Blog Series: Top 5 Gamechangers in the Construction Industry

Despite the many challenges the Construction industry is facing, 2022 is set to be a transformative year for the construction sector, with an acceleration of the use of modern methods of construction and digitisation to meet ambitious, but very real, targets for housing and sustainability.

Many factors have influenced this move, besides the need to meet housing and sustainability targets; namely government investment in innovation, the demand from indigenous and multi-national employers for smart-tech and climate-friendly initiatives in their buildings and, indeed, the need to attract a young tech-savvy workforce into the sector.

Five game-changer technologies that will lead the way in turning the dial in the construction sector in the years ahead:


1. Offsite Construction

Modular construction – construction modules that are constructed in a factory and assembled on-site – has been around for years. The difference now however is that modular construction can be the answer to delivering retrofitting targets.

In Ireland modular construction is already being prioritised by local authorities and housing bodies, as well as some private investors, but one of the key reasons why modular housing is making this list is that several Irish contractors have developed fabrication facilities to manufacture modular elements, which until very recently could only be sourced from abroad. This will enable faster and cheaper production as we scale up and standardise design. With much of the work done upfront in design and manufacture, less time and fewer trades on site, the recently published CIF MMC report predicts a 45% reduction in material use and 50% reduction in waste generation.

In the UK and The Netherlands, councils are using modular construction to retrofit old, cold and badly insulated local authority housing by wrapping buildings in prefabricated, insulated walls, fitting solar panelled roofs and installing heat pumps. Individual houses are being ‘wrapped’ in as little as 10 days.

2. BIM (Building Information Modelling)

Building Information Modelling (BIM) facilitates digital walk-throughs of plans and collaboration between all trades. It has been around for years, but adoption is ad hoc. In the UK it is a mandatory tool for public contracts and there is now government and Enterprise Ireland support for it here, with the BIM Innovation Capability Programme for Ireland tasked with widening its use in Ireland.

Once it becomes a requirement in Ireland, it will not only provide greater visibility but will naturally lead to greater collaboration and unity of processes within the construction industry. BIM levels 2 and 3 are currently used, but the possibilities are great with 4D and 5D BIM, which incorporate programme information and real time costing within the BIM drawing models and allow programmers to show, on a computer, how a project will be built over time and the cost implications of design revisions. This allows better insights into the programme and site layout issues ahead of time, again preventing delays and increasing accuracy.

3. Camera Technology

Camera Technology is being used in several different ways, including Augmented Reality (AR), drones, camera-mounted hard hats and fixed cameras on site, all with the aim of capturing live information and comparing as-built construction against the digital design and agreed programme. This then feeds back to project software, updating live project dashboards and flagging any issues in real time.

The ability to carry out remote inspections with cameras and drones was invaluable during lockdown. Going forward, it gives greater flexibility in working practices and leads to faster detection of errors and discrepancies between the design and the build, which speeds up the QA/QC process.

For example, AR, which operates via a hard-hat with flip up visor and phone app, enables instant decision making and, as with all these camera technologies, includes image storage, creating a single source of truth which should lead to faster resolution and ultimately, fewer disputes between designers and contractors.

4. Smart Buildings Technology

Most people are familiar with smart tech in their own homes for central heating or lighting control, but for large commercial and residential buildings smart technology is also used to monitor building occupancy and usage.

Data from Wi-Fi and Bluetooth sensors is fed into a building information system, which gives much greater clarity of the costs involved in running a building up front and over the life of the building, making the building more cost effective and efficient to run. Very soon it will be the norm for most buildings as it ticks all of the efficiency, visibility, adaptability and sustainability boxes.

5. Carbon Calculating Software

Carbon Calculating Software is an important technology for the construction industry given Ireland’s commitments to addressing climate change. As the construction industry accounts for about 38% of all carbon emissions into the atmosphere, mainly due to the use of concrete, research into ways to monitor and reduce carbon emissions has been accelerated and the rush is on to design buildings with an embodied carbon reduction strategy in mind.

Carbon calculating software measures the embodied carbon impact and material efficiency of a building before its built. These measurements are not just for the build phase but the lifetime of the building. The data from these assessments allows those involved in the design stage to make design and materials choices from an informed position. The software is relatively simple to use and is increasingly used by architects, designers and consultants across the industry.

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Blog Series: Retrofitting – it’s about Incentives

Over the course of the coming weeks, we will be delving deeper into the Housing for All plan, exploring how this well intended strategy to solve a nationwide housing crisis will be delivered – or if it will be deliverable at all.

Fundamentally, we admire the plan’s ambition. We believe the timing is right and are keen to see how it will evolve to overcome the many challenges it faces. We also believe that patience will be required as progress will be slow – so much so that it may fall, at best, up to 5,000 houses short of the average annual target for the first few years, as the legislation and incentives are put in place and the industry mobilises.

Given the impacts of Covid-19, the skills shortages and materials sourcing challenges alone, it is a remarkable achievement that the industry is on target to deliver c. 22,000 completions in 2021 (according to the BPFI), noting this is 10% higher than the previous year. Based on this evidence, it’s not hard to see that ground will be made-up over successive years of the plan, especially if it is managed correctly, with period reviews to evaluate progress and address any issues that are hindering progress.

The retrofitting programme, which is an important link in the chain, is a perfect example of the challenges that lie between the strategy and its execution. It’s a fine statement of intent: 300,000 houses by 2030, but as a means to providing residential homes, quickly, retrofitting appears to provide the quickest win, as these properties are in towns and villages across the country, where services and infrastructure (i.e. utilities, amenities and transport) are already in place.

It is also a very sustainable way to provide housing – as we are repurposing rather than building from scratch, so significantly less whole life embodied carbon is emitted. What’s more, retrofitting supports the objectives of the 15 Minute City and the Government’s Town’s First initiative, where places of work, education and social needs are all local to place of residence. An aspiration that has recently become even easier to achieve with the post-Covid hybrid working model, seeing more people working from home.

Based on the figures committed to in the plan and support from the EU recovery fund, the financial resources may, for once, not be the biggest issue in executing the retrofitting plan but, instead, putting in place the administrative systems and incentives required to deliver what tend to be more complex projects.

The reality is that many of these buildings are old and quite often protected structures, which were never designed with modern Building Regulations, fire and disability access requirements in mind, so need to be brought into the 21st century. However, due to their nature, the actual scope of the project will only be fully known when the opening up works begin.

Health and safety issues arise, as most properties are adjacent to occupied properties and although services may be running to these properties, those services will need to be inspected and in some instances replaced to comply with current regulations. Not to mention the potential planning issues that may arise. The government has suggested that change of use retrofit projects may be exempt from planning, but we can’t foresee this being extended to protected structures.

For the retrofitting plan to work, what we really need is easy access to guidance, resources and the funding.

Significant incentives will be required to encourage individuals to view retrofitting as an attractive and viable proposition and the 35% grants that SEAI are offering are not incentive enough to renovate properties, requiring significant levels of upgrading. It may be time to consider a whole different approach that sees the prospective owner as the solution to bringing our dilapidated, vacant properties back to modern, energy efficient housing stock, much like Italy’s incentive scheme.

Begun in Sicily in May 2020, as part of Italy’s economic recovery programme, Italy’s ‘One Euro House’ scheme saw derelict houses offered for €1. With reasonable conditions such as a nominal deposit and a requirement to commence work quickly once the building permit has been issued, it would appear that this scheme has proved to be very popular.

Similarly, the Italian ‘Super Ecobonus’ scheme effectively pays homeowners to make their home more energy efficient by funding 110% of the renovation costs through fiscal credits. By the end of March 2021, over 10,000 constructions worth €1 billion were in progress or successfully completed thanks to the new schemes. Residential building renovations are now up by over 500% since the Super Ecobonus was introduced, with the scheme hailed as a welcome boost to economic activity by the Italian building sector.

On the face of it, 110% may appear overly generous, but if a similar plan was coupled with the reintroduction of local authority commercial charges for vacant properties and the introduction of the Vacant Property Tax, it may be enough to unlock those vacant town centre properties, that would be more cost effective than building from scratch.

The fact is that upgrading the country’s housing stock is an extremely efficient and sustainable way of helping to meet our housing targets, but the bottom line is, the success of it is down to incentivising people to do it.

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