Opportunity for housebuilders to harness new techniques - Derek Lennon

There is no silver bullet to the UK’s chronic housing shortage. Compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s an issue with far-reaching consequences. Despite the supply chain now bearing the brunt, coupled with labour shortages and skills gaps across the workforce, the need for housing continues to increase with demand outstripping supply.

Debate over the barriers to meeting house building targets is complex. Not all of these are easy to resolve but increased investment and advances in the equipment can play a part and offer solutions.

For housebuilders there is a real opportunity to harness new techniques to allow for efficiencies and help tackle the housing deficit.

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When ways of working have been largely the same for decades it can be daunting, not to mention logistically difficult and expensive, to change. Sometimes it takes one or two developers to take a leap of faith and embrace new processes, delivered by experienced contractors, for others to follow suit.

Housebuilders can use new techniques to savea on costs and meet demand.
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In recent years, Akela Group has taken decisions to invest and roll out new techniques to our clients which are resulting in significant time and cost savings and enabling them to get on with the job faster.

One area where we are seeing the biggest positive impact is site investigation which can be a time-consuming task for any builder as they determine layouts for developments. As ground conditions differ over short distances, accurate data and suitable area coverage is critical when assessing the suitability of a site.

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Investment in innovative techniques, like Static Cone Investigation for example, can revolutionise the way in which developers can test the strength and suitability of soil. Traditionally seen as bespoke and specialised, this investigative probe is becoming more mainstream with Cala, Bellway and Avant all using it on their sites, saving weeks worth of time and eliminating the need for time-consuming piling work.

The quality of the data and information produced by the probe enables housebuilders to get onsite quicker with no surprises. There is now real potential for this to be used more widely at an earlier stage in a project timeline.

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Doing significant construction within close proximity of other buildings and occupied homes can present multiple challenges, particularly vibration and noise. Minimising these risks can mean work is able to continue without delay. Whether using new tools to manage vibration or installing screw piles to overcome ground obstructions, developers choosing these more advanced technologies are seeing their output increase.

Prefabrication of materials off-site is also a cost-effective and viable option for developers who simply need to take delivery and install. This process is two to three times faster and offers significant cost savings as there is no site steel fixing required.

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Running in tandem with advances in technology, sustainability will continue to be a crucial factor as we work towards delivering housing targets. Minimising our carbon footprint while improving onsite efficiency is a balancing act we all must embrace. One such process we have been focusing on at Akela is minimising soil waste and recycling it to improve surface condition. This reduces the need for thousands of tonnes of soil to be transported around the country and cuts fuel emissions of our vehicle fleet.

These are challenging times but with change comes new ways of working – many of which are resulting in demonstrable benefits for housebuilders. Let’s grab these opportunities with both hands as an industry collective and help meet the demand for safe, affordable and quality homes.

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Derek Lennon is Geotechnical Design Manager for Akela Construction and Ground Engineering Ltd

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