Are solar batteries a viable alternative to exporting to the Grid? Not at the moment, but the technology
landscape is changing fast

By Steven Dale



Sometimes there are straws in the wind which can make you reassess the way the future of a particular technology or trend is likely to shape up. I have come across some of them recently in this corner of the North of Scotland.

Over the course of carrying out energy performance certification in my area, I have noted an increase – small, but significant – in the number of homeowners with solar PV panels who are buying and installing solar batteries rather than exporting their excess electricity production to the National Grid.

Now there are arguments both for and against this kind of considerable investment in the energy future and, at first glance, it just does not seem at the moment that solar batteries are worth the substantial financial outlay that they require.

But as electricity rates remain high – more than double what can be made by supplying to the Grid using the Smart Export Guarantee – does it make sense to store excess energy for later personal consumption? Are battery adopters simply future-proofing their homes?

For now, the numbers are on the side of those solar panel users who export their excess generation for a financial return of around 15p per kWh. More than 1.2 million UK households have panels on their roofs but the number using batteries is only around 10,000.

This is understandable, since the average cost of a battery is prohibitive for many at between £4,000 and £8,000, and most people will have to buy two over the lifespan of their system. In a typical home, it could take more than 20 years to break even.

But what the early adopters are perhaps seeing in advance of everyone else is that the cost of solar batteries is decreasing at the same time as energy prices rise, meaning that, in the foreseeable future, saving the electricity they generate may well become profitable.

A recent study by academics in Finland suggested that battery prices would need to drop to about one-third of their current levels for them to be a viable investment for residential power systems.

Looking to the future, this is perhaps not inconceivable. There is growing optimism not only for the UK battery manufacturing industry, but also for production world-wide.

By 2030, according to the Faraday Institution, around 100 GWh of supply will be needed in the UK to satisfy the demand for batteries for private cars, commercial vehicles, heavy goods vehicles, buses, micro-mobility and grid storage.

This demand is equivalent to five gigafactories, with each plant running at a capacity of 20 GWh per annum. By 2040, demand rises to nearly 200 GWh and the equivalent of ten gigafactories. As production gathers pace, prices will almost certainly fall.

Depending on circumstances, batteries could make sense for homeowners, and certainly in my part of the country increasing numbers of people are betting on them.

But, like all nascent technologies, solar advances are fast-moving and what may seem like the most attractive option now may be less so a few years down the line. Whatever develops, though, it’s pretty certain that green energy will be better than what went before.


Steven Dale is a Surveyor in the Peterhead office of DM Hall Chartered Surveyors.

Google Trends search data suggests that interest in ‘digital twins’ has grown substantially since about 2016. The concept has also begun to gain traction in the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) sector, and, to a certain extent, has supplanted BIM as the latest industry buzzword. Eager construction technology marketeers have seized upon the term to describe their product outputs as “digital twins” – at trade shows, we have seen exhibitors branding outputs from laser scanning, from 3D photogrammetry, and from 3D design authoring applications as ‘digital twins’. At PointFuse, we are not going to do that. But we do think that our mesh software enables a workflow of information from point clouds to BIM to the ‘digital twin’.

Looking at recent history, the growing popularity of the ‘digital twin’ phrase is perhaps to be expected. The UK Government’s BIM push started in 2011 with a public sector mandate set for April 2016, and the BIM effort plateaued a bit from that point, and businesses began to look ‘beyond BIM’. In December 2017, the National Infrastructure Commission published Data for the Public Good, then, around a year later, the Centre for Digital Built Britain published the Gemini Principles (defining both a ‘digital twin’ and the ‘national Digital Twin’), and a Digital Twin Hub was subsequently launched to bring together major asset owner-operators and agree some common principles. It’s not surprising, therefore, that the term began to become overhyped.

What is a ‘digital twin’?

The concept of the ‘digital twin’ concept actually dates back to 2002 when American academic Michael Grieves used the term in talking about product lifecycle management. He proposed that a digital model of a physical system (for example, a car) could be created as a virtual entity containing information about the physical system and be linked with the physical system through its entire lifecycle. Data could then flow between the real and virtual spaces to keep the twins synchronised.

Today, digital twin thinking, along with new technologies including the Internet of Things (IoT) and high bandwidth telecommunications, is providing sophisticated insights. In Formula 1 racing, for example, Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes F1 racing car has over 200 sensors connected in real-time to pitlane telemetry streaming over 300GB of performance data during a race to the team’s pit crew and the car’s digital twin.

In an AEC context, the Gemini Principles simple definition of a digital twin is “a realistic digital representation of assets, processes or systems in the built or natural environment”, but it makes the important distinction that the digital representation is connected in real-time to the physical twin, and that data flows bi-directionally between the two. As a result, the digital model is updated by data outputs from the physical asset, and the digital model can be used to make interventions in the operation and management of the physical asset.

Why point cloud software can’t produce a digital twin

It should be clear, therefore, that three-dimensional graphical representations of built assets produced through point clouds, photogrammetry, 3D design or BIM are not ‘digital twins’. This does not mean, however, that they are irrelevant. Indeed, they can help to create ‘twins’ – in effect, if you follow a comprehensive BIM process during the delivery stage, you get an operational digital twin software for free.

Today’s AEC professionals are increasingly capturing information digitally for handover to the building owner. Design intent and detailed construction are captured during the BIM processes, but detailed as-built information about the outcomes is also needed. Laser-scanning and photogrammetry help to provide comprehensive, accurate, asset-specific 3D representations of buildings and their internal systems for use through buildings’ life-cycles (including, in the UK, for compliance with new building safety regulations).

With Pointfuse’s mesh software and use of artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies, users can dramatically reduce the onerous processing involved in converting ‘dumb’ point clouds into useable data both for millimetre-accurate progress monitoring and for as-built information handover. Lightweight outputs that are in the same file formats as their original models allow architects and engineers to then easily associate geotagged data with their 3D models in, say, Autodesk Revit, or with other design documents held in information management platforms such as Procore.

Enabling the connected digital twin

In parallel, growing integration of ‘internet of things’ (IoT) technologies into building systems and components, and the exploitation of 5G communication bandwidth, are going to enable much richer integration between the digital models and their real-world counterparts. PointFuse CEO Steve Salmon has explained the opportunity:

“We will have accurate as-built imagery that is directly related to the owner’s original asset information requirements captured in BIM, rendered in industry standard formats like IFC and FBX, and providing a clear route towards an accurate digital twin of the physical asset.

“Above all, we have technologies which are now more affordable and usable than ever, which can be deployed at lower costs, and which deliver significant savings over the lifetime of buildings. With wider industry awareness and adoption, the AEC sector will be in a stronger place to create and manage digital twins for building owners.”




by Steve Salmon

Steve is a seasoned technology general manager who has worked in both software and hardware technology businesses. Starting with a software and service company that helped businesses get on to the internet, through the mobile phone revolution and latterly a consumer electronics solution to keep vulnerable children and adults safe. The common theme being early adopter industries where technology has been the catalyst to change and improved profitability. Having led a number of businesses to a sale Steve joined Pointfuse, a digital construction software 3 years ago to develop a very interesting and unique software technology into a solution that enhances existing workflows in the construction industry.

Offsite construction need not only apply to new build. In fact, this is a common misconception of the practice; one that potentially holds it back from achieving its full potential. As well as offering myriad opportunities and benefits for specifiers of new build projects, it also has much to offer for those specialising in the refurbishment, retrofit or regeneration of existing properties in our existing built environment. MMC Magazine’s Joe Bradbury examines how a modular approach might assist in bringing existing structures up to date to meet modern demand:

Construction is a very diverse industry that includes activities ranging from mining, quarrying and forestry to the construction of infrastructure and buildings, the manufacture and supply of products, as well as maintenance, operation and disposal.

Construction output in the UK is more than £110 billion per annum and contributes 7% of GDP (ref. Government Construction Strategy). Approximately a quarter of construction output is public sector and three-quarters is private sector.

Approximately 60% of construction output is new build, whilst 40% is refurbishment and maintenance. Offsite can cater to both faces of the coin.

Integrating offsite technology into existing buildings

Offsite solutions are already being used in a variety of new build and renovation projects, ranging from hotels and leisure to education and research facilities. However, with the government’s ever-increasing support for the practice, its popularity is only expected to grow.

But why are offsite options gaining traction, and why is the government so enthusiastic about them? In short, they provide high-quality service at a large scale, enabling projects of all kinds to be completed on time and on budget. The demand on the construction sector is constantly increasing, yet the number of projects that are completed on time and on budget appears to be decreasing. This is due to a variety of issues, including tougher restrictions and labour shortages, as well as weather and material supply delays.

When you also consider housing shortages, an ageing population, a rise in specialised housing demands, a distinct lack of adequate student housing and an increase in the number of build-to-rent homes, it’s easy to see why prefabricated solutions are becoming increasingly popular as time goes on.

Offsite solutions are also gaining popularity because they may be planned, manufactured, and pre-assembled offsite, then simply dropped into position for ease and speed in new construction projects while maintaining the high quality expected. This proved to be especially useful in the midst of the pandemic, due to restrictions being more easily adhered to in a factory setting with a smaller team required.

Specialist manufacturers design and build tailored products, to perfectly meet client specifications and these are simply delivered whole ready for installation and fitments or re-assembled onsite quickly and easily for the purposes of refurbishment. Installation does not require skilled labour, significantly reducing time and costs.


The potential of offsite in retrofit projects

Take bathrooms and showers, for example; due to the necessity for wet trades and a variety of skilled labour, from designers to plumbers, electricians, and tilers, they might be the most complex aspect of a renovation job. Prefabricated pod solutions, on the other hand, can be totally customised to fit into any space, whether it’s a Grade II listed manor home, an office building, a renovation, or a new construction. They can be built offsite and then assembled onsite as a complete, comprehensive solution.

Sectional pods are ideal for small spaces, and bespoke designs can be completed from concept to delivery much faster than manual builds, which can be slowed by a variety of factors ranging from late material deliveries to multiple contractors working together in confined spaces and relying on other trades’ staged completions.

Specifiers are now expected to make buildings that are environmentally friendly and energy efficient as part of a larger national effort to minimise CO2 emissions, energy consumption, and waste. As a result, environmental considerations will automatically change how our buildings are built and refurbished, as well as the materials utilised and the methods used.

Traditional construction methods use significantly more energy than offsite construction. A traditional construction project’s carbon footprint is significantly bigger than that of modular building due to the numerous construction vehicles and machinery on the job site. Simply said, fewer vehicles on the road and less time spent on site means fewer greenhouse gases are discharged into the atmosphere.

Environmental concern

Our industry has a lot of room to grow as we make the transition to a low-carbon economy. Environmental factors will change how our buildings are built, the materials utilised, and the methods used. We are on the verge of the predicted ‘sea-change,’ and the time has come for the construction industry to adopt novel offsite techniques to rapidly design better buildings that will improve lives, minimise environmental impact, and lower energy costs for inhabitants for many years to come.

Modular building and offsite construction approaches, in terms of the construction process, give specifiers with programme certainty and quality through the simplification of site activities, while simultaneously lowering weather dependencies due to the regulated factory-based assembly process. Buildings retrofitted using offsite technology have higher specification standards and build quality, which lowers occupancy expenses linked to energy use, faults, and maintenance.

Projects can be finished in around half the time if they are built offsite, under controlled plant settings, using the same materials and adhering to the same norms and standards as conventionally built facilities. The completed modules are brought to the job site and assembled.

To fulfil burgeoning demand and address concerns like fuel poverty and climate change, we need inexpensive, well-designed, and energy-efficient buildings. Sustainable construction technologies and renewable energy are critical components of a sustainable solution, and they can be retrofitted into any structure if we set our minds to it.

Offsite gaining more and more support

In recent years, the government has been extremely vocal about the benefits of working offsite. They’ve indicated repeatedly that they’ll promote long-term collaborations with the industry, exploiting digital technology such as offsite construction processes.

Construction management will see that modular design can be a commercially viable alternative to traditional structures when more projects are completed. Because of their sleek forms and high specifications, they may be employed in a wide range of projects, from high-end hotels to student housing, while still delivering a great return on investment.

In reality, the high specification, unrivalled quality, offsite checks, and minimal upkeep can extend the environment’s longevity much beyond what standard refurbishing procedures can provide, which often necessitate on-going care.

In summary

The construction industry (including the restoration and retrofit sector) has a massive task ahead of it. Take housing as an example: if the building sector is to provide 340,000 new homes a year until 2031 and do something about the 11,000+ homes that have been vacant for 10 years or more throughout the UK, it must evolve to keep up with the changing world.

Offsite should not only be considered when specifying for new build projects, it is applicable in many situations. Let’s harness its full potential.

It is without question that technology is transforming almost every facet of modern life. Our industry is of no exception to this rule. Construction methods are constantly being updated, modified and built upon, pushed into brave new terrain by the latest technological innovations. While the shifting future of the industry remains ultimately unclear, there are some trends that can be tracked, paving the way for futuristic advancements in specific fields. MMC Editor Joe Bradbury takes a look at 5 futuristic technologies that could revolutionise the way we build:

Construction technology trends whilst elusive, will always follow a predictable pattern: how to build faster and smarter, how to be more environmentally friendly and how to deliver a rich and diverse built environment that works for us in a variety of ways. Construction materials and inventions continue to advance; who knows what the future holds? With that in mind, here are some intriguing examples of futuristic materials that we may see more of as time progresses ever forward:

Transparent aluminium

The term “transparent aluminium” refers to a type of aluminium that is see-through.

When people talk about translucent aluminium, they usually mean AION (aluminium oxynitride), a ceramic alloy. However, aluminum can exist in an elemental, metallic form made transparent by bombarding with a soft x-ray laser.

Back in the 1980s, transparent aluminium was famously mentioned in Star Trek. Scotty sought to swap sheets of plexiglass for the formula for transparent metal in a classic scene from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

Science fiction is now a reality, bringing many potential benefits for other future products. Perhaps it won’t be too long until this innovative material is available to and capitalised upon by the construction industry, bringing with it a whole host of new product opportunities.

Smart bricks

Smart bricks are comparable to ‘Lego’ in that they are modular connecting bricks. Smart bricks, which are made of high-strength concrete and developed by ‘Kite Bricks,’ are adaptable and offer significant thermal energy control as well as a decrease in construction expenses. They are straightforward to join and offer space for insulation, power, and plumbing because they are modularly designed.

Aerogel insulation

Have you considered using gel to insulate your construction project? We know that seems insane, but hang in there with us. Perhaps you should.

Although “gel” is commonly thought of as a wet substance, “aerogel” is an entirely different beast! Aerogels are low-density synthetic materials made by draining the liquid from a gel and drying it under specific conditions, avoiding the shrinkage and cracking that occurs during ambient evaporation. This results in a solid three-dimensional nanoporous structure that is virtually entirely made up of air – hence the name!

Aerogel is a flexible blanket insulation that can help reduce energy loss while also saving space in residential and commercial buildings. To achieve optimal energy efficiency, it’s often used for total coverage in walls, floors, and roofs, as well as in framing and windows.

Self-healing concrete

Self-healing concrete is a form of concrete that can fix cracks on its own. Concrete cracks are a regular occurrence due to the material’s poor tensile strength. These fissures reduce the durability of concrete by providing a convenient conduit for the passage of liquids and gases that may contain dangerous compounds. If microcracks become large enough to reach the reinforcement, not only will the concrete itself be harmed, but the steel reinforcement bars will corrode as well. As a result, it’s critical to keep the crack width under control and to cure the cracks as quickly as feasible.

Self-healing concrete imitates the automatic healing of body wounds. Some specific elements (such as fibres or capsules) containing adhesive solutions are poured into the concrete mix to make self-healing concrete. When cracks appear, the fibres or capsules break, and the liquid within them immediately heals the crack.

Robotic swarm construction

Robotic swarm creation was developed by Harvard academics and is based on how termites function. Termites work as a’swarm,’ and construction robots are taught to do the same.

Four-wheeled robots are designed to develop a specific design in each case and are equipped with sensors that detect the presence of other robots, allowing them to collaborate.

In summary

We’ve seen a sequence of building material advances throughout history in the construction industry. These materials, considered radical at the time, affected the way we construct today and influenced some of the greatest architectural accomplishments of humanity. This ever-evolving sense of progress is in itself nothing new, it is the great motivational force that guides us forward into the unknown. There are always fresh, cutting-edge materials, just on the horizon, waiting to propel us forward into a new age of construction!

Part one of an article from Construction Journalist Bruce Meechan examining the UK’s recent energy policy and considers its frailty for fulfilling our rapidly increasing requirements for electricity; as well as to keep homes heated and industry running.    


The current debate on our energy security as well as the spiralling wholesale costs is riddled with contradictions, political point-scoring and predictions of widely varying accuracy. And as someone who has been questioning the UK’s policy direction for the past couple of decades, I also felt it was a profound irony that one of the very first sectors to suspend operations due to unaffordable fuel costs was the fertiliser manufacturers who supply our food processors with the demonised Greenhouse Gas, carbon dioxide.

Cue panic over shortage of fresh food; or as author and columnist Richard Littlejohn would put it: “You couldn’t make it up!”

Contrary to the stance it has taken over the growing number of energy suppliers going out of business, as they are forced to pay more on the world market than they are allowed to charge under the Energy Price Cap, our Government rapidly stepped in to strike an undisclosed deal with the fertiliser companies to ensure controlled volumes of CO2 continued to be available for fizzy drinks and filling the plastic trays most of our meat is sold in.

Predictably, many of those who considered it was an act of self-harm to leave the EU have been quick to blame Brexit for the shortages of tanker drivers, butchers, baristas and any other basics temporarily in short supply. Spiralling gas prices, of course, were portrayed as just another aspect of new found isolation.

What most economists understand, however, is that Britain’s energy problems are deep rooted and driven by much wider, indeed global factors. Unfortunately these are forces of supply and demand to which our reliance on renewables (especially wind) and imported gas, have left us uniquely vulnerable.

The UK economy is back to within a whisker of where it was before the pandemic, and this is – as the BBC never tires of telling us – “Despite Brexit”: which was finally delivered while our world leading vaccine programme was beginning to be rolled out in January this year.

As I have tried to explain in a number of editorials addressing the growing clamour over Climate Change, published since the Millennium, I do not believe my continued scepticism regarding man-made global warming conflicts with a passion for cutting pollution and waste.

Margaret Thatcher was amongst the first to give credence to the notion of Global Warming back in the eighties, and it has rapidly gained traction, despite the fact that scientists have been unable to explain how CO2 levels affect the Jet Streams which actually drive our weather and – whisper it – the 1.5 degree Brink of Doom for global temperature rise, considered by some as an arbitrary assumption.

However, ridding our oceans of plastic and our atmosphere of pollutants like micro-particulates should be a no-brainer for virtually everyone, as is recycling whatever is economically viable. I also fully support embracing new technologies that can reduce our reliance on fuel from unpredictable and potentially hostile foreign sources; providing they do not exacerbate fuel poverty, as wind does now, while forcing us to import ever more gas.

At the start of this month, the percentage of our energy needs being met by gas was 43%, up from 38% a year ago, while nuclear’s contribution has slipped from 21 to 13.5% in the same period; and most of our remaining reactors are scheduled for decommissioning over the next decade.

The current situation regarding the wholesale price of gas having risen 400+ per cent in a period of weeks, is attributable to European pipelines being controlled from the Kremlin, while China (unable to quarry enough coal to feed its ever growing number of smoke belching stations) is buying up the liquefied gas we thought Qatar was committed to shipping us.

Meanwhile, having hit a peak of 25% in February, weeks of calm weather around Britain this autumn has meant electricity from our forests of wind turbines fell to just 3% of needs. And to add to the gloom, all the roof panels and solar farms were feeding the Grid just 3.5% of our requirements, and will continue falling from their summer peak as the nights lengthen and demand increases.

Interestingly, battery packs to install along with PV panels have become more affordable in recent years, but electricity storage at scale is highly problematic. A blaze on Merseyside at one of the country’s 400 active or planned ‘battery farms’ proved very difficult to extinguish and some physicists have warned there is a serious risk of explosions causing widespread damage. Our pumped hydro storage for electricity, and the conversion of off-peak surpluses into hydrogen gas for use later, also make minimal contributions to the teatime turn-on of cookers and kettles.

Fire also temporarily interrupted the 10% we are fed via undersea cables from nuclear stations across the Channel, while the French are currently making noises about pulling the plug in a row over fishing licences. Well, that’s one you really can blame on Brexit.

So what are the chances of the lights actually going out across the country this winter, and what have we got that we can rely on for our power supply?

Back before the Clean Air Act came into force in 1956 to combat the smogs which claimed many lives, coal was used to generate much of our electricity and was also the source of ‘Town Gas’.

The discovery of North Sea gas brought considerable change and our remaining coal-fired power stations have been shut down and dynamited in order to cut carbon emissions: while the giant Drax plant has moved to mainly burning wood pellets imported from America. Interestingly the station in North Yorkshire, which generates some 7% of our power, was recently highlighted as being the UK’s biggest emitter of CO2, even though its biomass fuel allows politicians and dewy-eyed activists to claim it is ‘carbon neutral’. Shamefully, a key element to our back up capacity, which goes by the misnomer STOR – or Short Term Operating Reserve – takes the form of diesel generators.

This chicanery is completely in harmony with the way our heavy industry has been driven overseas by crippling energy costs, causing manufacturing to be carried out in countries like China and India where the embodied carbon will be far worse, even before goods are shipped back to Blighty.

Truly, our energy policy is a mirage of smoke and mirrors; crafted to appease agitators while imposing a 20% tax surcharge on energy consumers, enriching supposedly sustainable technology providers, and fooling the electorate into believing it’s all in their best interests.

The Government has announced its Net Zero Strategy ahead of Cop26, with renewed emphasis on replacing gas boilers using heat pumps, plus further funding for electric cars. However, as Downing Street’s green ambitions remain at odds with the Treasury’s fiscal concerns, detail is short.

Expecting Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s autumn Budget statement to contain broader spending commitments – including greater clarity on new nuclear, and other strategies aimed at making our energy infrastructure more resilient – I will wait till the next edition of MMC to look at some of the potential long-term answers which I am hoping will embrace hydrogen and super reliable tidal power.


Part two comming soon

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

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!