A thought article on sustainable building, written by Julie Lewis-Thompson (University of Exeter), Matt Bennion (Shades of red10), Matt Eames (University of Exeter), Antony Darby (University of Bath), David Coley (University of Bath), Paul Ruddick (Shades of red10), Stephen Allen (University of Bath), Nazneen Khan (University of Bath).

After a long history of false dawns, modular construction has finally moved from the often tainted view that such buildings are a temporary solution or inadequately aesthetically designed, to wider acceptance as a solution to the many challenges associated with providing adequate housing and work are connected spaces and the support of the social infrastructure for a growing population. The turning point came with the government’s adoption in favor of off-site building and with many major technological advances.

The construction industry must “modernize or die”

The breakthrough came from the ability of modular design, multi-skilled labor, standard details and off-site manufacturing along with on-site preparation to achieve significant reductions in construction programs and quality control in a factory environment and some of the critical shortcomings of the The construction industry was highlighted in Mark Farmer’s 2016 report “Modernize or Die”.

“While this is a significant achievement, the construction industry fails to consider, plan, deliver and support end-user needs and is still using too much energy and CO2 in the delivery of new buildings,” says Matt Bennion CEO, Reds10.

The construction industry, referred to as the “silent sector” in the Waste and Resource Action Program (WRAP), is one of the largest consumers of natural resources, consuming 400 million tons of material annually and producing 100 million tons of waste – one third of the total annual waste of the United Kingdom.

This is where the modular off-site construction comes into play, in order to accelerate sensible and cost-effective measures to avoid waste, to reduce energy consumption and the CO2 balance as well as to improve user-friendliness.

Why, you might ask? At first glance, traditional building and modular off-site are made up of the same elements: a steel frame, concrete floor, roof, windows, etc. Basically, however, traditional building projects tend to be prototypes every time, while modular off-site building creates one Product whose material, design, transportation, embodied and operational energy can be optimized around a number of standard details and materials. Matt comments, “The speed of production with a new building every 4-6 weeks means that construction details, materials and manufacturing processes can be continuously improved and new technologies can be used, tested and scaled.”

Take airtightness as an example. The company’s own production environment already offers a very high level of performance, with modular buildings regularly achieving values ​​of 3 m3 / h / m2 and meeting passive house requirements without any special additional measures. With the ability to continuously improve standard details such as bay windows and potential cold bridges in the production line, modular buildings can achieve an improved level of performance without incurring additional costs.

Introducing innovations to accelerate eco-efficiency and sustainability in construction

The same applies to Embodied Carbon, where the continuous improvement of standard details and the integration of central supplier information enrich the level of detail available in the BIM model and enable a more intelligent configuration of buildings with lower Embodied Carbon. This approach has allowed Reds10 to reduce the embedded carbon in a number of MoD housing blocks by 32% compared to the first iteration of the building at no additional cost. “By treating each developed building as a prototype for the next, continuous feed-forward and product development can occur while introducing widespread innovations to promote eco-efficiency and sustainability as part of a cradle-to-cradle solution for the construction industry to accelerate “says Dr. Antony Darby of Bath University.

In addition, the process-oriented character of the modular design enables continuous improvement of the production, pre-assembly and assembly processes themselves, which leads to an increase in the workload in the factory and a significant reduction in program times and rejects on the construction site.

Gathering information on the performance and use of the buildings while they are in operation can further accelerate such developments. Matt says, “The modular design is ideally positioned to take advantage of SMART sensors and controllers quickly and leverage the power of the data collected to ensure buildings continue to operate carbon-free, have redundancy in future projects, and in both maintenance and service When it comes to finishing, the user experience is optimized. “

Net carbon free buildings

The programmatic delivery of modular buildings provides a living laboratory where real performance can be better understood and improvements can be leveraged and incorporated quickly on a large scale. Antony comments: “Over time, insight into the use of buildings can lead to automation of building controls around human factors and changes in both the internal and external environment.”

In this way, SMART Controls can close the performance gap created by people and their use of buildings and building systems. Imagine a building that reacts to user behavior, with subsequent effects on the environment, user satisfaction and health and well-being, for example by improving the air quality in response to physical activity or increased user numbers, or by heating and cooling as required if there are changes in usage patterns respectively.

The UK construction sector was worth $ 110 billion in 2019 and the government aims to have the off-site construction sector designed and built at $ 28 billion by 2025. This industry shift will come from a new generation of innovative modular vendors working with university researchers to develop sustainable solutions that relieve construction and operating cost pressures, address the scarcity and availability of new materials, and leverage technology to deliver an unparalleled user experience.