Overcoming the housing crisis through diverse housebuilding
For UK housebuilders, 2022 has already been a difficult year. From government instability, supply chain disruptions, and just about everything increasing in price, it’s not the rosy post-pandemic we’d hoped for, says Phil Cox, Director, MPA Masonry.
The raft of ministerial resignations over the summer hasn’t helped matters, with another housing minister leaving their post as quickly as they arrived. Yet despite these immediate problems, there are still longer-term issues that need to be addressed – such as good-quality, sensibly priced housing.
Even though there has been plenty of endeavour over the past ten years to mitigate the shortage and increase our housing stock, many of the alternatives have been innovative yet somewhat unrealistic and costly. All of which have culminated in a state of relative stagnation and inactivity.
Nevertheless, there is a way forward, and the solution may be closer to home than we think.
An answer to supply chain issues
With the conflict still ongoing in Eastern Europe, the ripple effect is now being felt throughout all areas of construction, driving up material prices as they become more difficult to obtain. This, along with labour shortages, has had an impact on the number of projects being delivered on schedule.
However, masonry can step in and offer a short, medium, and long-term solution to the issue of unsettled supply chains. Due to its local nature, it’s estimated that any active site in the UK is only 40 miles from a masonry manufacturer or builders’ merchant. What’s more, as the materials are supplied in raw form, they can be sourced regionally, often close to the manufacturing facilities.
The UK is experiencing increasingly volatile weather patterns, so finding materials that can withstand both extreme heat and wet, cold winters are now more important than ever.
Masonry and passive solar design (PSD), for instance, is one of the best ways to guarantee the best possible fabric performance, warming the foundation of a building and minimising the need for any additional heating during colder months. Due to the material’s weight, it’s also capable of absorbing solar gains, which when utilised in tandem with passive HVAC, contributes to the year-round maintenance of acceptable temperatures.
As we look to maintain comfortable temperatures to reduce inflated energy bills, modern masonry offers a solution.
Safe, dependable, resilient
With updated changes to Building Regulations and fire safety guidelines coming into play, housebuilders must prioritise occupant safety.
Masonry comfortably delivers on the above as a safe building material – being flame resistant, non-combustible, and able to withstand extreme heat, it’s an obvious option for cavity wall construction, particularly in block form.
Additionally, it can be specified in accordance with Approved Document B, resulting in a sealed chamber for insulation, lowering the risk of fire and acting as an efficient moisture preventative, which is important given the increased risk of flooding. Furthermore, there is a reduced chance of deterioration or collapse because of its enhanced structural stability.
Net Zero 2050 is an imminent target, and housebuilders and the wider industry must now prioritise sustainable building practices. Since concrete blocks are 100% recyclable, circular production is possible. Likewise, there is active research being done on the use of waste materials in concrete products, such as PFA (Pulverized Fuel Ash) and FBA (Furnace Bottom Ash) to further its green credentials.
These strategies, as well as ongoing R&D, show how blocks’ carbon footprint can be greatly reduced, giving them a fresh lease of life by using less cement. These types of solutions have less of an impact on the global supply, which assists in increasing building productivity to meet tough housebuilding targets.
Using what we know
By turning to materials that we already have at hand, we can provide answers to some of the sector’s most pressing issues. We’re also short of time – the climate emergency is immediate and with a widespread shortage of homes, we need tried and tested methods that can allow us to build quickly whilst considering the environment.
If the sector is serious about tackling the housing crisis, there’s no doubt that we need a more consistent approach from government. 12 housing ministers within a 12-year time frame isn’t the key to success, and now more than ever we need stability and direction on the topic of housebuilding.
Ultimately, what’s needed is a more versatile approach, and in today’s marketplace, we need to play to our strengths. We’ve seen how resilient the construction industry can be, but now it’s about taking stock and making sensible decisions until we’re able to ride out the storm.
MPA Masonry is the industry body that represents the manufacturers of concrete blocks. MPA Masonry also provides information to housing developers, designers, housebuilders, end-users and occupants to enable them to understand the benefits of masonry construction and how masonry contributes to a sustainable built environment.
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