In the residential low-rise sector both house builders and home owners have consistently found that, compared with other construction materials, concrete, often in the form of concrete blocks, contributes to the best all-round housing solution.
The shortage of housing in the UK underlines the need for fast and efficient construction. However, this speed must not be at the expense of quality and long-term performance. The new homes to be built must not only be structurally robust and affordable, they also need to provide comfortable living space that has the flexibility to adapt to future needs. These homes should reduce the need for heating and negate the need for future air-conditioning thereby helping to reduce energy consumption and fuel bills over their lifetime.
The concrete industry can offer a range of products and construction methods that are innovative and fast whilst offering the high performance and inherent benefits of heavy weight construction including long-term climate change resilience. These construction solutions offer the efficient delivery of long-term performance and best value and meet the highest Code for Sustainable Homes and are recognised in new standards such as the Home Quality Mark.
For details of how to meet current Building Regulation requirements see Thermal Performance Part L1A.
As insulation and airtightness standards improve, using low levels of continuous heating combined with the thermal mass of concrete becomes one of the most energy-efficient heating strategies.
As average temperatures rise the desire and requirement for mechanical or air-conditioned systems is increasing. Considerable energy savings can be realised utilising the thermal mass of concrete to keep interior spaces cool, particularly when considered as part of a Passive Solar Design strategy.
Concrete and masonry construction techniques continue to provide a cost effective solution for both private and social housing, through the availability of established local supply chains, short lead times, flexible programmes and experienced trades.
Long term sustainability
The environmental impact of heating, cooling and lighting our homes is considerable. It accounts for some 27 per cent of total UK CO2 emissions. These operational emissions far outweigh the embodied CO2 of the construction materials which are used to build our homes. Using the inherent thermal mass of heavy-weight construction together with passive solar design features such as window size, orientation and shading can provide a real, long-term sustainable solution by significantly reducing the heating and cooling energy demands of a home over its lifetime.
Code for Sustainable Homes
Numerous built examples and publications illustrate how concrete and masonry solutions can meet the fabric performance requirements necessary to meet the highest levels of the Code. For more information refer to Zero Carbon Performance - cost-effective concrete and masonry homes. As the Code is phased out, some parts are being divested to Building Regulations, others to housing standards and potentially other broader consumer orientated issues and responsible sourcing criteria may become mandated under the Home Quality Mark.
Locally and responsibly sourced
The UK is able to produce almost all the concrete it needs domestically, enhancing concrete’s sustainability by allowing it to be locally sourced rather than reliant on imports. Both ready-mixed and precast concrete products can easily be sourced from suppliers operating in accordance with an environmental management scheme (eg. ISO 14001) and maximum points can be scored in the materials section of the Code for Sustainable Homes . 90 per cent of UK concrete is accredited under the BES 6001 standard for the responsible sourcing of construction products. Read more about responsible sourcing.
Concrete is a non-combustible material, and has a slow rate of heat transfer, easily exceeding the minimum requirements for fire separation required for housing in the Building Regulations thus giving additional time for means of escape. In addition the retained structural integrity helps to ensure costs and disruption due to the repair of fire damage are kept to a minimum.
Health and well-being
The internal environment of all buildings, including houses, can be adversely effected by chemicals used in the construction and internal room finishes.
Concrete is an inert material that is naturally water and fire-resistant. It requires no preservatives, special coatings or sealers and if exposed, can also be easily cleaned with organic, non-toxic substances. Its use in construction of houses can therefore assist in the development of good healthy living spaces.
Sound insulation is an important consideration in the design of all types of residential properties and is paramount to the comfort and well-being of its occupants. This includes the walls and floors separating different dwellings but should also include those between spaces in a single residence.
The inherent mass and versatility of concrete can help to achieve excellent sound insulation performance in homes, with minimal additional materials or reliance on rigorous checking of site workmanship.
There are a wide range of heavy-weight construction options available to meet the minimum standards for reduction of sound transmission required by the building regulations. Over 60 per cent of Robust Details, designed to exceed the minimum standard, use concrete and masonry. For further information see 'acoustic performance'.
Availability of prime land for residential expansion, particularly in the South East of the UK, has been restricted, resulting in development on more land that is prone to flooding. New buildings in these areas need to be designed appropriately to handle a flood and maintain their function following the event
Dwellings constructed from masonry and concrete can easily be designed to be flood resilient. Concrete does not absorb significant amounts of water and finishes that are water damaged can be stripped off and replaced. In addition, concrete and masonry homes will not warp or rot following a flood and the damage caused by flooding is less likely to threaten the structural integrity of a modern heavyweight constructed home. The use of SUDS and permeable concrete paving solutions also add to the reduction of flood damage. See The Concrete Centre publication Concrete and Flooding.
Climate change resilience
In addition to resilience to flooding, the inherent thermal properties of concrete and masonry homes also provide resilience to overheating, extreme weather events such as storms, high winds and flash floods.