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With almost 200 people crowding into an event to hear the forthright views of TV presenter, George Clarke on housebuilding, Max Halliwell looks at why questioning the mindset of the construction industry has attracted such interest.

A group of specifiers, architects, Housing Associations, housebuilders  and heating engineers packed into a crowded conference centre at Mitsubishi Electric’s Hatfield headquarters last week to hear a passionate presentation from architect and TV presenter, George Clarke where he called on the housing sector to radically transform the way we build homes.

In an entertaining and engaging presentation lasting almost an hour, George Clarke spoke earnestly about the need to change the mindset of the whole construction industry to reject the traditional way of building homes as there are now much better and quicker ways using factory-built, modular technology.

“You wouldn’t build a car out in the backyard, you’d build it in a factory and then you can ensure precision engineering in a way that is simply not possible outdoors,” he explained.

“Why can’t the same be true of building houses, where we can ensure the highest quality of materials and construction and then ship individual modules to site?

“This removes the timely wet processes such as bricklaying and plastering and means homes can be put together in days, rather than months.”

The event was hosted by Mitsubishi Electric and in addition to George Clarke, Professor Nick Whitehouse spoke on behalf of the sectorial interest group “buildoffsite” and called for much more alignment on the key issues facing construction and housebuilding

“We need to build good quality homes, not the shockingly bad rabbit boxes often being built now”

George Clarke George Clarke Architect, writer and TV presenter

State of the market

Mitsubishi Electric’s own experts examined the state of the renewable heating market and pointed to the significant growth opportunities presented by the government’s recognition of heat pumps as a major part of the move towards a much more sustainable and energy efficient housing sector.

Martin Fahey, Head of Sustainable for the company, highlighted how we are heading for an electric economy and demonstrated why the days of simply ‘burning stuff’ are rapidly coming to an end.

“75% of emissions reductions since 2012 have come from the power sector as we green the grid and this makes the case for electric forms of heating, such as heat pumps, much, much stronger,” he explained.

However, this progress in reducing emissions from power generation masks the failure in other sectors such as construction, transport and industry and Fahey was keen to highlight the important role that buildings both old and new have to play in lowering carbon emissions.

Ready to deliver

National Specification Manager, Stuart Bell talked about how everything is now in place to quickly deliver renewable heat to homes using air source heat pumps. 

Stuart questioned attendees on their reasons for attending the event and was delighted that almost no one in the room needing convincing of the case for heat pumps.

He congratulated everyone for being the pioneers who are leading the way towards a more sustainable future.

Stuart also highlighted the huge number of case studies on heat pump installations around the country, in a wide variety of situations from tower blocks, restored Victorian brick-buildings, single apartments and individual houses of almost every type.

“One of these I saw last year involved an inspiring ex-WWII pilot, now in his 90’s, who has added an air source heat pump to his home, which is already kitted out with PV panels and a well to supply a water heat source,” he explained, “there are a growing number of people like this who completely understand the benefits of switching now to renewables to benefit their homes, their energy bills and the wider environment.”

Building off site

Speaking on behalf of Build Offsite, whose objective is to bring together the disparate parts of the industry and demonstrate thought-leadership to the housing sector, Nick Whitehouse said: “Our industry is a bit of a shocker for not bringing everyone together but we need real alignment on the key issue facing construction and housebuilding.

“There are a number of factors stopping modular really taking off and one of the major blockages are the mortgage providers who will simply not lend to modular or wooden-framed properties at the moment,” he added before highlighting how modular building can lower costs by 33%, increase delivery speeds by 50% and halve carbon emissions.

“We need to radically shift the mindset and see this as enabling production of quality, precision modular housing components rather than approach it with a traditional ‘construction’ frame of mind,” he added.

It’s time to start now

George Clarke called for the industry to stop thinking short-term, with our homes and the environment needing a long-term, clean and green investment strategy.

“We know the pressure is on the construction companies to build more energy efficient homes but they are not doing enough and not quickly enough,” he said, explaining that in essence, we are broadly building homes in similar ways to the Romans.

“In addition to this, modern life has moved on and it is now no longer enough to simply aim for energy efficient houses as we need to consider the well-being of the occupants much more than ever before and design and build ‘healthy’ homes that are also as carbon neutral as possible.”

Explaining how modern methods of construction and renewable technologies such as air source heat pumps mean we can deliver these healthy and energy efficient homes, George also highlighted how more power from the sun hits the Earth in a single hour than humanity uses in an entire year, and that this is renewed every single day.

“It has taken us a long time to change our mindset with regards to cars, fossil fuels and emissions and we are getting there but we all still see dirty, polluting cars on our roads everyday,” he explained. “When it comes to our homes, we have hardly started and we need to now!”

Long term thinking

Communications Manager for Renewable Heating, Max Halliwell, who kicked off the day to the packed room spoke about how we are fast becoming prosumers, rather than consumers, in that there is now so much information available that we are now all able to be ‘professional consumers’.

This is changing the way people look at major purchases such as homes and we are seeing more people ask for evidence of the sustainability and long term thinking that has gone into their home.

Max also pointed out that every single Ecodan air source heat pump now comes with some form of in-built monitoring and spoke about how this will become increasingly important as it helps build the evidence of how much more sustainable this form of electric heating is for the country.

“We have always said that there is no one easy solution,” explained Halliwell but heat pumps have been recognised by government as a large part of the solution because of the ease of installation and the army of installers that are ready to meet the growing demand.

Max Halliwell is Communications Manager for Mitsubishi Electric's Heating & Ventilation Systems