13th October, 2020

NHBC provide warranty and insurance for around 75-80% of the new homes built in the UK each year. With the recent launch of NHBC Accepts, they now bring decades of expertise and knowledge to the offsite world. We spoke to Richard Lankshear, NHBC’s Innovation Manager, about the new service. 

Q: How will NHBC Accepts drive forward and secure build quality in new homes regarding offsite methods and innovative systems?

Richard Lankshear (RL): As part of the new service, detailed and robust technical reviews at key stages will result in provision of a certificate (and acceptance for NHBC warranty), usage licence for a bespoke NHBC Accepts logo and website listing. We ask manufacturers to demonstrate that their modern methods of construction (MMC) system meets NHBC Standards through a detailed review of the design, method of manufacture, quality controls and onsite construction. We are transparent in our requirements so that all those who live in, lend to and build with MMC systems can be confident in the quality of their homes.

Q: How difficult has it been to develop NHBC Accepts and a more ‘co-ordinated approach’ across the business when dealing with the myriad offsite systems on the market?

RL: The MHCLG definition framework for MMC highlights the broad nature of the products and systems that we review. From fully-fitted volumetric units, to panelised systems to site-based products and building components. However, the principle question remains the same – how can you demonstrate that your product meets our technical requirements? But while the question remains the same, it has meant that we need to be able to interrogate systems built from all common structural materials (and some less common), above and below the ground and manufactured both in the UK and abroad. To do so, I have a team with a broad background (architects, engineers, surveyors and inspectors) and the great strength of NHBC means that we can also draw on the specialisms of others where required.

Q: What feedback have you had so far on the scope of NHBC Accepts from industry?

RL: Since the launch in July we have had over 80 new enquiries which shows the value that this brings to manufacturers. However, what has been really telling are the messages of support from developers, lenders, property lawyers, agents and consultants. There was clearly a pent up demand for NHBC to pin its flag to the mast and declare that we do have  confidence in certain systems but only with our detailed and ongoing review.

Q: Building confidence in offsite systems is essential for the wider client and specifier base – in what areas have you seen a lack of confidence?

RL: NHBC Accepts is intended to build confidence in innovative construction and we do this through a rigorous and robust review. Importantly, though, we are transparent in the way that we do our work, publishing our technical documents and sharing details on our continued inspection once a system is inspected. In this way, we can demonstrate that any system with an NHBC Accepts certificate can meet NHBC Standards and is subject to ongoing review – so homeowners, lenders, developers and investors are confident in the quality of the home using an accepted system. In reviewing systems, we have seen three common themes that are overlooked. First that design should follow established principles. We know how to design timber, steel, concrete buildings – what works and what goes wrong. So just because a home is manufactured offsite, it doesn’t mean we should ignore the lessons of the past. The second area is in manufacturing production controls. To achieve quality, we often see people underestimate the level of detail required for manufacturing production controls, and there needs to be significant time and investment in the design for manufacture and assembly. And finally, the interfaces on-site need to be addressed. We require a clear installation manual foreach accepted system that sets out the method of transportation and erection, detailing all interfaces and ensuring that tolerances and quality checks are clearly set out.

Q: Many offsite systems have been around for quite a while – have you been surprised by the interest and growth of offsite systems in the last 2-3 years in particular to solve housing supply issues?

RL: A couple of years ago we saw a real uptick in MMC systems, which led us to set up a team looking specifically at MMC systems. Although there have been levels of interest in the past, we saw this as different to previous times with the strength of government support, housing developers investing in their own facilities as well as growing interest from housebuilders. This team has been strengthened and forms the backbone of our NHBC Accepts service. There has been growing demand for and an increase in the use of MMC – last year we saw 1 to 1.5% of schemes being registered as MMC; now it’s over 2.5%. What is interesting is the mix of different systems – some are volumetric, but there are many panelised systems as well as site-based and other components. So I’d say the clear lesson is that one size does not fit all – different systems will be suitable for different buildings, location, topography, sizes, ground conditions etc. For us, though it is simple as our only measure is one of quality – does this meet NHBC Standards?

Q: How long does it take to carry out your technical reviews and what steps do you take in assessing suitability of product design and manufacture?

RL: We require all manufacturers to provide a system manual – a comprehensive document that sets out the scope of the system, the construction details and specification and, importantly, the evidence of performance. We also require a fully audited and certified quality management system to be in place that we also interrogate to give us confidence in the product. And after acceptance, we continue to carry out checks, both in the factory and on-site, sharing learnings with manufacturers to help them continually improve.

Q: A recent MoU was signed between NHBC, BLP and MDIS? How can this bring a new level of understanding to insurers, lenders and financial markets? Does there need to be a greater co-ordination between industry competitors for the benefit of a better built environment?

RL: A key tenet of the MoU is a drive towards greater transparency so that those who are working with MMC can understand how decisions are made. NHBC goes a long way to deliver that and we were pleased to have Mark Farmer recognised this. It helps no-one for different warranty bodies to have a different set of technical standards – particularly in the world of offsite manufacture and MMC. It is imperative that these standards can be shown to address potential concerns. Our standards have been developed over
80-plus years and based on extensive data from the UK and abroad and have helped to drive the continued improvement in construction quality of new homes. We are wholly committed to building confidence in MMC and believe that it has an important role in helping the industry and Government to deliver safe, sustainable places to live over the long-term. The MOU will help us all to achieve this and hopefully lead to a more collaborative approach.

For more detailed information on what NHBC Accepts can do visit: www.nhbc.co.uk/accepts 

To view the article along with the complete Offsite Magazine click here 

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