Selling materials for lightweight construction

With growing pressure to boost the number of new homes in the UK, lightweight construction methods, such as timber frame and modular assembly, are growing in popularity. Charlotte Hughes, product manager from Marley Eternit, discusses the opportunities and considerations for merchants.

The construction industry is coming under growing pressure to dramatically increase the number of new houses built in the UK.  While the Government has committed to building one million new homes by 2020, figures show that despite a significant increase in output last year, we are still significantly short of the 250,000 properties per annum needed to meet this target.

To make matters more challenging, recent figures show that the average length of time it takes developers to complete a house has jumped from 24 to 32 weeks, so it is clear the industry will have to diversify its construction techniques if it is to build such a large volume of homes in such a short timescale.  

Housebuilders themselves have been seeking alternative methods of construction to boost housing output and tackle the skills shortage and there are clear signs that advanced construction methods, such as offsite and modular assembly, are gaining momentum.  This is hardly surprising, given the timescales - homes built using offsite methods, such as timber frame, can be built in a few weeks, rather than a few months.  There is also growing interest in the use of timber frame buildings rather than traditional masonry because it reduces dependence on bricklayers, which is one of the trades hardest hit by the skills shortage.

From national housebuilders to housing associations, there are signs of growing investment in faster, advanced construction methods and offsite facilities.  Barratt recently said it will increase the use of offsite manufacturing and timber frames across its business and plans to use timber frame on over 1300 plots during 2017, which represents one in ten of its new homes. 

In the social housing sector, a Chinese construction firm is teaming up with UK housing association, Your Housing Group, to deliver 25,000 pre-fabricated homes over the next five years, with the first scheme in Liverpool expected to get planning permission early this year.  The Government is also backing this alternative construction approach through its Affordable Housing and Housing Zones programmes. 

This increasing use of faster, greener, construction methods means there is likely to be growing demand for lightweight and sustainable building materials, which could be a significant opportunity for merchants who have the expertise and stock a range of products ready to meet this need.

If you look at the roof for instance, when it comes to advanced methods of construction, weight becomes very important.  This is because the big advantage of using a timber frame constructed offsite means that not only can it be erected very quickly on site, but because it is lightweight, the house is much cheaper to build.  The less material used in the building, then the lighter the overall weight and the less foundations required to support the structure, resulting in significant time, cost and efficiency savings on the overall build. 

If your customers are looking to use a lightweight timber frame, then they need to carefully consider the weight of the roof covering.  Fibre cement is a very good option for this type of construction.  As well as being 100% recyclable, it gives a contemporary slate aesthetic that is very popular in new housing at the moment, but at a much lower weight, while still being affordable.  In fact, our fibre cement slates are actually half the weight of our thin leading edge concrete tiles, weighing in at just 20.4kg/m2.  They are a great option for merchants to suggest to any of their customers looking to significantly bring down the weight of the roof, either on timber frame or traditional construction, as they can half the load.

Fibre cement slates can also be installed quickly, whether on site or in a factory as part of modular construction.  The fact that fibre cement slates have just one very robust fixing method means they also have an advantage over many other roofing products, as housebuilders don’t need to worry about a fixing specification and they are ideal for use in areas with high exposure.

One example of this is the UK’s first ‘Eco Town’ in Bicester, which used timber frame construction, together with our Rivendale fibre cement slates, to create the first zero carbon community.

Yet it isn’t just the roof that is important when it comes to reducing the weight of a building, walls are also critical and using a fibre cement slate facade, like our Vertigo system, can have significant savings over brick and block.  Using a block and timber frame with Vertigo offers a lightweight facade of just 283 kg/m2, compared to a weight of 334kg/m² for traditional brick and block - over 15% lighter.

As the housing sector looks towards faster methods of construction, there is a clear opportunity for merchants who have the product range and expertise to help builders and roofers complete homes more efficiently.    Advanced construction methods usually don’t require expensive bespoke roof and facade products, some of the best materials are those lightweight ones already stocked by merchants. Knowledge of the weight and properties of existing roofing and cladding products will help you offer the best advice to customers and make the most of the opportunities.

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Here at Marley Eternit, we are always on hand to offer practical and experienced support. Select an option below or call us on 01283 722588.