James Stephens, Managing Director of the UK’s leading bathroom pod specialist Offsite Solutions, looks at the benefits of offsite manufacturing for bathroom construction.
The shift towards offsite across the construction industry is being driven by the shortage of skilled labour, issues with consistent quality, and the need for greater certainty of delivery on time and on budget. There is now unprecedented demand for bathroom pods — for mixed-use developments, social housing and student accommodation, as well as for high end apartment schemes for rent and market sale.
The importance of early engagement
The most critical specification considerations for bathroom pods are:
- Early engagement — essential to achieving optimal efficiency by designing pods into the early stages of a construction project. Pod installation must be accommodated in the build-up of walls and floors and take account of access for delivery of the pods to site, particularly on constrained city centre sites.
- Economies of scale — standardised designs with minimal variations allow cost savings and time efficiencies by using the repetition of the offsite manufacturing process. To optimise efficiency, housing providers and specifiers should rationalise the number of bathroom design types (size and shape), and variations as far as possible.
The benefits of factory-built bathrooms
Reduced build programmes
One of the key drivers for offsite is to reduce programme. By moving bathroom construction into a controlled factory environment, the programme saving on a major project can be as much as 20 weeks. This means less risk for the contractor, earlier occupation for residents — and much greater certainty of completion on time and to budget.
Superior quality control
The production line environment of offsite manufacture offers consistently higher quality, and improved productivity. The repetitious nature of factory production means that units can be completed to higher quality standards than on site. Pre-delivery testing should be rigorous and quality assurance procedures stringent for ready-to-use installation, mitigating defects and remedial works.
Improved cost efficiency
The use of an offsite solution allows a number of trades to be combined under one contract, further reducing risk. This simplifies cost management and cash flow forecasting. The cost of factory works is more predictable and stable than site-based labour and multiple subcontractors.
In-situ bathroom construction requires around seven different trades and 10-15 operations plus the required drying times. With offsite manufacture, this is reduced to a single supplier, which means less risk of delays and easier procurement.
Offsite manufacture uses lean production techniques and better management of materials. Efficient processes optimise the use of resources, avoid product damage, and improve recycling. These factors combine to radically reduce waste in bathroom construction.
Improved site safety
Site safety is a huge issue for contractors and clients in public and private sectors. Moving construction offsite into a safer factory environment is a key benefit and research has shown that preassembly significantly reduces accident rates.
A good bathroom pod manufacturer will design the pods for fast installation on site, using for example, mechanically-fitted pan connectors and pre-wired junction boxes to simplify connection by the M&E contractor.
There have been significant advances in bathroom pod technology and there is now a wide range of solutions for different building types and housing tenures:
- GRP pods — widely used for student accommodation, healthcare, care homes and social housing. Lower capital expenditure and low maintenance.
- Enhanced GRP pods — additional aesthetic options such as tiled feature walls and recesses to appeal to prospective tenants, and offer significantly lower capital and operating costs for the retained asset.
- Steel-framed pods — a premium aesthetic with ceramic-tiled finishes and a high level of design flexibility. Applications include apartments, higher specification student residences, build-to-rent and shared ownership.
- Demountable pods — a sectional structure for projects without access for fully assembled pods, such as refurbishments and commercial-to-residential conversions.
- Floorless pods — avoid the need for a recess in the floor slab to minimise floor build-up for each storey whilst achieving continuous level floors.
- Utility pods — steel-framed utility rooms, fully fitted out offsite for apartments or studios. A rapid build solution.
Case study: Birmingham City Council, Perry Barr
Willmott Dixon awarded two contracts totalling £3.5m to Offsite Solutions to manufacture bathroom pods for a £78m regeneration scheme in Birmingham. This use of offsite manufacturing increased time efficiency by around 30% and maximised the cost, quality, and sustainability benefits.
The development, commissioned by Lendlease on behalf of Birmingham City Council, is creating 430 apartments for sale and rent on the site of a former university campus. The project is part of the £500m Perry Barr Regeneration scheme and is providing much-needed homes for local people due for occupation by 2023.
Offsite Solutions manufactured 692 steel-framed bathroom and ensuite shower pods for the two apartment buildings. Each pod features contemporary grey floor and wall tiles, a wall-mounted D-shaped hand basin, and heated towel rail. The bath has a hand-held shower on a sliding rail.
Dan Doyle, Operations Director at Willmott Dixon, says: “The benefits of using offsite manufacturing for a project of this scale are unmatched. In one day, we could install around 20 bathroom pods. Traditionally this would involve a number of trades and take several weeks. For our customers, bathroom pods mean additional project certainty and added programme benefits, along with assured quality. The benefits don’t stop there. The use of the pods helps to reduce the project’s carbon footprint and supported the compliance of Covid-19 safety guidance on site during the pandemic.”
The development at Perry Barr is part of a wider residential development that will create new activity and vibrancy for the area whilst providing much-needed housing. The steel-framed bathroom pods supported the ambitions of the design, offering a premium aesthetic with traditional porcelain wall and floor tiling and a high-quality finish.
Cutting edge offsite technology for bathrooms
Factory-built bathrooms are delivered to site ready for installation, providing a consistent quality of finish that is unachievable on site.
Steel-framed bathroom pods offer highly flexible design options for large-scale public and private sector residential projects, and student accommodation. We recommend the wet areas to the pod walls and floor are fully tanked for long-term durability, and a composite ceiling panel in a matt paint-effect finish is used for low maintenance and an enhanced appearance
The latest offsite manufacturing technology and quality-controlled production ensures each pod is delivered to site as a complete, fully tested unit — and this is revolutionising the efficiency of bathroom construction.
Header image: Willmott Dixon awarded two contracts to Offsite Solutions to manufacture bathroom pods for a £78m regeneration scheme for Birmingham City Council