To meet the UK’s challenge of delivering two million homes during a time of skills shortages and rising materials’ costs, we need to show that technology can help us achieve our goals; adopting a manufacturing approach means embracing the principles of production, process and standardisation.
Often referred to as ‘platform design for manufacture and assembly’ (PDfMA), this enables multiple versions of a product to be made from standardised components, as demonstrated by car manufacturers. We can use our standardised products as a digital twin replicated on other projects within social housing.
Tempohousing originally set out to design a modular unit to meet all the UK Building Regulations but this was also an opportunity to aim for zero-energy costs and associated carbon emissions. Tackling fuel poverty is a key driver for us and has consequently informed all our ‘downstream’ decisions. We have adopted the minimum space standards so that comfort and wellbeing aren’t sacrificed, while still meeting the density of land-use demanded by planning departments.
Using a steel frame system, we can achieve fine tolerances, yet it is a robust and versatile material, and resource efficient. It lends itself to manufacturing, with no waste and is recyclable at the end of the life of the building, not leaving an unwanted legacy for future generations.
Building information modelling
Using building information modelling (BIM) as the basis of our design creates a common language between the design team, factory and client. It provides a long-term digital record of the clients’ assets, critical to a housing provider’s management of its housing stock.
BIM can then link the buildings’ specifications to the manufacturing process, with staged and recorded assembly ensuring accuracy, proof and materials’ provenance. This ultimately leads to the intended energy performance of the modules, without any dreaded performance gaps. This process also includes a detailed record of the fabric build-up to meet the fire strategy for the dwelling.
With the fabric of the dwelling optimised, we need to choose a heating system that benefits from such a high specification. Energy modelling showed that the heat losses were reduced to the point where hot water was the greater energy demand above space heating, so we chose a class-leading air-source heat pump, designed for a new generation of super-efficient homes. As the energy mix in the UK shifts to more renewable sources, electric heating is coming to the fore, especially efficient heat pumps, and where locally-generated renewable energy is available.
The final stage is to choose the renewable energy option. Photovoltaics will provide the energy, though feed-in-tariffs are minimal these days, so we offer a smart-energy trading platform with a communal battery, so excess energy can be traded within the local community. Zero-carbon homes can be achieved and fuel poverty addressed.
Standardisation is the key to all manufacturing processes so by working to fixed dimensions, with proven and certified products, we can achieve the efficiencies that will meet the government’s ambitious ‘Future Homes’ standard.
Deborah Smyth is the managing director of Tempohousing.