Coronavirus Lockdown? Off-site construction saves the day

By Jonathan Passmore, UK Technical Sales Manager, Helec Ltd

A lot has changed since the UK’s first two patients tested positive for Covid-19 at the end of January. Six weeks later, the prime minister announced a nationwide lockdown, asking the public to stay at home in an attempt to reduce the risk of community transmission.

The lockdown brought many residential construction projects to a halt, especially with the onsite build and installation of plant room energy centres that deliver space heating, domestic hot water, ventilation, and air conditioning services to residential apartments. But there is a clever way to keep things moving: off-site construction.

Off-site construction is of course nothing new, but in recent years, demand for pre-packaged plant rooms has risen – so much so that many projects are already designed with pre-packaged plant rooms in mind. One reasons for this trend is that with a prefabricated solution, there is a controlled certainty with regards to build cost and design from the start, as every aspect is defined in detail. The client can inspect the project, discuss its progress, and know that they will get a ready-made, fully tested hydronic solution that is ready to be installed, set up and commissioned swiftly. Compared with traditional on-site projects, pre-fabricating an off-site plant room can generate substantial cost savings of up to 20 percent (subject to confirmation) over standard build programmes.

Upon build completion, the plant room is put into place, generally in the restricted basement area, and the rest of the building can then be constructed around it floor by floor. Eventually, as each floor is completed, the heat interface unit (which delivers the space heating and domestic hot water) is fitted into each apartment. An obvious benefit of this is that the off-site plant room construction is unencumbered by circumstances such as weather events. Instead, pre-packaged plant rooms are built in a clean, dry, controlled environment, thereby limiting the risk of damage and ensuring that the original specification details are adhered to.

But there are a range of other benefits. Building a plant room off-site means that it can also be thoroughly tested off-site, and any mechanical or electrical modifications can be sorted prior to site installation, thus ensuring full compliance with relevant regulations and reducing installation time.

With off-site construction there are often less build operatives required and therefore fewer personnel health and safety hazards on-site – surely a benefit on any building site today, where social distancing is now a vital necessity. Working off-site reduces any required hot works, be it welding, soldering, flame cutting or grinding. It also reduces the number of deliveries to what is likely to be a busy, restricted construction site, which instead will go to a dedicated off-site location. This means fewer vehicles and less equipment noise on-site along with reduced NOx emissions. This in turn reduces the impact on the local area during the construction programme, as well as the risk of damaged goods by working within a controlled environment off-site. Pre-packaged plat room solutions can be built to any size, from small single section internal units to externally sited enclosures expanding up to ‘multi-module’ containerised enclosures.

In times of pandemic, pre-packaged off-site construction projects have helped to deliver a safe future for the HVAC sector and keep the economy going. Now that developers have seen the benefits, they are likely to continue using off-site construction, even without any lockdowns.