MMC and timber systems are perfect partners for housebuilders amid UK’s ongoing shortage

Debi Lama at Stewart Milne Timber Systems discusses how modern methods of construction and timber frame can benefit housebuilders and developers and provide fast, dependable solutions.

London & Quadrant Housing Trust (L&Q) is a charitable housing association and one of the UK’s most successful independent social businesses. The L&Q Group houses around 250,000 people in more than 95,000 homes, primarily across London and the South East.

The UK is undoubtedly experiencing a housing shortage epidemic, from a lack of stock to routine stories of prohibitively high house prices, and young professionals being unable to get onto the property ladder.

There are thought to be a range of factors involved – an ageing population and increasing numbers of one-person households are recurrently pinpointed – but definitive explanations remain elusive and they typically fail to address the essential underlying issue of a further 120,000 homes being required annually.

Likewise, there are many compelling solutions being put forward, but few are actually capable of meeting this huge shortfall.

Developers are under pressure to deliver projects profitably – and fast – while overcoming skills shortages, meeting environmental demands, and heightening efficiencies. This is where MMC comes into play with the ability to accelerate speed of build.

MMC can tackle this specific challenge, including the ability to quickly produce large volumes of timber frame used to create the main structural shell and to exacting standards.

Industry reports signal a greater focus on disruptive methods of construction for new developments, with the UK government supporting the use of modern building methods by favouring the viable and effective solution that is offsite construction.

Timber frame and offsite construction ensures that an exceptionally high-quality build is delivered on time and in full every time.

The benefits of MMC guarantee quality and performance standards are met consistently. Furthermore, throughout the construction and delivery phases, a partnership approach emerges as the design, engineering and technical teams work with developers and contractors collaboratively from the initial design concept and development through to manufacture, delivery and construction on site – crucial to ensuring high quality output and realising cost benefits.

Over the course of the last few years, L&Q has been working to fully understand the benefits of MMC and has demonstrated its drive to find a solution to realise its ambition of building 100,000 homes over the next 10 years.

L&Q want to see all of their new build homes delivered by some form of MMC by 2025, and ultimately, to build an entirely off-site manufactured home by 2028.

L&Q chose a timber frame closed panel build system for precision-engineered, quality and high-performance homes. It found that this represented a smooth transition from the more standard methods of building that it had been involved with previously, and that in turn convinced L&Q that its strategy of building more homes using modern methods of construction and timber frame was a successful one.

L&Q is committed to procurement based on whole-life costing and low-carbon considerations – a significant factor in its decision to choose a timber frame solution as part of its drive to embrace modern methods of construction.

Indeed, they discovered that taking a ‘fabric-first’ approach and using offsite timber frame construction ensured that sustainability and low-carbon compliance was at the very heart of their developments – in the materials used, throughout successive construction stages, and now for the remainder of its lifecycle.

We are currently on-site with L&Q at Saxon Reach, Milton Keynes where they are building a selection of contemporary homes. It inspired a recent visit from Homes England, who have a key objective to release more land to developers who want to make a difference, transforming how homes are built and bringing about the type of change in construction that the government would like to see. They welcome partners who share their ambition to challenge traditional norms and build better homes faster.

So why choose timber as a form of construction? It is a natural, renewable material, readily available, economically viable, versatile and a carbon-neutral building material in itself – and for every tree used in a timber frame home, more are planted. By comparison, concrete blocks and mortar represent an energy-intensive and non-renewable method of construction.

Offsite timber frame construction provides the building with a superior thermal envelope, requiring minimal maintenance and a fit-and-forget solution for the lifetime of the building. For a home to be as energy efficient as it can be, it must be as insulated and air tight as possible, and with timber construction retaining and reducing heat demand, the resulting building becomes extremely fuel efficient.

Simultaneously, it helps to lower energy bills for social tenants whilst helping to ensure low-carbon compliance for the housing provider.

Fundamentally, offsite timber solutions are vital in addressing housing shortfalls, allowing us to create homes that are made in purpose-built factories – and that doesn’t mean compromising on quality in order to realise greater affordability.

Furthermore, build times for timber construction are up to 30 per cent quicker, which in turn means a faster return on investment. That’s welcome news for housebuilders and developers who are often under significant pressure to swiftly meet demand for new homes.

We believe that the three-fold benefits of using offsite timber frame – low energy demand, carbon-neutral raw material, and a proven, reliable, cost-effective mainstream way of building high quality, energy efficient homes – are vital to creating sustainable, resilient and affordable developments for the future.

For housebuilders and developers, we believe that a timber frame, fabric-first approach to homes must now be considered the go-to solution of choice.