The lack of available social housing in the UK is a significant problem. Housing associations and local councils face increasing pressure to address the issue and build more truly affordable homes as quickly as possible to fill the void. Chris Holleron explores the use of light-gauge steel frames and the benefits it could bring.
With cripplingly expensive private rents, frozen housing benefits, lengthy waiting lists for social homes and a shortage of affordable housing, the social housing crisis in the UK is evidently a deep-set problem. According to a landmark report by housing charity Shelter, an additional three million social homes are needed to solve the current housing crisis — a huge figure.
While government targets are for 340,000 new homes to be built each year, a report by the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) estimates that around 90,000 of these should be set at social rent. However, with only 6,434 homes built for social rent between 2017 and 2018, and an estimated loss of 165,000 social homes to the Right to Buy scheme since 2012, it is clear that the country is a long way off from the required three million homes, placing vulnerable households and families at further risk of homelessness.
So, what is the solution?
Offsite and modular construction has long been viewed as a crucial part of construction’s future, with increased calls for the sector to progress and develop its approach. One of the most recent is the Farmer Review: ‘Modernise or Die’, in which Mark Farmer recommended that the Government should promote the use of pre-manufactured solutions for the housing sector. The advantages of offsite and modular construction are perhaps most apparent within the social housing sector, bringing speed, quality and efficiency.Speed is what offsite construction is predominantly most well-known for; saving valuable time onsite, with large portions of the building structure pre-assembled within a controlled factory environment. Projects that implement offsite construction can potentially be completed 30% to 50% faster than traditional methods. What’s more, with the main structural components fabricated away from the main site, a project’s progress and completion time will be less dependent on weather and onsite conditions, leading to fewer delays and reducing ‘down-time’ – a key concern considering the unpredictable British weather.
Light-gauge steel frames are a particularly effective building envelope solution, combining a strong and durable building material with offsite construction to provide both speed and quality.
Houses built using the technology can be very quick to construct, improving efficiency, minimising waste and even leading to early project completions. Light-gauge steel weighs less than alternative building materials, such as timber or concrete frames, meaning it can be transported to site easily. It also helps to reduce the weight of the overall structure, in turn providing relative savings on foundation loads and sizes.
Implementing light-gauge steel building envelope components can also contribute towards improving the standard of the overall build, providing communities with high-quality housing stock built to last for decades to come. Renowned in the industry for being a highly strong and durable building material, the solution could also help local councils save valuable money on maintenance and repairs. What’s more, being fabricated within a controlled factory environment to specific project requirements, quality checks can be more efficiently carried out, reducing the likelihood of snags or required re-work later onsite. This is a significant benefit, especially considering the amount of publicity recently placed on the poor construction of new-build homes.
Hadley Steel Framing offers a fabrication service, with its dedicated project design team also able to provide technical support. Hadley supplies structural external and internal wall panels, constructed from lightweight cold-rolled steel sections for high-strength and low weight. These panels are assembled and bolted together offsite, before being delivered to site, lifted and fixed in place. The manufacturer is also able to produce a complete load bearing stand-alone structure, including roofs, walls, floors, door/window openings, bracing and external finishes, making it the ideal solution for low-rise structures and housing schemes with high-volume requirements.
It is difficult to ignore the urgent demand for social housing within the UK, with more than 100,000 households having been stuck on council housing waiting lists for over 10 years and Shelter estimating that almost 280,000 people in England are currently homeless — a figure that is set to rise. As a result it is no surprise that councils and housing associations are increasingly turning to offsite construction solutions. Technology such as light-gauge steel frames could help to ensure the efficient delivery of the high-quality, long-lasting homes that the country so desperately needs, and at a far-faster rate than more traditional methods.
Chris Holleron is Group Product Manager – Housing at Hadley Group