When it comes to modern house construction, people are often confused by the myriad of different approaches and techniques used. Different styles and methods make it seem like there isn’t any universal way to construct a dream home.
For decades, the UK has failed to meet its requirement to build more housing. So, with the growing demand for houses, coupled with the skills shortage in the construction industry, housebuilders are under tremendous pressure to innovate new construction methods.
In addition, the drive towards more sustainable methods of construction is putting additional pressure on the industry.
So, faced with this ‘perfect storm’, how is the building sector responding? Here are a few ways technology is coming into play in the construction industry.
Modular homes are constructed in a factory and then delivered and assembled on site. And, since they’re built in a controlled environment, modular home builders have more control over quality and production than site-built builders.
Modular home construction is particularly beneficial for a large-scale housing development as it allows common parts to be manufactured together and gain economies of scale. In addition, the process easily allows for homes to be tailored to the client’s individual preferences.
Modular home builders may use prefabricated panels to construct walls and roofs, making for an even faster construction process. Some companies even build modular homes out of steel, with everything but doors and windows pre-built in a factory. In addition, timber frames can be manufactured off-site, then assembled on-site in relatively short timescales.
Off-site construction can be faster and less expensive than on-site. Plus, the resulting structure is safer for workers because the site work becomes closer to an assembly operation than a construction process. In addition, electrical wiring and plumbing can be incorporated into the factory build so that tradespeople can spend less time on site. Also, bad weather won’t slow down production in the factory as it could on-site – a massive concern in the UK.
3D Printed Buildings
3D printing technology isn’t new. However, over the past decade, it has evolved tremendously. What started as a way to produce one-off prototypes in the manufacturing world has developed into a global multi-billion-pound industry.
The technology is now used regularly in the medical, automotive, and aerospace industries, but construction companies have now innovated the use of 3D printing in housebuilding.
The concept behind 3D printing is based on building up layers of material into the required finished shape. It’s known as an additive process (because the material is added rather than subtracted) and is highly efficient in terms of material usage with very little scrap produced.
So, construction companies have taken the idea of the small, desktop 3D printer, scaled it up and developed concrete mixes that can be used by an on-site 3D printer the size of a house. Instead of building up layers of molten plastic, the construction 3D printer builds up layers of concrete.
The benefits of 3D printing houses are the speed and lower construction costs. Plus, once the equipment is set up, it’s easy to print multiple homes on an estate. And the best thing is that they can all be completely different.
From a sustainability perspective, 3D printed houses massively reduce material usage and transport costs. And new bio-based materials are constantly being developed to move away from the reliance on concrete.
Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT)
Cross-laminated timber has been around for about 30 years, but it’s only become commercially available over the last few years. Although this construction material was developed in the 1990s, it was only incorporated into the International Building Code in 2015. But it’s now being used in everything from single-storey dwellings to larger apartment projects.
CLT is created using glue and timber. First, each layer of boards is cut at alternating 90-degree angles so that the grain on each layer runs perpendicularly to its neighbour. The layers are then glued and pressed together under high pressure and heated for about 24 hours in an autoclave. This produces an extremely strong material often used for building walls or floor joists.
As in modular constructed houses, one advantage of cross-laminated timber is that it can be manufactured in large quantities off-site. This is useful for builders because they can start assembling houses before construction even begins on site. Having everything pre-assembled also makes for faster construction and easier assembly.
There are many environmental benefits to using wood as a construction material. Although wood is a renewable resource, making it with cross-laminated timber uses less energy than producing cement and concrete. On top of that, there’s no need for heavy machinery during construction because CLT panels can be easily cut by hand. The lightweight nature of CLT also means that it’s relatively easy to transport, which helps reduce carbon emissions.
The housebuilding industry is under pressure to build homes faster and more efficiently than ever before. In response, homebuilders are turning towards new technologies and construction methods that allow them to complete projects in less time and with fewer resources. Some of these new building techniques include prefabricated materials and modular housing, which can be assembled quickly with little on-site labour.
One fact is clear, although the construction sector has ancient roots, it has to evolve by adopting technological advances, which are the key to its future prosperity.