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Whether it be build-to-rent schemes or garden cities, one thing that has kept pace with new projects is innovation in helping create homes that are both built and run efficiently. Here we look at three construction trends to keep an eye on in the market.

Timber

As sustainability becomes an ever more important topic for real estate – estimated to consume 40% of global energy and responsible for more than 20% of carbon emissions – timber has recently emerged as a more environmentally friendly and energy efficient construction material.

According to the UK Timber Frame Association, wood is effectively a carbon neutral material and timber frame has the lowest carbon dioxide cost of any commercially available building material; with every timber frame home saving around four tonnes of CO2. Adding to the appeal is the fact that timber is the only 100% renewable building material, as well as being capable of absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere.

One fundamental advantage of timber is that it consists of 20% the weight of concrete alternatives. It therefore lends itself perfectly to government and local authority strategies to build more homes – particularly when brownfield sites are unlocked, which tend to have poor soil conditions that can only support lighter buildings without additional works.

Modular

Modular construction has quickly leapt into the industry and wider public’s view with schemes such as Tide Construction’s George Street project in Croydon – the largest modular tower in the world, where Hollis provided party walls and measured surveys advice. 1,526 modules were crane-lifted on-site delivering 546 new homes over the course of just 35 weeks; demonstrating just how quickly projects of this scale can be assembled.

The benefits of building off-site are numerous; from improvements in safety to less reliance on labour availability – an issue that’s plagued construction for a number of years, which now has a viable solution where the bulk of building works takes place in a factory. An efficient use of materials and the automated labour will naturally drive down the cost of home construction.

3D Printing

If there was ever a process that indicated the beginnings of a shift away from bricks and mortar, it would be 3D printing. Houses can now be designed in a studio prior to bringing a 3D printer to site and printing the walls in layers of polyurethane, as was the case in 2018 where Bouygues created the first new home in Nantes, France. The outer 3D printed structure remains to form around the poured in concrete – effectively a double layer improving thermal insulation.

Here too the environment is a winner as much less concrete, and therefore cement production, is required. Contour Crafting (University of Southern California) estimate this technology could reduce CO2 and grey energy emissions by 75% and 50% respectively, compared with a conventional process. One prototype in Bologna, Italy is bypassing concrete altogether using entirely reusable, recyclable materials taken from the local terrain including mud. And in terms of speed, this method could not be quicker, as recently demonstrated by start-up Apis Cor who printed a 409 sq ft house in Moscow in a mere 24 hours.