning, where she leads a group researching architecture, structural engineering, and digital fabrication. “The speed of construction of these systems, where things can be prefabricated and quickly and easily assembled is a very big advantage, for example, in developing countries,” she says.



In developed countries, on the other hand, processes and building practices have been set for decades, and may be slow to change. “It’s been very hard to compete with timber construction at least in North America because it’s just so affordable and the labor market is very attuned to it,” Mueller says.

That was a hurdle Kelly had to get over during his Santa Rosa project, and it required bringing in someone versed in using Bone Structure’s system to help the building contractor put it in place. For contractors used to framing up a wood building with a nail gun, joining steel beams together with a drill and screws can be a bit tedious, Kelly says. “It’s just a new system and most contractors want to build things the way they did on that last project.”

Even so, Bone Structure has been used in hundreds of homes so far, and Bovet is hoping to continue to grow through selective partnerships with homebuilders. “We just won’t necessarily sell it to anybody and everybody,” he says. “We want to make sure that we offer a service, we offer a quality mindset behind the whole system, and we’re trying to get some larger builders to adapt it.”

But change is slow in the homebuilding world, says Mathew Aitchison, an architecture professor at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, and head of a government-funded research center exploring the development of advanced manufacturing in the building sector. He recently edited a book on prefab housing and says companies offering new building systems suffer from what he calls “imminent revolution,” the tendency to believe they’re leading some fundamental shift in how things get built but that fails to revolutionize the marketplace.

“I’m not suggesting for a minute that Bone is part of this process, but there has been historically quite a lot of smoke and mirrors in this area,” he says. “Companies saying they can do a lot of stuff that they can’t, companies rolling out in quite grandiose ways but without being able to deliver on fairly fundamental things, VCs funding effectively pyramid schemes that are basing themselves on the fact that the construction sector is a huge global sector that’s largely been untapped by technological development.”

Aitchison says building and construction is just too complicated to work within any one system. “It looks very simple on the outside, but it’s actually very, very tricky and it’s much more complex than most people give it credit for,” he says. “There isn’t a best practice in construction like there is in very many other industries, in my opinion.”

That’s probably why, when Bovet went out looking for a company to build his family home, there were so many different, and differently priced, options. With the Bone Structure system, he’s successfully created one more.

[Photos: courtesy Bone Structure]



Source: Fast Company


Harinder Dhaliwal in the sitting room of the Pier town house show home

There is nothing quite like them anywhere else in Greater Manchester

#modularconstruction #manchesterhousing #offsite



So says the man heading the redevelopment of Wigan Pier’s famous buildings, although in this instance Harinder Dhaliwal is talking about the new homes that have sprung up alongside them.

The ready-made modules arrived shrink-wrapped on the backs of lorries from a factory in Derbyshire over the August bank holiday weekend and were lowered and stacked by crane to overlook the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, causing quite a stir in the process.

Since then, workmen have been putting the finishing touches to the eight town houses who should be welcome residents within weeks.

So what is so special about these waterside dwellings that makes them worth their £270k to £285k asking prices?

Well the two main things are that they come virtually ready to live in, bar bringing your own furniture and other possessions, and they have all manner of mod cons and eco-friendly features in the quest for comfortable and carbon-neutral 21st century living.

And there has been no shortage of interest in the properties, says Mr Dhaliwal, the MD of Manchester-based Step Places, as he gives us a tour of the show home. While there are a few finishing touches to be put to the overall site, three have already been snaffled up and there have been people of all ages and backgrounds showing an interest in the in the remainder.

He added: “As a place-making business we are always looking to future-proof our homes.

“We don’t cut corners and all kinds of features here come as standard that would not be in the price of a national house-builder’s home.”

One feature is an air source heat pump: a low energy heating system which extracts warmth from the air and is seen as the future of domestic heating, especially as gas will be abolished in all new homes (apart from for use in cookers) by 2023.




The sound-proofing (and heat-proofing for that matter) is remarkable. The front of the homes is but a few yards from Wallgate and at the time of the tour, heavy traffic was swooshing past in heavy rain. Yet when the door was properly closed, not a sound from outside could be heard. All flooring and tiling is already in place for the new residents – in fact they were in place before arriving in Wigan!

There is decking at the rear looking out onto the canal. It is made from recycled plastic so is extremely low maintenance and each of the three-storey buildings has a roof terrace on the top floor.

The homes are fitted with alarms while security lighting and an outdoor plug for a computer or heater are also handy extras.

The master bedroom with en suite is on the top floor, a second bedroom, also with en suite on the middle storey along with a third room that could either be used as an office or a third bedroom and off from the ground floor kitchen is a room which can double as a downstairs toilet and utility room.

Mr Dhaliwal said: “The term of the moment is MMC: modern methods of construction and this is exactly what these modular homes are.

“They are the future of house-building in many ways. Everything is done to a high specification and there are all manner of features that would in the past not have come as standard.

“By doing so much of the work in the factory – including flooring, tiles, windows and doors – you are able to maintain a consistent standard of excellence which building regulators expect of developers these days. And it can also save time. On rain-drenched days like this one you would not be able to have a bricklayer on site, but this way, all that comes ready done on the back of a 38-tonnne lorry.

“It is also virtually maintenance-free.”

Mr Dhaliwal said there were still a few matters to attend to including some landscaping and the creation of an allotment on the land between the final home and Seven Stars Bridge, but otherwise the project had been completed in a matter of six months, the first part of it having involved laying the services and foundations.

He added: “We are very proud of this project. There is nothing else like it anywhere else in Greater Manchester, never mind Wigan, so far as I know. And we want people to move into something that is more than just a place but a home.”

And so what of the trio of Pier buildings that Step Places have also been working on?

The homes were meant to be the final part of the site’s jigsaw but are now set to be the first to be completed.

Well, work has slowed on the attractions’ refurbishment due to the Covid-19 pandemic – and has also taken longer than expected because of all kinds of quirks and faults being gradually uncovered in the venerable buildings – but it hasn’t stopped.

Externally Mr Dhaliwal says that there are more railings to renovate, several doors to install and the section between what used to be The Orwell and The Way We Were (Now Piers No3 and No4) tidied up and landscaped.

The last of these will be left until last because so many heavy vehicles have been driving all over it throughout the work.

Once that is complete Step Places can concentrate on the inside. A huge amount of rotten timber work has already been replaced although there is a keenness to keep as many features from the buildings’ industrial and touristy pasts in place as possible when they are used as a food hall, micro brewery and events venue.

The next step is to install the M&E – mechanical and electrical features – including plumbing, power and ventilation.

Mr Dhaliwal said he reckoned that that would take four to five months to complete, after which a future-proofed shell will be handed over to The Old Courts and businesses to fit out.

His best guess at an opening date for the public was next June.

He said: “This is a very special project and we want to get every aspect of it to be just right.

“When it opens I am sure it will be well worth the wait. There won’t be anything like this for miles around and I think people will come to visit from a long way away.”

The original dateline for opening had been earlier this year, then it moved to October and now, due to Covid and the Old Courts saying recently that they need to concentrate on generating more money for their Royal Court Theatre project on King Street before turning to the Pier, there had been fears it might keep slipping further and further into the future.

But Becca Heron, Wigan Council’s director for economy and skills, said: “We remain as committed as ever to the opening of Wigan Pier with a long-term vision of developing a new offer that will attract visitors, which includes culture, leisure and employment opportunities.

“The opening of the Pier has never been more important with the cultural and events sector being badly hit by the pandemic and we hope it’ll be operational in early 2021.”


Source: Wigan Today

Building sensors could be crucial in driving environmental initiatives, such as the UK government’s pledge for carbon-neutral status by 2050

#carbonneutral #climatechange #smartbuildings #construction

The built environment contributes around 40% of the UK’s total carbon footprint. Unfortunately, around half of this is from the energy used in buildings. Whilst many newly constructed dwellings are designed to be more energy-efficient, a major priority is decarbonising the existing building stock, of which 80% will still be standing when the UK is to meet its carbon-neutral status by 2050. In light of Energy Efficiency Day, Stacey Lucas from Sontay explains how the presence of building sensors optimise energy performance in both new and older buildings, driving the stock towards the all-important smartness and efficiency that is essential to the current and future health of our environment.

Building sensors, installed as part of an efficient central management system, offer an ingeniously smart and effective way of remotely monitoring elements such as temperature, air quality and ventilation. In doing so, not only do they help maintain a healthy indoor climate for the occupiers’ comfort and peace of mind, sensors give property owners more agency over energy usage; a benefit that not only helps reduce heating and lighting costs, but also facilitates a significant reduction in a building’s carbon footprint. Their usage could therefore be crucial in driving environmental initiatives, such as the UK government’s pledge for carbon-neutral status by 2050.

It is in no doubt, then, that sensors have found themselves at the heart of what we call smart buildings. According to the ‘Smart Building: Energy efficiency application’ document produced by the European Commission’s Digital Transformation Monitor, a smart building is defined as ‘a set of communication technologies enabling different objects, sensors and functions within a building to communicate and interact with each other and also to be managed, controlled and automated in a remote way.’ Sensors are smart devices that sense when and how a building’s energy performance can be adapted, consistently monitoring, measuring and evaluating data which feeds into a central management or control system.

The rise of smart sensors

A control system’s sustenance, sensors play an essential role in the energy-efficient operation of a smart building. Sontay’s smart sensors in particular offer full environmental sensing in a single device. This ingenious sensor can measure a myriad of elements including temperature, RH, CO2, light level, and occupancy or local devices independently. Typically, traditional sensors require up to seven cable inputs into a controller, making for a lengthy installation. A Sontay smart sensor, however, only needs a single cable connection to perform the same duty with greater efficiency, and can be mapped to any device or freely programmed into a building’s network.

Efficiency can also be related to the health and wellbeing of occupants, as well as the climate. In terms of air quality, airborne volatile organic compounds (VOC), pollutants which are found in paints and other building materials, are known to have a detrimental effect. The same harmful chemicals are also present in hand sanitisers, aggressive cleaning products and detergents, the demand for which has been unprecedented since the onset of the coronavirus crisis. Air quality sensors are able to measure VOC levels and alert the control system or occupants of the need to take action when a potentially hazardous reading is recorded to allow for ventilation to kick in.



There are also sensors available which prevent the unwelcome pervasion of CO2 in an over-inhabited space. A CO2 sensor with an LED traffic light-style display is a potential remedy for this issue. When showing green, the sensor is indicating that a room isn’t over-occupied and the risk to air quality is low. Should the sensor show amber, it’s a sign that windows require opening or fewer people need to be in the room to maintain the same healthy indoor environment. When the sensor turns red it is a call to action, as it indicates there is not enough ventilation and possible over occupancy in the room. At these last two stages, if a sensor is connected to a building management system, it will activate relevant ventilation procedure in order to ensure a space’s occupants do not feel uncomfortable.

Controlling a whole host of elements including heating, cooling and lighting, smart building sensors can ensure dwellings run as energy efficiently as possible. Although small in size, sensors offer fierce capability, and will go some way to enabling both new and older buildings perform well into the future, for the benefit of our beloved environment. It only seems natural, therefore, to celebrate the humble building sensor on this Energy Efficiency Day.

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New £250m framework launches for offsite suppliers:  Offsite manufacturers looking to boost the profile of MMC in the public sector are wanted for a new four-year framework to supply schools, hospitals and community buildings.


The Modular Buildings (MB2) framework from LHC is for the design, supply, installation and hire of permanent, temporary, and refurbished modular buildings for the public sector. It primarily covers education, healthcare, emergency services, offices and community related amenities such as sport facilities and theatres, but it can also be used for residential projects that are part of a mixed-use development or for student accommodation.


Suppliers that want to be part of the framework need to offer a full turnkey solution, providing all services required to deliver a full project from design through to handover.


Mij Rahman, director of procurement at LHC, said:

“We’ve seen the public sector’s appetite for offsite construction increase over recent years, with contracting authorities procuring £100million of work through our previous MB1 framework.

“This framework needs enthusiastic, innovative suppliers that want to work with us and continue to raise standards within the MMC market and can also provide local authorities with high quality services that deliver long term value.”


The framework is split into four workstreams with eight lots that bidders can apply for.


For more information on how to apply for the MB2 framework, contact your regional hub: