Achieving the Impossible with Chris Coxon

The Offsite Hub Blog this week discusses with Chris Coxon, Head of Marketing at Eurocell – one of the UK’s leading manufacturer, distributor and recycler of PVC-U window and door systems – how offsite construction can solve the social housing shortfall.

The good-fast-cheap Venn diagram says that you can only ever have two out of these three. However, the pressures being placed on today’s construction industry makes it feel like all three of these things have to be achieved while simultaneously being packaged in with sustainability, longevity, aesthetics, safety and security.

This is especially true for social housing developments, which need to be built quickly and in large numbers to meet a national shortfall, while simultaneously complying with strict regulatory guidelines. Increasing the provision of housing was a key theme in the government’s recent budget, which promised £12billion to extend the Affordable Homes Programme.

This drive for more social housing is not just a government requirement but is also a demand coming from the country’s tenants. Indeed, when we asked 1,000 consumers about their priorities for the homes of tomorrow, over one-in-four said that social housing should be a significant priority within the UK’s housing mix.

Offsite construction provides some key advantages to the social housing sector. By embracing standardised factory processes and modularisation it’s possible to make sure that large quantities of high-quality building materials can be created, transported and installed quickly without sacrificing on functionality or performance. By utilising economies of scale this also means that savings can be achieved – therefore completing the third wheel in the impossible Venn diagram.  

The ability to combine longevity with low-cost, easy installation is a particular asset for developments that require long-term payback rather than quick turn-around sales, which again feeds into the suitability of offsite construction methods for social housing.  

This focus on maximising value without cutting on quality was a key theme in the Chancellor’s newly announced plans. In the recent budget, an interest rate cut was announced for lending on social housing in order to make more than £1billion of discounted loans available for local infrastructure. The timescale advantages of offsite construction methods also make it all the more relevant, as a target of nearly 70,000 new homes has been set for high-demand areas across the country. Without increasing productivity and speeding up the building schedule, it’s going to be very difficult to meet this goal.

At Eurocell, we know that the window and surrounding framework is a good example of how offsite construction methods can benefit building projects. Fully glazed and finished window systems can be connected to the cavity barrier within the factory and then the whole assembly is taken to the building site in one piece and inserted directly into the building’s frame.

By packaging multiple building components together into one system, specifiers can reduce the amount of time they spend shopping around from different sources. In addition, suppliers can guarantee that whole chunks of the building conform to building regulations, as they know exactly what’s gone into it and what it’s certified for. Proving that not only one product, but also the several dozen other products connected to it, will deliver on the project’s long-term needs, takes away a lot of the uncertainty and risk during the purchasing decision. This means that offsite methods not only speed up the building process, but also make the design and planning stages move at a quicker pace.

We are seeing all these factors combine to make offsite solutions increasingly popular within the specification of building materials for newbuild and refurbishment social housing projects. Moving forward, it’s important that the construction industry innovates to provide the offsite building materials that developers will need to make sure that the next generation of social housing sits in the middle of the government’s timeline, standards and budget Venn diagram.  

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