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.
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.
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.