Modern methods of construction – assessing the risks

Houses, blocks of flats, office buildings, they all used to be constructed from bricks and concrete, using traditional methods. But now, buildings of all shapes and sizes are increasingly being built using modern methods of construction (MMC). And while these methods can bring huge benefits, environmentally and in terms of savings – both time and cost, they do need to be treated with a degree of caution as they pose different risks to traditional buildings.

What are modern methods of construction?

Modern methods of construction is a catch-all term used to describe a range of newer building methods which have been brought in, in recent years to replace conventional brick and block. Typically, they involve using different, often more sustainable, materials and moving construction processes away from the actual building site and to more controlled factory conditions.

A few common MMCs include:

Panellised construction: Building panels are constructed in a factory and then transported to sites to be assembled, a bit like very large flat pack furniture. Panels can range from simple skeletal structures to advanced panels including insulation, windows, doors and cladding.

Timber frames: Particularly popular for house buildings, timber frames are quicker to put up and more sustainable.

Volumetric/modular construction: Three-dimensional ‘pods’ are built in controlled factory settings and then transported to site. Modules could be individual rooms, or pretty much a whole house.

Hybrid techniques: Combining both panellised and volumetric approaches. Bathrooms and kitchens tend to be built as pods, while the rest of building is made up of panels.

What are the benefits?

MMCs have a number of benefits. They simplify and speed up the construction process, saving both time and money. In fact, the National Audit Office’s report, ‘Using modern methods of construction to build homes more quickly and efficiently’, found that using MMCs could cut construction times by half and allow four times as many homes to be built compared to using traditional on-site labour.

There are also quality and health and safety implications. Producing more elements in a controlled factory setting allows for more consistency checks and a more controlled environment, which in turn leads to fewer errors and accidents.

The environmental benefits are also not to be underestimated. Not only do MMCs often focus on using greener, more sustainable materials, they produce less waste than traditional methods. The developer behind Mapleton Crescent, a 27-storey residential tower in London built using modular construction, estimates that the units produce 90% less waste and involve 60% fewer truck journeys than conventional construction.

What are the risks?

While there is no denying that MMCs bring a wealth of benefits, it’s also important to assess the risks they can pose. After all, just because something is new, doesn’t mean it is problem free.

Fire risk is among the most commonly cited potential problems, with some construction methods enabling blazes to spread quickly and materials such as timber being susceptible to fire.

With many MMC buildings being relatively new, there could also be issues when it comes to making repairs or updates in the future. For example if a tradesperson who didn’t work on the original build comes in to do some work and treats it in the same way they would a traditional building, it could cause safety problems.

With some particularly new MMCs, it also remains to be seen how buildings will stand the test of time and cope with things like extreme weather.

This is not to say that MMCs automatically pose greater risks, just that insurers and brokers need to be aware of the potential risks and make sure they are doing their due diligence when it comes to assessing any buildings involving them.

How can NIG help?

With modern construction methods meaning more and more buildings are often an unknown quantity, NIG’s in-house team of 19 surveyors based up and down the country can prove an invaluable resource when it comes to assessing the particular risks a property may pose.

We’ll send one of our experts to examine a building before we issue a quote, so know that we are underwriting accurately, ensuring your risk is properly covered.

Find out more about our Essential Property Owners Product here.

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