BUILT ENVIRONMENT JOURNAL

Showcasing modular construction

A new home is set to showcase modular construction by aspiring to meet the first formally prescribed standard for off-site building production

Author: Joseph Daniels

22 September 2019

Although modular construction is on track to become a significant method of housebuilding, confidence in off-site production is not yet unanimous. This is because it has not been put through the same rigorous testing programmes to which traditional approaches have been subject.

All this is about to change, however, as a forthcoming modular construction standard will set a tough benchmark for developers. Building Research Establishment (BRE)'s standard for modular systems, BPS 7014, will be introduced later this year, and Project Etopia is aiming to be the first to achieve certification under the scheme for a home it is building at BRE's Watford Innovation Park.

The introduction of BPS 7014 represents the first time that performance and verification requirements for off-site systems have been formally prescribed. The standard will cover superstructures and components, as well as ensuring safety, resilience and whole-life performance. It is primarily designed for systems that are not wholly covered by existing standards, and should reassure everyone involved in the building process, from investors to homeowners, landlords and, of course, surveyors.

The certification's details will be unveiled in full by BRE on its introduction; however, Etopia already has a vision for the way that its home will demonstrate the benefits of modular housing while also securing the accreditation and proving the long-term durability of such builds.

Based on the draft standard, it is likely that testing will focus on the home's ability to withstand hurricanes, fires and floods. Modular developers are using numerous different methods to build their homes, and it is important that they are all able to hold their own against the elements. Etopia uses a panelised system, with panels being delivered to the site and the home built in situ. The thermal efficiency of the panels is noticeably better than that of new-build brick properties, with a U-value of 0.13 compared to 0.16 for a typical, well-insulated conventional wall.

"Modular construction has not been put through the same rigorous testing programmes as traditional approaches"

Tests show the panels can withstand winds of up to 744km/h, and this chimes with Etopia's ambition to build these homes all over the world, including environments where hurricanes are common. Etopia also aims to build houses without a high environmental impact. The BRE home will use technology such as solar cladding, triple glazing and a Daikin Altherma heating and cooling system to reduce electricity consumption, generating 70 per cent less carbon than bricks and mortar over a period of 60 years.

In September, we are constructing the exterior wall superstructure in just 20 hours on site – demonstrating one of the other many benefits of modular housing, as such structures cannot be completed so quickly by any other method.

It is crucial that modular housing receives a formal seal of approval from bodies such as BRE as this will dispel reservations associated with off-site construction, such as concerns over comfort, durability, noise levels and longevity. A proven standard that guarantees the quality of modular housing makes this an attractive building method and in turn an attractive purchase. If we can pair low build cost with speedof construction, off-site methods have a bright future, as traditional bricks and mortar simply cannot match their advantages.

Joseph Daniels is chief executive officer at Project Etopia josephdaniels@projectetopia.com

Related competencies include: Construction technology and environmental services

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