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Sustainability: the new trend in construction?

12 Sep 2018

In the past five years, the question of sustainability has become a key one within the construction industry. The government has invested millions of pounds into supplying Britain’s growing population with the homes that they need, reaching an eight-year record in 2018, with 217,000 new houses built. The impact of this new housing policy will undoubtedly have a significant effect upon the environment, especially the green belt around London. 

Given that the built environment accounts for 45% of total UK carbon emissions, something needs to be done to ensure a sustainable future for the industry, and for the country, whilst also ensuring that the UK’s building boom isn’t slowed down. 

Fortunately, advances in technology are giving rise to a new trend within the construction industry: sustainability. Through thoughtful planning, smarter design, and the use of brand new materials and technologies, builders can streamline the building process and create houses that minimise their impact on the environment. This is a trend that shows no sign of going away any time soon; indeed, it’s already having an impact at every level of the industry, and throwing up some innovative new solutions along the way.

Designing smarter

The winds of green change sweeping through the construction industry started during the design process. New technologies have been leading the way for architects and construction engineers, especially with the use of BIM, or Building Information Modelling. Though the technology itself has been around for a decade or more, it’s really coming into its own now as a way for architects to build more efficient designs. Essentially, it’s a virtual representation of a building which can be accessed as a shared resource, and it is updated at every stage of the project to create an up-to-date design that takes into account everything from the geometry of the building to product properties, like thermal performance.

As a result, architects can build more accurate buildings, check for risks earlier, and create more efficiency during the design and construction process, reducing waste in the form of last-minute reworking or adjustments, and reducing the time that construction teams use power-hungry machinery and tools. Furthermore, the way that BIM takes into account electrics, building materials and even plumbing gives the architect the freedom to design buildings that are both viable and sustainable, safe in the knowledge that the design has been pre-tested in the cloud.

It’s not just BIM that is taking centre stage in the greener recruitment process, either: the UK market for modular buildings increased by 6% in 2017, and for good reason. Modular construction projects have skyrocketed in popularity in the past few years, reducing build time by 30-50%. Modular construction uses prefabricated ‘modules’ to construct the building from scratch, from cleaner materials. The ease of construction and the fact that very precise quantities of materials are used makes for less waste, whilst modular construction can easily incorporate items like recycled materials, LED lighting and sustainable materials. They can even be altered to incorporate renewable energy sources, including solar panels and a geoexchange system, creating a ‘zero-net’ building which use a minimum of energy from the grid. 

The result? Increased energy efficiency, a reusable building and an improved IAQ. When it comes to design, smarter really does mean greener.

Going green

The market for greener materials in construction is mushrooming, and is predicted to reach $364.6bn by 2022 as construction firms rush to ‘green up’ their building processes. At the top of the list are renewable materials like sustainably harvested timber, recycled plastic lumber or recycled materials like tyre chippings, for which a thriving market has blossomed. Even the two mainstays of the industry, concrete and steel, have been upgraded via more streamlined manufacturing processes which have reduced greenhouse emissions. Even better, the increased trend towards prefabrication also allows for a faster and better recycling process when the building is taken apart. This is leading a trend towards ‘circular construction’ which aims to recycle some of the hundred million tonnes of waste generated by the construction industry in the UK every year: more than one third of the UK’s annual waste. 

That’s not all: manufacturers are also turning to ‘smart’ materials to give their construction projects an extra edge. This includes everything from fireclay tiles, which are much better thermal conductors than normal roofing tiles, to 3D printed cladding, which was used in the cladding for the recent 6 Bevis Marks office project in London. Fusing layers of powdered nylon together, the end result is cheaper, faster less wasteful than traditional steel-plate options.

From drones to dishwashers
 
The technology used to revolutionise the design process also has a huge potential in the construction site. From smart appliances used within the house like energy-saving dishwashers, or Smart glass which works to shut out solar radiation and heat, there are plenty of things that can be done to improve sustainability construction. 

However, two developments that look to have the biggest impact may well be drones and 3D printing. Small and versatile, drones are being used for everything from carrying out construction site inspections to measuring the accuracy of the build. Given the right instructions, it can also provide people with up-to-date information on the site, via thermal imaging and laser scanning, reducing the risk and thereby resulting in a more efficient build. At the same time, 3D printing is widely being touted as the future of construction, thanks to its versatility and low-waste approach. 

One thing is for certain: in the ever-changing world of construction, sustainability is more than a trend. It’s the new normal.

Going greener at PSR Solutions

At PSR Solutions, we pride ourselves on keeping ahead of the curve, especially in the fast-changing construction sector. Join the sustainable revolution: explore our building jobs, or browse our blog for more insights into the industry.