Construction is at the centre of a contentious debate which seeks to resolve a fundamental contradiction. How is it possible to meet the urgent demand for new buildings, both residential and commercial, while achieving the UK government's critical 2050 net-zero target?
The industry is notorious for its high levels of waste and carbon emissions, both in the construction of buildings and their eventual use. Traditional methods are under scrutiny as never before and businesses which continue to use these methods are making strenuous efforts to reduce their environmental impact with initiatives such as the use of green building materials including natural and recycled ones.
While being preferable to the most damaging options, these efforts on their own are very unlikely to take the construction industry where it needs to be by the middle of the century. That's why advanced modern methods of construction (MMC), chiefly modular construction, are being adopted at a rapid pace. In 2009, modular construction represented just 6% of the industry and although in the UK, of the 200,000 homes built every year only 15,000 are currently modular, industry experts predict a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.5% for the years 2022-2027.
We have published a blog discussing the advantages of MMC over traditional methods which explains that modular construction has benefits far beyond the practical, financial and environmental. Industry opinion is shifting inexorably to the view that there is no feasible alternative to modular if we are to continue building at expected rates, meet the crucial 2050 target, deliver efficiencies and improve the experience of construction employees.
Recently we held a webinar, hosted by Build Space's Dominic Coyne, which proved to be extremely informative for those who took part. Entitled 'Hard Hats Chat: Women in MMC' its fundamental purpose was to examine the changing place of women in what is still seen as a very male industry, but discussions range widely across several topics and inevitably the broader questions of MMC arose.
The arguments that MMC represents the future of construction, in the UK and globally are extremely compelling. Traditional construction methods can be adapted only so far and it could take decades for any appreciable effect to be felt. Currently, in the US, 40% of all landfill is produced by construction and despite progress towards sustainability, the US Environmental Protection Agency calculates that 88 million tons of construction and demolition waste are still being added to landfill every year. In contrast, modular construction has been shown to reduce waste by 90%.
Among those taking part in our webinar were the industry experts Emily King, Hiba Ali and Victoria Greenfield. There was a consensus that the time has come for the industry to view sustainability not as a desirable alternative but as the new mainstream. According to Emily King: "People in construction are tagging sustainability and net-zero as an add-on. I think over the next five years or so, and certainly in the run-up to 2050, we will have to start seeing that as embedded."
She developed this highly persuasive idea that we have to stop treating MMC as something exceptional which is merely a choice: "Really, zero-waste factories should now be a minimum. What's exciting is these words 'net-zero' 'sustainable' becoming redundant. It's just a building. A building that has incredibly good net-zero and sustainable credentials as minimum. Hopefully, all these things will become moot points. It will just be an increased expectation of all building work."
While sustainability and net-zero are the main objectives driving the spread of MMC across the industry they're not the only benefits. The innovative technology for offsite manufacturing can make construction faster, safer, cleaner and cheaper resulting in homes and buildings that are safer and healthier for the people who live and work in them. As Victoria Greenfield points out: "We are making modular designs the most cost-efficient for meeting the new Health, Safety, Sustainability and net-zero guidelines".
Modular construction improves quality through the consistency of its processes and materials. It also improves the safety of workers who are no longer subject to the risks of conventional building sites. Local disruption around development sites is minimised because instead of having workers on site for months or even years, every aspect of the process apart from the preparation of utilities and final assembly is carried out in the factory. For the same reason, modular buildings go up much more quickly than traditionally built ones. The finished structures also remain flexible because they can be relatively easily altered or augmented.
Hiba Ali is a champion of the new methods: "For someone who has worked for over a decade in traditional construction and moved into MMC, I have found its definitely the way forward. It is becoming part of the mainstream and it will be a key player in the future of construction."
The many positives of MMC were summed up at the webinar by Emily King: "The opportunities are endless. But, we need to get our minimum sorted. Our minimum is net-zero buildings that are safe to build, safe to live in and healthy for everyone."
At Build Space we have made a commitment to help shift our industry away from practices that are no longer realistic or affordable, in the widest possible sense. This commitment is behind our decision to partner with the specialist School of Sustainability on whose Offsite Leadership Council we are honoured to have a seat.
The industry needs a consistent input of fully qualified professionals to take it into the future we recognise as inevitable. Thanks to our close involvement with the school, we are able to offer all our candidates free access to MMC courses which are accredited by the Continuing Professional Development certification service. These courses provide all the training needed in a diverse range of subjects to turn them into experts in the new MMC technology.
The initial modules offered are these:
- Offsite Manufacturing Process
- Design Product/Process
- Onsite Delivery
- Design for Manufacture and Assembly.
These cover the core skills and over time, further modules will be added as we develop what we plan to be the UK's most comprehensive suite of training courses for construction professionals. If you're interested in taking these modules for FREE, get in touch with us on email@example.com.
Is MMC the inevitable future of construction? Undoubtedly - and it's a future that is much closer than you might think.