Offsite, on-trend

The ongoing shortage of housing in the UK has lead to a resurgence in modular construction. Richard Haines of eurobrick considers the benefits of brick slip systems in this context.

Without doubt, speed of delivery has to be one of the most important considerations for the modular building sector. Brick slip cladding systems are both quick and easy to install, with some only requiring the use of semi-skilled labour.

The ability to install cladding off-site during the manufacturing process is of key importance. This reduces onsite operations, which can be costly, subject to other scheduled site activities or delays, and (particularly significant in the UK) be at the mercy of the weather.

The ongoing skills shortage in the construction industry is a real concern, and in a sector that is expected to grow in the coming years, reducing dependency on traditional skilled labour will be a plus. As mentioned, some brick slip systems can be assembled by semi-skilled labour, which could help to ease labour pressures, both in terms of finding workers and the associated costs.

Benefits

Brick slip cladding systems are generally light-weight and do not require the foundations associated with traditional masonry. This helps to simplify the design of foundations and reduce costs compared with traditional brickwork. Cladding can also be fitted to a number of different substrates, including timber and steel frame.

A well-designed cladding system offers a level of product consistency that is essential in the modular construction industry and vital for mass produced buildings. In a controlled factory environment, an installer should be able to fix at least a square metre of system per hour, however this can vary from system to system.

Third party product certification may be required by the client, but not all available brick slip systems have been rigorously tested and certified. Modular companies should always request confirmation of certification from the cladding supplier.

Quality brick slip cladding is robust enough to withstand the stresses of being lifted, transported to site on the back of a lorry and craned into position. A modular building that can be delivered to site, and that does not require substantial exterior finishing works, is a major benefit. It costs money to have installers and builders working away from home, so the less time spent onsite the better.

Another benefit is durability. When offering a modular housing package to clients, longevity of the product will be an important consideration, including the required external finishes. Kiln fired clay brick slips weather and age in the same way as conventional brickwork, and brick slip exteriors require little to no maintenance. It is important to note however that the life span of different cladding systems may vary, and they should be checked with the suppliers.

Aesthetics are also a key consideration. Brick finishes remain popular, particularly in British architecture and design, and in many areas may be the vernacular building material. It is often part of planning requirements that a new housing development must use bricks, or a particular colour or type of brick, to fit in with the surrounding area. For modular housing developments, it would not be viable to achieve this with traditional construction techniques for all the reasons outlined above.

It is possible to build an outer skin using standard bricks, but this would have to be constructed onsite once the building has been delivered, which would negate many of the benefits of offsite construction.

Aesthetics

The brick slip market has grown significantly in recent years and there is now a wide selection of manufactured brick slips and corners available. Manufactured (extruded) brick slips are competitively priced and generally enjoy a reliable supply chain. In addition to extruded slips, it is also possible to have brick slips cut if a specific brick has to be sourced, although this is a more costly option.

The extent of brick colours and textures available means that most aesthetic designs are possible. Brick slip cladding systems are flexible and may be used in conjunction with other cladding systems such as timber and render. This means that a mixed pallet of finishes, popular for creating a contemporary look, is achievable. It is also possible to add layers of insulation for better thermal performance, and the slip profile means that the overall thickness of walls is reduced. This flexibility appeals to modular builders as they can offer a greater selection of finishes to their clients, giving a development a more bespoke feel.

There are many benefits to using brick slip cladding when constructing housing offsite. The opportunities and quality products are there, and cladding allows you to achieve a real brick finish within an energy efficient modular design, without compromising on the speed of delivery. This all puts brick slip cladding in a prime position to make a positive contribution to the modular construction industry.

Richard Haines is general manager at Eurobrick