High and Dry

Darren Hook of English Heritage Buildings takes a look at the numerous benefits of dry materials such as timber, as opposed to more traditional methods.

As technology improves, there are an increasing number of construction offerings available. The industry is constantly on the lookout for faster, smarter and more economical approaches, while also keeping an eye on their environmental credentials.

Dry build constructions are becoming an ever-more popular alternative traditional building methods. The concept itself is not new, but the implications and benefits have only recently started to be fully appreciated.

With the housing market growing across the board, and an increased need for affordable housing, the need for better building options has never been greater.

The concept is simple: a dry build engages the same fundamental methods as traditional brick and mortar building, but utilises different materials. ‘Dry’ materials include timber, gypsum board and plywood. When used instead of traditional moisture-retaining materials such as concrete and plaster, the impact on build time, finances and eventually energy efficiency are incomparable.

Wood has a physical quality not available in man-made materials; it provides sound insulation, keeps interiors at a constant temperature and, surprisingly, offers more safety in the case of a fire. It also provides an infinitely malleable and multi-functional surface, affording designers almost unlimited freedom in their work.

The construction system itself is also much more versatile and fast. In fact, construction time can often be cut by up to half when compared to traditional wet construction using bricks and blocks. The implications for housebuilders are immeasurable, as earlier occupancy means earlier income, and bespoke projects can take place with minimum impact and fuss.

The dry build technique also requires much less water, and generates minimum construction waste, making much less of an impact on the local environment.

Not only does a dry build reduce waste and time commitments, the materials used are also cost-effective, more durable, stronger, lighter, and more adaptable, leading to greater flexibility in construction design.

When it comes to financial benefit, the real cost-effectiveness relies on key features such as speed of installation, as well as being low maintenance and easy to repair. The materials are easily optimised, so there is minimal wastage.

Dry build construction is a well-known phenomenon, but it is still largely uncommon. In most situations its purpose is not to replace traditional wet methods, but complement them and create an alternative for builders. When it comes to developing and building aesthetic new homes, dry build is becoming an increasingly popular alternative.

Darren Hook is managing director at English Heritage Buildings