How offsite manufacture is changing the face of bathroom construction
In this article, James Stephens, Managing Director of the UK’s leading bathroom pod specialist Offsite Solutions, looks at the benefits of offsite manufacture for bathroom construction.
The shift towards offsite across the construction industry is being driven by the shortage of skilled labour, particularly in the South East; issues with consistent quality, and the construction industry’s poor record of on time and on budget delivery. The publication of reports such as the Farmer Review and the Government’s Construction 2025 strategy have both highlighted the need to move more work offsite.
There is now unprecedented demand for bathroom pods – for high end apartment schemes, mixed-use developments, social housing, build-to-rent, healthcare, care homes and hotels. Here we look at some of the reasons why more contractors taking an offsite approach to bathroom construction.
Reduced Build Programmes
One of the key drivers for offsite is to reduce programme. By moving bathroom construction into a controlled factory environment, the programme saving on a large residential project can be as much as 20 weeks. This means a faster return on investment for the developer, less risk for the contractor, earlier occupation for the client – and much greater certainty of completion on time and to budget.
Site-built bathrooms can take 6-12 weeks to complete requiring multiple trades and extensive site management. Typically, 10 GRP pods or 6-8 steel-framed pods can be offloaded on site in two hours for rapid installation.
Improved Cost Efficiency
The use of an offsite solution allows a number of trades to be combined under one contract, reducing risk. This simplifies cost management and cash flow forecasting as the cost of factory works is more predictable and stable than site-based labour and multiple subcontractors.
Labour rates, particularly in the London region, are growing disproportionately to the rest of the UK. Outsourcing bathroom construction to an offsite specialist can realise cost savings.
With in-situ bathrooms, all subcontractors will apply for payment independently and while there may be a fixed price, costs are more difficult to predict at the early stages of a project, increasing risk for the contractor or developer.
Cost variations can arise where additional labour and materials are required to rectify poor construction work. Snagging and remedial works are hugely reduced when construction is carried out offsite.
There is less risk of theft and accidental damage with bathroom pods. For example, the units can be delivered without shower hoses or light bulbs – the two items most frequently stolen from site. These can then be supplied with the last pod delivery to minimise exposure time.
Site-based bathroom construction requires around seven different trades and 10-15 operations plus the required drying times. With offsite manufacture, this is reduced to a single supplier, which means less risk of delays and simplified procurement.
Superior Quality Control
The production line environment of offsite manufacture offers consistently higher quality, and improved productivity. The repetitious nature of factory production means that units can be completed to higher quality standards than on site.
Pre-delivery testing is rigorous and quality assurance procedures are stringent for ready-to-use installation, mitigating defects and remedial works.
Offsite manufacture uses lean production techniques and better management of materials. Efficient processes optimise the use of resources and waste can be designed out. These factors combine to help to reduce waste in the factory to below one per cent.
Safer work on site
Site safety is a huge issue for contractors. Moving construction offsite into a safer factory environment is a key benefit and research has shown that preassembly significantly reduces accident rates.
A good bathroom pod manufacturer will design the pods for fast installation on site, using for example, mechanically-fitted pan connectors and pre-wired junction boxes to simplify electrics.
Connections to services are made externally so access should be allowed for as part of the pod installation and building designers must consider pod installation in the build-up of walls and floors.
There have been significant advances in bathroom pod technology and there is now a wide range of solutions for different building types and site challenges:
- Steel-framed pods – a premium aesthetic with ceramic-tiled finishes and a high level of design flexibility. Applications include large-scale apartments, hotels, higher specification student residences and build-to-rent
- GRP pods – widely used for student accommodation, healthcare, care homes and social housing. Lower capital expenditure and low maintenance.
- Hybrid concrete/steel pods – a concrete base and steel-framed walls for high specification apartments
- Demountable pods – a sectional structure for projects without access for fully assembled pods, such as refurbishments and commercial-to-residential conversions
- Hybrid GRP pods – an enhanced finish and improved aesthetics with ceramic tiling and recesses. Applications include build-to-rent
- Floorless pods – where a continuous floor finish is required throughout or for DDA compliance for floors with no threshold.
Case Study – East Lothian Community Hospital
The new £69M, state-of-the-art East Lothian Community Hospital, which is now under construction in Haddington, will use an offsite solution for its shower rooms.
Morrison Construction, part of Galliford Try plc, is principal contractor for the 22,000sqm, purpose-built community hospital, appointed by Hub South East Scotland on behalf of NHS Lothian.
Offsite Solutions is manufacturing 134 bathroom pods for the project. These units will be supplied without floors to allow for continuous level flooring throughout the wards and avoiding the need for thresholds to make the bathrooms fully accessible.
Designed to meet HTM requirements, each of the large 2.6m x 2.2m pods will easily accommodate a patient and a carer, and will have a wider pre-prepared aperture for two door leaves for easy access. The wash basins, toilets and showers will be pre-installed in the Offsite Solutions’ factory in Somerset and the easy-to-clean, hygienic walls will be finished in white with a feature wall from a range of colours.
The scheme has a complex phased construction to allow the continuation of clinical services in the existing hospital buildings on the site. As a result, the bathroom pods will be installed in batches throughout 2018.
Commenting on the choice of an offsite solution for the shower rooms for this major healthcare project, Paul Godwin, Design Manager at Morrison Construction, said, “Having the bathrooms arrive on site as a finished product gives us the benefit of a significant programme saving. This use of offsite construction also means we need less labour on site, which is safer and more efficient.”
When operational, the new East Lothian Community Hospital will provide a range of community-based services including a mental health inpatient unit, elderly medicine, orthopaedic and stroke rehabilitation, medical assessment inpatient ward, therapy services, outpatients department, endoscopy and minor operations.
Building bathrooms on site can be inefficient and too often causes issues with delays, health and safety management, and poor workmanship which impacts on quality and defects.
In contrast, factory-built bathrooms are delivered to site ready for installation, providing a consistent quality of finish that is unachievable on site. Cutting-edge offsite manufacturing technology and quality-controlled production ensures each pod is delivered to site as a complete, fully tested unit – and this is revolutionising the efficiency of bathroom construction.
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