With the Government’s target for the UK to reach net zero by 2050, the construction industry as a whole must reassess how buildings are designed and constructed to align with this objective. Here, Mike Polack, Structural Engineer at B&K Structures, talks to MMC about the role that engineered timber and hybrid offsite construction play in reducing the carbon footprint of buildings.


Following an update to the Climate Change Act in 2019, the UK has committed to achieving net zero by 2050 and has set an ambitious legally binding target to cut emissions by 78% by 2035 compared to 1990 levels. In the discussion of how the UK achieves this for the built environment, there has been a focus on phasing out natural gas heating and improving the operational energy efficiency of buildings.

However, embodied carbon, the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production of materials and the construction process, is a significant issue. In its ‘Embodied and whole life carbon assessment’ document, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) suggests that for a UK office, warehouse or residential building, embodied emissions represent around 70% of the lifecycle building emissions. Also, embodied carbon may soon enter building regulations through the proposed ‘Part Z’.

There are changes that can be made to design, materials and construction processes to reduce the embodied carbon. One of the clearest is the need to maximise the use of low carbon materials and be efficient with how we use them. UK FIRES, the research organisation run by the universities of Cambridge, Oxford, Nottingham, Bath, Strathclyde and Imperial College London recently released its ‘Minus 45’ report looking at how UK emissions targets could be met. Its findings suggest that the Government’s ‘Net Zero Strategy’ will not be sufficient and further action must be taken. One of the key changes that Minus 45 recommends is to reduce cement production by 45% by 2030 and move to more efficient steel design and production.

Using timber in construction, often in conjunction with steel, is an alternative that can be implemented now. Used in construction for centuries, well designed buildings using timber have much lower embodied carbon. In addition, timber acts as a carbon store because trees absorb a significant amount of carbon as they grow and store it for the life of the material. The longer the timber is in use, the greater the environmental benefit of storing the carbon. Therefore, selecting high quality solutions and designing the building to last is important to maximise the impact.

Engineered timber has changed the way we build with timber. For example, glued laminated timber (glulam) is used for columns, beams and trusses. Cross laminated timber (CLT) is used for roofs, floors and walls, while timber cassettes offer a fast and efficient way of constructing roofs and external walls. The embodied carbon of engineered timber is decreasing rapidly as processing becomes more efficient and switches away from fossil fuels, seen in revised carbon factors being published by the Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE) among others.



Engineered timber gains the benefits of offsite construction as it is built into panels or sections and can be easily transported to site and craned into place. A study on a 10 storey building also found that switching from concrete to hybrid steel-CLT construction reduced lorry deliveries to site from around 700 to 111.

In addition, engineered timber integrates well with steel to form hybrid structures that utilise the benefits of the different materials. This is particularly valuable for longer span floors and allows cost and climate efficient solutions for a variety of building types.

Furthermore, as timber elements are typically lighter than those in other materials, the required size and strength of supporting structural elements can be reduced, minimising the amount of material, cost and carbon needed for elements such as the foundations. Engineered timber is particularly popular for vertical extensions to existing buildings, as more floors can be added using the lighter construction. This is valuable for increasing floor area in dense cities, providing clients and developers with larger lettable space and quicker returns.

While there are challenges to constructing with engineered timber, knowledge, experience, and research has grown on the back of years of successful projects in the UK. Working with specialists to get the right advice early on can ensure a building is optimised for timber or hybrid construction. We can also look to Northern Europe and North America for inspiration, where engineered timber has been embraced.

An excellent example of the real-world benefits of a hybrid engineered timber and steel building is B&K Structures’ 6 Orsman Road. A ground-breaking commercial scheme on the bank of the Regent’s Canal in London, the hybrid timber-steel structural solution maximised space on a rapid delivery schedule, and the six-storey building effortlessly showcases the benefits of engineered timber technology. Designed by Waugh Thistleton, this office building has CLT walls, floors and roofs alongside steel beams and columns, providing outstanding green credentials. The upfront embodied carbon of the steel and CLT superstructure was as low as approximately 120 kgCO2e/m2, with a similar amount of carbon stored in the CLT. For context, the time to grow back the timber used in this project in European forests would be about 3 minutes.

Engineered timber and hybrid structures have the potential to significantly reduce the built environment’s carbon emissions. To make the most of these benefits, seek specialist advice early on in project design.


To find out more about B&K Structures visit www.bkstructures.co.uk.

by Jim Edwards, Commercial Director of Global Warranties


The market for modular and prefabricated buildings continues to boom, but are we storing up problems for the future that may ultimately cost millions of pounds in repairs and heartache for home owners? According to Global, the country’s fastest growing supplier of insurance backed latent defect warranties, it is a real possibility.

Manufacturers from every part of the globe are now producing and developing more components offsite than ever before with industry estimates suggesting that some 15,000 new modular homes are being built every year in the UK alone – a figure that is rising rapidly.

Every new home requires a latent defects warranty to cover anything unforeseen that might happen between year two and year three. During the first 24 months the builder is responsible for correcting any issues.

It is a system that has traditionally worked well, with more conventional homes seeking a latent defects warranty, being inspected at every stage of the build process. Companies such as Global have a multi stage inspection guide from the moment footings are dug and concrete poured, right up to final delivery, to ensure that each home is fit for purpose.

“The problem is,” said Jim Edwards, commercial Director for Global Home Warranties, “how do you inspect modular components for latent defects? This would require sending our surveyors to every factory currently producing such systems, as far away as China in some cases.”

“This means that while we can inspect the way they are installed, we equally have to accept that offsite components are fit for purpose and have reached the highest possible standard. In most cases this is very much the case, but there is no way of knowing 100% and this is where the real problem lies – without independent inspection at the factories then it is not possible to determine whether we will have to address latent defects issues in the future.”

The market for modular buildings is expected to grow in excess of 6% year on year and there are estimates that the majority of contractors architects and engineers are now designing with or using modules built offsite.

The move to offsite construction has been driven by the need to meet Government targets to build up to 300,000 new homes every year which means that modular and prefabricated components are increasingly being used.

Companies in the UK specialising in offsite construction have an enviable track record in terms of quality and mostly produce components which have been ISO certified or meet all current building regulations and standards.

This means, according to Global, that it will more likely to be imported systems that ultimately fail, possibly because overseas manufacturers are not as familiar with or as aware of building practice within the UK and European construction sector, or simply because standards have been set lower to save money.

“As we know, price is very much a factor within all areas of construction and there is likely to be a temptation to import more and more low-cost building systems,” said Jim Edwards. “They may do exactly what it says on the tin but none of us yet know what is likely to happen two, five or even 10 years down the line and now is the time to ask ourselves – should we be more stringent by having independent inspection processes in every factory that produces such materials.”

There is growing evidence and other industry experts agree that we could be storing up problems. Recent reports suggest that the lack of detailed data on the durability of modular homes in the UK could be a considerable barrier for construction professionals concerned about the long-term viability of offsite components.

Financial service providers, including insurers, mortgage lenders and valuers need to have certainty that modular homes are safe and durable if they are to engage with them, which is why we are now seeing Global and other industry experts calling for the development of a digital database that records the design, processes and materials used in the construction of buildings.

Digital technology would make it possible to create a database that would store and track information about the built environment and would record the materials and processes used. It could also track repairs and alterations in larger housing developments and make sure that this information would be available to relevant stakeholders, including insurers and fire services.

“This will never be as good as a personal inspection process,” said Jim Edwards, “but it would certainly provide more confidence and peace of mind for the entire industry and ultimately for the insurance companies that have to back latent defects warranties – and the time to act is now.”



Could MMC answer the skills shortage? As post Brexit we lose the migrant workers

#construction #construction industry #mmc #skills shortage #bricks #architects #local authorities #contractors #3D printing @eurobrick

In the midst of a worldwide pandemic, the construction industry is doing what it can to carry on ‘as normal’ but with the current climate as it is, along with the UK’s recent exit from the European Union, it leads us to question what the future of Britain’s workforce will hold. However, these major events are not the only influencing factor on the future workforce in our industry. With the rise in popularity of off-site and modular methods of construction, along with a continued shortage of skilled bricklayers and advances in technology and robotics, the future of our industry may be set to change in a big way.

It is easy to see why off-site modular construction has enjoyed such a boom in recent years, considering the many benefits. With increased efficiency and predictability, processes can be performed quicker and weather is no longer an influencing factor on delivery time. It is also easier to manage quality control within a factory environment and there are significant health and safety benefits within such a controlled environment too, which could be particularly beneficial while our country adapts to a new normal of social distancing. A smaller workforce is required, helping to keep costs down as semi-skilled labour is adequate for performing the roles required in a production line. Less disruption on-site can also be a big benefit to some clients, particularly for public buildings such as schools.

Our construction workforce has an aging demographic, which has been temporarily filled by EU migrants but is this changing post-Brexit and during COVID-19? Could modern methods of construction be the answer to the skills shortage? The UK’s leading brick slip cladding company Eurobrick has supplied the modular building industry for nearly 30 years, and in their experience, it could be. Richard Haines commented,

“Over the last few years we’ve seen the building industry take big strides towards more modern methods of construction and products like ours. Brick slip cladding can easily be installed on or off-site, allowing for a real brick finish combined with the associated cost savings of modular construction. Only semi-skilled labour is required for installation of most brick cladding systems which can certainly help to relieve the pressures faced in the coming years due to skills shortages.”

Building Information Management (BIM) is a collaborative approach to projects that uses digital technologies to make planning projects more efficient and give greater clarity and detail for the building as a whole. BIM allows you to embed asset data along with a 3-dimensional model into plans to help manage and maintain assets through the project lifecycle. This is now the required standard for many local authorities and is used by most major construction companies and these type of digital advances will undoubtedly have an effect on the industry, as many apps and digital solutions are developed to ease the pressures it faces, especially during times of restricted movement.



Other advances in technology such as 3D printing, virtual reality and robotics are already playing an active role in the future of the industry too. With some construction companies trialling the development of the first 3D printed homes, virtual reality as part of the project planning process to help eliminate problems before they even arise and robotics that can be applied to any automated tasks, making workers lives safer and freeing up people for problem solving issues instead.

All of these advances open the door to other types of skills and a work environment that will appeal more to younger people and women, helping to broaden the workforce of a traditionally male environment that has struggled to attract these demographics.


Brexit and COVID-19 will undoubtedly have an impact on the way our industry continues to operate, but technology will be the biggest game changer for us all.

You might be forgiven for thinking the Government target of

building 300k new houses this year won’t be met

#construction #construction industry #mmc #skills shortage  #architects #local authorities #contractors #design @jmsengineers #planning


For building firms who were already struggling to stay ahead of deadlines, the Coronavirus pandemic couldn’t have come at a worse time. Sudden skill shortages, site shutdowns and reduced productivity have caused serious (and costly) delays. So with all this going on, you might be forgiven for thinking the Government target of building 300k new houses this year won’t be met.

But for Andy Kenyon, JMS Midlands Director of engineering consultancy JMS, failure is not an option.  “Those targets are important,” says Andy. “Not only to avert the housing shortage crisis, but also as the foundation of the UK’s economic strategy of investment in infrastructure and housing.”

“The construction industry needs to play its part in creating the V-shaped recovery our economy needs. And thanks to our decade-plus experience in working with MMC, we believe we can enable our industry to meet those ambitious housing and infrastructure targets.”


Fabricating a stronger future

 Andy is clear on the opportunities MMC presents:  “At JMS, our ethos has always been to look at difficult problems, and find the required solutions. MMC can not only cut timeframes, but deliver projects on budget, and requires less on-site labour while offering greater sustainability.”

MMC, or Modern Methods of Construction, refers to off-site construction, using factory conditions and mass production techniques. Pre-made modules are then delivered and fitted into place on site.

“Many construction firms still rely on bricks and mortar construction, but it isn’t a great fit with where the UK needs to be on housing. And even less so now that Covid-19 has reared its ugly head. In places like Scandinavia and Japan, MMC is already widely adopted, but we have been much slower to embrace this innovative approach in the UK.”

JMS are veterans of designing structures using MMC materials, and have supported industry manufacturers since 2005.  “Right from the pre-planning stage, we can dramatically reduce delivery times, and still exceed efficiency targets. It’s a scalable process too, and a solid way for firms to enhance their reputation with clients.”



“One of the concerns we hear from building contractors is that MMC relies too heavily on mass production. They worry it can limit their ability to make buildings look different. But it isn’t a one size fits all solution. Take our work with Ideal Building Systems, for example. Over many single and multi-storey projects, we’ve played a key role in creating substructures and superstructures, often for schools. And every design was adjusted to suit the ground conditions on each site.”

“One of the key advantages of our input was all the pre-design work we did before the building stages meant we could incorporate sustainable drainage. And while our pre-planning took more time than with the traditional building approach, that time was more than made back with reduced waiting times for delivery, and the reduction in on-site expertise required. Nobody had to wait for someone else to finish their job before they could get to work, as all that was done in the factory environment before delivery to the site.”

Andy believes Covid-19 may be the big event that finally breaks the UK construction industry’s reliance on bricks and mortar.  “It’s a necessity at this point. This infrastructure and housing needs to be built, and to meet those targets we have to embrace the innovation that MMC offers. Even at the structural design stage, our early input can identify and remove barriers to project completion before they cause headaches down the line.”

“At JMS we have invested heavily in the latest tech and design software, and my team are already MMC veterans, having designed everything from pre-cast foundations and SIPs to steel frames and much more beyond. I am very excited about the places MMC will take the construction industry over the next decade. Not only will we change the landscape, but we will also change the economic outlook for the country. And that can only be a good thing.”

With the introduction of Modern Methods of Construction, maybe Boris might meet his housing targets after all.



It is now almost universally accepted (a few world leaders aside!) that in order to effectively combat global warming caused by CO2, we need to make conscious efforts to reduce our carbon footprint. Given that buildings are accountable for 37% of total UK greenhouse gas emissions (according to the Committee on Climate Change) we have a duty as specifiers, architects and construction professionals to reduce this alarming figure. Joe Bradbury Editor of MMC Magazine investigates:

Be negative!


Whenever CO2 reduction is discussed, we often talk about becoming carbon neutral, i.e. designing or retrofitting our building to use only as much atmospheric CO2 as it emits, leaving existing levels intact. However, approximately 30 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide is pumped into the Earth’s atmosphere from power plants, vehicles and various other industrial sources which are intensively fuelled from the burning fossil fuels. So, whilst going neutral can certainly help the problem, it’s a mere drop in the ocean in terms of fighting climate change.

We therefore need to not only focus on reducing how much CO2 we produce, but also on how we can physically remove it from the air.

Storing CO2…


Elegant Embellishments is a Research and Design-Manufacturing studio, initiating environmental research topics that have the potential to be realized as catalog-ready building products.

They are currently producing smog-eating facade panels to combat the effects of low-level pollution in cities, and are in development with a new carbon-negative material made from atmospheric CO2.

The innovative company designed a smog-eating façade that is a perfect example of how a building can go a step further and actually become carbon negative. Described on the BBC, “The façade is coated with a special paint made from titanium dioxide, a pollution-fighting technology that is activated by daylight. It absorbs the fumes generated from traffic and converts them first into nitric acid and then into calcium nitrate, which is harmless.”

The facade has currently been fitted on the side of a hospital in Mexico City, where pollution is a massive issue. Since being added to the building, the innovative façade has allegedly reduced pollution of around 1,000 cars per day, perhaps resulting in less people needing to visit the hospital in the first place!

Their pollution-eating facade (called prosolve370e) is a decorative architectural module that can effectively reduce air pollution in cities when installed near traffic ways or on building facades.

The modules are coated with a superfine titanium dioxide (TiO2), a pollution-fighting technology that is activated by ambient daylight. Employing a unique configuration of this technology, the tiles neutralize air pollutants when sited near traffic or densely polluted conditions.

As a modification to existing architectural surfaces, prosolve370e essentially “tunes buildings” to respond better to their immediate environments.

The modules have been installed across the globe, not only in Mexico, but in Australia and the United Arab Emirates too.


…Putting it to good use

The eco-friendly facade of the Manuel Gea Gonzalez Hospital tower in Mexico City


Becoming carbon negative is a two stage process; consuming the CO2 is only the first part of the solution. What do you do with the CO2 once it has been captured from the air? Turning it into usable materials or less harmful gasses is the key to becoming truly carbon negative and actually being an asset to the environment.


Atmospheric CO2 is one of the biggest issues of the 21st century… however, as the old adage “one man’s waste is another man’s treasure” implies, it is also a precious resource! We can use the CO2 taken from the air and convert it into useful carbon-based products, such as building materials, pharmaceuticals, fuels and plastics.


Not only do these products help us as an industry, but the very creation of them absorbs more CO2 than we emit, ergo reducing CO2 in the atmosphere. Now THAT is a solution for modern times that I can get behind!




Construction journalist and civil engineer, Bruce Meechan gives his perspective on the challenges, and opportunities, presented by the pandemic disruption.


Many commentators as well as Government Ministers are using the phrase ‘new normal’ in reference to the way we will have to live, work and shop for years to come because of the continuing threat posed by Covid-19: the most globally lethal pandemic since the Spanish Flu claimed millions of lives in the aftermath of World War One.

For those of us who have spent our careers in construction, however, there is a justifiable sense of déjà vu regards the impacts of the virus. Yet again our industry has been at the economic epicentre of a recession that has shut sites, closed companies and cost countless workers their jobs.

While many UK businesses simply told their staff to stay away from the office, for tradespeople who spend their days wearing hard hats and steel toecaps, working from home simply wasn’t an option – you just can’t lay bricks on Zoom. Meanwhile those whose building projects were sanctioned as essential, ran the risk of catching the virus by simply travelling to work – a danger made worse in the capital where the posturing mayor chose to cram people into fewer Tube trains.

Now though, with the infection rate apparently receding, and the longest days of summer upon us, building sites and businesses generally are reopening. What then are the prospects for those of us whose livelihoods are dependent on new build developments, RMI work and infrastructure schemes?

As I count this as my fourth recession since I left polytechnic in 1979 and began work with George Wimpey, I believe there are a number of reasons for optimism.

Firstly, it should be noted that the economy was actually in pretty good shape as we began the year, with record numbers of people in employment, the stock market surging and most businesses in a bullish mood. Even die-hard Remainers and lifelong Labour voters must have felt relief at ending three years of parliamentary deadlock.

For everyone apart from a few Chinese scientists and communist party officials, the Coronavirus came completely out of the blue. Even in February as reports were leaking out from this secretive society, and the early cases were occurring in the West, the idea of a pandemic bringing everything to a halt seemed implausible.

Then the pubs shut and the rookie Chancellor had to conjure up an unprecedented rescue package for the economy. And as we peeped out at empty streets, or cursed empty supermarket shelves, the equally green new Bank of England Governor blithely predicted a V-shaped recovery.

According to economists now, we’re looking at a U-profile and, bizarrely, the Footsie has seen its best three-month rise for a decade, with some ‘green shoots’ emerging globally. In the US – where Covid-19 devastated many states – unemployment peaked well short of the worst predictions, while the IMF fancies China will bounce by 8% next year.

From a personal perspective I can report that not only did hardware stores stay open to service the lockdown lust for DIY, but a lot of independent merchants and small builders barely paused their activities.

Undoubtedly the building industry benefits from a can-do attitude, which shames our teaching unions and professions such as dentistry (for whom infection control should be a given at all times), who have sat back complaining about lack of clarity from Ministers.

By contrast, most of our major housebuilders had begun recalling middle management and site safety officers in May or earlier, to devise strategies for safe working. And while the clothes retailers were agonising over the viability of quarantining any clothes customers might try on, Taylor Wimpey was announcing a £500 million land purchasing spree, and committing to pay back the taxpayer money it had received under the furlough scheme. TW boss, Pete Redfern said: “We have seen robust demand throughout the lockdown and have been encouraged by the continued resilience of the housing market.” Redrow is another top housebuilder pledging to hand back billions.

I was further impressed to hear from Chris Hamlett, the MD of northwest based main contractor, Armstrong Projects, who told me his company had only furloughed one worker: an individual with a long term respiratory condition. Other staff had been retrained to work under the safe distancing guidelines and related restrictions, as well as to cover special inspection disciplines temporarily not available via normal channels.

Not only had Armstrong Projects’ three main sites in Manchester, Warrington and Crewe all continued, but the group has recruited two new employees to help launch a venture called Pod Life; building home offices for customers through the adoption of an ICF system.

The latter is of particular significance, because offsite technologies would seem ideally suited to addressing many of the obstacles which Covid-19 requirements pose for traditional building techniques.

We have known since the Eden Report shone a light on our industry’s failings two decades ago that system building increases productivity, predictability and quality of outcome, while reducing defects and injuries to personnel. Now there is the added bonus that transferring operations offsite and into a controlled factory environment should mitigate the chances of transmitting the virus.

The Prime Minister’s speech at a West Midlands plant this week not only pledged £5 billion to build new schools, hospitals, housing and infrastructure, but to build “Better, greener and faster,” with a revolution in UK technology to the fore. Modern and mainly offsite methods of construction must be the best way to deliver on those promises.

Finally, let us remember how this crisis came about, and where it came from.

The Government is rightly backtracking on involving Huawei in our 5G network – which posed a real threat to national security and access to Five Eyes intelligence sharing – and is also reviewing China’s role in our nuclear energy programme. A direct, multi-billion pound beneficiary of the latter should be the consortium involving Rolls Royce and major construction companies, seeking to deliver modular nuclear reactors for sites around the country, and even for export.

One thing the pandemic and the connected PPE shortages has demonstrated is the imperative for our country to be self-sufficient in essentials; including low carbon energy. I would argue, therefore, that our corporations and our communities should look to UK manufacturers as well as our own construction companies to deliver the properties and infrastructure we need for everyday life to continue: whatever that new normal looks like.

MMC editor Joe Bradbury catches up with offsite expert Brian Maunder, Totally Modular to discuss the current state of the industry.


The housing sector looks bleak; a recent landmark review from homelessness charity ‘Shelter’ stated that we need to build three million social homes to solve the housing crisis – a shameful blight on our country in this, the technological age. Fuel poverty statistics increase unabated, with more than one in 10 households now living in fuel poverty. Regardless of your stance on how we get the job done, one thing we can all agree on is that we need to build more homes.

We need to build more homes to free those trapped in the private rental market and reverse the decay of social mobility in this country. We need to build more homes so that the estimated figure of 320,000 homeless people in the UK today decreases, rather than increases, as it is doing currently. We need to diversify the types of houses we build and how we build them because miles and miles of characterless new builds (some lacking in even the most basic fire protection) will not do. Spuriously ticking the affordable housing box via a loophole isn’t good enough. Britain deserves better.

A major review by housing charity Shelter, commissioned in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster, suggested that an additional three million social homes and an investment of £214bn in a 20-year housebuilding programme is needed to solve the housing crisis. Specifically, the report called for 1.27 million homes for those in greatest housing need, 1.17 million homes for younger families who cannot afford to buy and 690,000 homes for older private renters struggling with high housing costs beyond retirement.

How can we change it?

Modular and volumetric building has been gaining momentum over the last few years and now it is widely accepted that the future will need to incorporate more modular technology to meet bustling demand. Recently, the Government pledged an extra £5 billion to build 25,000 more homes by 2020 on top of their housing target and 225,000 in the longer term, utilising offsite at the core of each build programme. But it still isn’t enough.


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MMC Magazine headed over to the Black Country to meet with Totally Modular Sales Manager Brian Maunder for a tour around their factory and a talk about the industry.

Totally Modular builds houses in a factory and transports them to site on an articulated lorry, where they are craned onto pre-laid foundations. The houses leave the factory virtually complete and can be already fitted out with kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms; they can even have built-in furniture, so are ready for occupancy.

All that needs to be done on site is lower the house onto its foundations and connect it up for power, gas, water and sewage. This usually only takes a few hours and then they are ready to hand over keys to the front door.

The houses are built around a strong steel space frame and can be clad in virtually any building material including brick, render, timber or a mix of these. Thus, they can be designed to match existing local houses, appear traditional or be at the cutting edge of a modern architectural style. They are double-glazed and highly insulated as standard so that they meet the most demanding energy efficiency requirements.

Totally Modular makes houses in several different sizes and layouts. They can be detached, semi-detached or terraced. Further, the company also applies the same design principle to building modular apartment units which can be stacked to create blocks of flats.

Brian also took us over to Dudley College to see ‘advance II’, a new Centre for Advanced Building Technologies. Advance II provides skills development in high level Building Services Engineering, Civil Engineering, Construction Design and Building Information Modelling. It is the first of its kind in the FE sector offering students training in the latest construction techniques.

Much of the curriculum is driven by both industry needs and the Government’s agenda on low carbon – both for new build and retrofitting of existing buildings – to meet targets. The new materials, products and technologies involved mean new skills are required.

  1. Q) Brian, what is the biggest misconception surrounding offsite construction?
  2. A) That it costs less! Modular construction isn’t a cheaper alternative to traditional build, and should not be pitted as such. This type of thinking is actually preventative in delivering more homes using modern methods of construction.

Modular construction is an important part of the solution to how we tackle the housing crisis. We cannot meet demand with traditional methods alone – neither should we aim to.

We should build more homes offsite because it is the right thing to do. Because it generates less waste, takes less time, requires fewer materials, and creates healthier and more efficient homes. Offsite is better for our environment… and the environment affects us all!

  1. Q) In what capacity will modular building best serve to tackle the housing crisis?
  2. A) By increasing speed of delivery and improving the quality of homes there will be a lot less snagging issues. Modular construction is safer too, with less risk of accidents in factory compared to building sites. Less wastage also means better green credentials, and as only ground preparation is done on site it offers less local disruption. Offsite is the perfect method in which to innovate and move forward; it is much easier to implement technology such as Solar PV battery storage into a run of houses made in factory than on-site.
  3. Q) What obstacles do we need to overcome in order to deliver the homes sorely needed in Britain today?
  4. A) The culture of traditional delivery needs to change. Basic ignorance about modern materials and methods that can be used is sadly still rife. Social housing providers are still struggling to commit. Financial modelling is not taking account of the total benefits available or attributing any cost savings as a result of cost certainty, lack of weather delays etc.

The industry needs to stop trying to push offsite as a cheaper alternative and start educating people that offsite construction needs to happen more, it is the conscious and responsible thing to do for the people of our country, and the wider world overall.

There’s room for both traditional and modern methods of construction within the market. They must support one another, not compete. Britain needs healthy homes. Offsite is a big part of the solution.

In summary

Meeting with Brian was refreshing. There’s nothing negative about deeply embracing a problem and trying to understand how we fix it. From my own personal experience as an editor within the construction industry I have witnessed a lot of false positivity surrounding modular construction – which only serves to hold us back as a sector.

E3G and National Energy Action revealed recently that there were over 17,000 deaths due to cold housing conditions last winter and almost twice as many people died compared to the previous winter. Last winter’s excess winter mortality in the UK was the highest since 1976. There are an estimated 250,000 people homeless in Britain today. People are dying in cold homes and on the streets and yet we can create an air tight houses en masse in a matter of days within a factory.

Its time people started putting their money where their mouth is and commit to making things better. Construction needs to change… and begins within.

By Andrew Thomas Chair of the International Hearing Access Committee (IHAC)

The building industry has long been aware of the need to create spaces that are accessible, and now the focus is on environments that are inclusive and integrate everyone’s needs.

Assistive listening technology is an essential part of inclusive design to make sure public buildings offer access to the 1 in 6 of the population who have hearing loss.

With a range of solutions available, and the growing popularity among individual users of digital options, it can be tempting to think that well-established technologies like hearing loops may be out of date and installing them now would be a waste of time and money.

The options

Induction or hearing loops are technology that originated in the 1950s yet despite their age, they still offer the best solution. They are the easiest system to use and the only one which is truly universal.

Specifiers can be reluctant to install these systems for fear they will be superseded by one of the burgeoning digital technologies in the very near future.

That’s not the case.

How hearing loops work

Hearing loop systems consist of copper cables, often concealed around the perimeter of a room, that transmit electromagnetic signals from a microphone or other sound source.

Telecoil couplers are small copper wire coils integrated in most hearing aids and cochlear implants. They pick up these electromagnetic signals enabling the user to hear the sound source clearly, cutting out distracting background noise.

For example, a delegate attending a conference may struggle to hear the presentation because of distance, reverberation and background noise in the room. With a hearing loop, they are able to hear the speaker’s voice clearly.

Their energy efficiency means they can be continually running, giving users access at any time. They are universal so no matter where in the world the hearing aid wearer comes from, they will be able to use them. Loops also have no latency which is critical when following an event where images or actions come together with sound.

Infrared and radio frequency systems are also widely used. These can cover large areas and are easier to retro fit but they do require accessories for the user to receive the sound. Their range can also be affected by bright sunlight, glass surfaces or congestion on the bandwidth the system is using.

The future?

Bluetooth offers wireless communication and its development already gives people with hearing loss a number of benefits. However, these are currently only on a personal level and not for large groups, or one to one situations, in public spaces.

Bluetooth can amplify the television or audio sources for users at home, and smartphone apps allow levels in their hearing aids to be altered with one touch.

But the accessories and the hearing aids have to be compatible and different brands won’t work with each other, making them unsuitable for groups of people.

The industry is working on developing a system that will offer standardised Bluetooth technology to allow people with hearing aids to connect to smart devices.

An agreement was formed between the European Hearing Instrument Manufacturers Association (EHIMA) and Bluetooth Special Interest Group in 2014 to work together towards this.

However, Bluetooth’s development into a system that can serve groups of people in large areas is some way off.

According to the International Hearing Access Committee, a body comprising hearing aid manufacturers and consumer organisations, there’s unlikely to be significant change within the next 10 – 15 years and beyond.


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As well as a consensus of opinion needing to be reached on the preferred system, it would need to be thoroughly tested and then widely adopted before it could be regarded as mature and fit for use. A bandwidth for the signal to use would also need to be agreed.

In the meantime, public buildings need to comply with the requirements of the Equality Act and, ideally, the best practice recommendations for creating inclusive spaces as contained in BS8300.

Hearing loops still offer a simple and effective way to offer hearing access, and installed by a specialist engineer, they transform communication at hotel reception desks, conference rooms, at a retail service counter, in a theatre auditorium or a place of worship.

Planning an installation now, or for years to come, will not be a wasted investment whether for a new build or retrofit.

Totalling 11 million, people with hearing loss constitute the largest disabled group in the UK. And with an ageing population their numbers will continue to grow, so there is a clear business case for meeting their needs.

The wheel may be ’old’ technology but it is yet to be overtaken by hoverboards, jet packs or drones as a superior technology to move things from A to B.



Andrew Thomas is the Chair of the International Hearing Access Committee (IHAC) and the International Hearing Aid Manufacturers Association (IHLMA).

He is also the is the Market Development Director of Contacta Systems Ltd and has more than 30 years’ experience in the sector.

England is short of four million homes. There are at least 320,000 homeless people throughout Britain and over a million on housing waiting lists. Needless to say, the housebuilding industry needs to change. The only way this can happen is if we look in on ourselves and our own behaviour and acknowledge our shortcomings; something that is hard to do. MMC Editor Joe Bradbury investigates.

The bad news is that the UK construction industry is currently responsible for 45% of total UK carbon emissions, 32% of all landfill waste and is responsible for more water pollution incidents than any other industry. The good news is that we have the knowledge, skills and technology to facilitate real change in the world, when we put our minds to it. Implementing offsite construction into the housebuilding sector could be the catalyst.

Waste not, want not

One of the key factors that will either seal our reputation as innovators or sully it indefinitely is the materials we use and how we choose to use them. With an unprecedented shortage of housing in this country, it is clear to see that despite what construction industry doomsayers print, the UK has a voracious appetite for housing that isn’t going away any time soon.

The construction industry is the largest consumer of natural resources in the UK today; a stark point that highlights just how high up on the agenda reconsideration of our building practices should be. The impact of our materials usage on the environment in of itself is staggering; a recent report by Willmott Dixon Group suggested that the construction industry alone is accountable for around 45-50% of global energy usage, nearly 50% of worldwide water usage, and around 60% of the total usage of raw materials.

The benefits of adopting more considerate ways to use materials are far-reaching. Take FSC-approved timber as just one of many examples; manufacturers who use forest products that are FSC approved can do so with confidence, safe in the knowledge that they are helping to ensure our forests are alive and well for generations to come. But the benefits are also far more immediate and closer to home than that; wood is a natural, renewable material, used often in modular building. It offsets our carbon footprint and offers significant thermal efficiency, keeping energy bills low. For the four million people in Britain living in fuel poverty today, building more energy efficient homes using modern methods of construction is urgent. Interestingly, if housing targets were met through timber-frame construction alone, new build homes in the UK would serve as carbon ‘banks’, capturing and storing nearly 4 million tonnes of CO2 every year.

Better for the environment

According to ‘The Waste and Resources Action Programme’, offsite construction can generate up to 90% less waste than traditional onsite building methods. This is largely because a factory is a much more controlled environment than a traditional building site – with far fewer variables

Modular construction offers a greater degree of reusability; buildings can often be disassembled and moved to another site entirely if necessary. They can be shifted and repurposed when required. However, should a modular building find itself no longer fit for requirement as it stands, many of its components can be salvaged and re-used in another project, reducing the need for fresh new materials in each new build. This reduction in materials usage protects depleting stock of resources whilst simultaneously lowering waste.

Offsite construction is far less energy intensive than traditional housebuilding methods. The carbon footprint left by the many construction vehicles and machinery on the site of a traditional construction project alone is considerably larger than that of modular construction. Put simply, fewer vehicles involved and less time spent on site results in less greenhouse gases being released into our environment.

And due to being built away from the construction site, modern methods of construction such as offsite and modular are a great way to reduce and control noise levels, causing less disruption to the environment and the people around it.

To summarise

The positive effects of modular construction on the housebuilding industry cannot be overstated, and with the UK Environment Agency and other government bodies putting increasing pressure on construction companies to reduce pollution and conform to environmental regulations, it is clear to see that change is imminent – embrace the future, build homes offsite.