The future of housebuilding

The United Kingdom is experiencing something of an upturn in the housebuilding industry, which has created a positive feel for those involved in the market. According to the Telegraph construction companies in the UK witnessed their best year for a decade in 2017, with over 200,000 new houses being built. These good times are expected to continue into 2018, further boosting the positivity currently running through the industry.

The housebuilding numbers will no doubt be good news for Prime Minister Theresa May, who has been encouraging housebuilders to increase the number of residential properties they build per year. Chancellor Philip Hammond’s budget from November 2017 set out her target for the housebuilders as being 300,000 new homes a year, a target that is considered to be a good starting point among industry experts to try and reduce the threat of a full-on housing crisis.

Housebuilders will need all the help they can get to hit the target set by the Prime Minister, and that help could be on the way. The industry is seeing many new innovations which not only speed up the rate at which houses are built, but also, innovations that prove to be cost effective solutions. These innovations, ranging from raft foundations to robot builders, are likely to be the future of housebuilding in the UK.

Robotics have become prominent in many industries, however construction has lagged behind in introducing robots to their processes. With the need for more homes, some countries have turned to robots to help produce residential properties more efficiently and at a cheaper cost. The SAM100 from Construction Robotics, based in New York, is a robot that can lay 3,000 bricks in an eight-hour shift, which is very impressive when compared to a human who can only lay around 300-600 bricks in the same time period. The Semi-Automated Mason would work in conjunction with a human mason, runs along a track and increases the accuracy as well as the productivity.

Another robot builder comes in the form of the Hadrian X, from Fastbrick Robotics, an Australian tech company. The Hadrian X is a truck-mounted robotic arm that has the ability to lay 1,000 bricks an hour. It has a 30-metre arm which allows it to stay in the same position throughout the construction of a house. While the SAM100 uses traditional mortar between two bricks, the Hadrian X actually uses construction glue and is smart enough to leave gaps in the brickwork that are big enough for wiring and plumbing. While these robots have begun to produce houses in the US and Australia, the UK have yet to use these new technologies, although they are expected to start in the UK in the near future.

The future of housebuilding materials looks incredible thanks to the discoveries made by modern science. Carbon nanotubes are one such material and they are thinner than a strand of human DNA, with a nanometre being one billionth of a metre. Carbon nanotubes possess the highest strength-to-weight ratio, greater than any other material on Earth and when added to other building materials, they help to add density and tensile strength.

Self-healing concrete has become a subject of interest in the industry, with its benefits not only seen in the construction industry, but also an effort to save the planet. Five percent of global carbon emissions are produced from worldwide concrete production, with concrete being the most commonly used construction material in the world. Production of concrete could be reduced thanks to the University of Rhode Island, who have developed a “smart” concrete with the ability to “heal” itself. This type of concrete would see tiny capsules of Sodium Silicate embedded into the mix and when the concrete cracks, the capsules would rupture and a gel-like healing agent would be released into the void and would harden to repair the damage.

Another potential future construction material is Aerogel Insulation, which is virtually weightless and possess “super-insulating” properties. Aerogels happen to be one of the least dense substances on Earth, yet with their “super-insulating” properties, they are make it difficult for heat to pass through. Once the cost of such materials reduces, expect to see them appear in more and more new builds.

Raft foundations, like that of the Housedeck foundation from Abbey Pynford are already beginning to be used in the UK housebuilding industry. Raft foundations are a proprietary foundation system that replaces the need for the traditional types of foundations that have long been used for housing such as strip or pile and beam foundations. These new foundations systems have a faster construction time and are less likely to succumb to weather delays. The Housedeck foundations are pre-approved, meaning they have met all of the requirements from the relevant bodies.

With the foundation and floor slab being combined, the raft foundations save both time and materials, while there is also less excavation required. They can be used on poor ground conditions as they spread the load more effectively than a more traditional foundation. This provides a solid solution for housebuilding in the present day while also being a foundation that can be chosen more frequently for future projects.