Homes that last

In a period of intensive homebuilding, masonry construction continues to be recognised for its safety, robustness, and sustainability. Christopher Stanley of Modern Masonry discusses the performance benefits of masonry solutions and the organisation’s efforts to drive the industry forward

Following a survey of 2000 homeowners commissioned by Modern Masonry in 2017, the masonry solutions-promoting organisation found out that the vast majority value the benefits provided by masonry construction, including security, fire safety, robustness, resilience, and durability. Naturally, this does not come as a surprise – purchasing a home is a major investment and masonry’s inherent performance guarantees that it will last for many generations. As Christopher Stanley, Housing Manager at Modern Masonry, puts it, “Masonry housing is not limited to the life of a mortgage.”

Modern Masonry’s mission involves ensuring that developers, designers, customers, and occupants alike, all understand the benefits of masonry construction. The body provides guidance on design of masonry and furnishes the Government and influencing organisations with the evidence of how masonry can contribute to a sustainable-built environment.

“In the light of the Government’s target of building 300,000 homes a year, we have stepped up as an advocate of masonry construction, promoting the tried and tested methods of blocks, bricks and mortar. We co-host events, release publications, and meet quarterly to discuss relevant issues and actions, making sure that the messages we send are clear and pertinent to the current state of the market,” comments Chris.

“Today, 85 per cent of new build housing is built using Masonry. Blocks are manufactured locally, within the UK, predominantly utilising local constituents, and have continued to meet demand. In 2018, the housebuilding industry was 80,000 units short, but block manufacturers are more than capable of fulfilling more than 85 per cent of that shortfall. We are eager to promote the credentials of masonry construction such as long design life, whole-life resilience, fire and flood resistance, and being dimensionally robust and stable, and we are confident that this is the most sustainable choice when we take into account the size of the market and the ambitious task of building 300,000 homes year-on-year,” he makes a case for increasing the use of masonry solutions in present market conditions.

Discussing the benefits of applying blocks, bricks and mortar methods further, this time with regards to on-site construction, Chris points out their flexibility as a particularly efficient feature. “While plans often look great on paper, this does not necessarily transfer to reality,” he observes. “With masonry, you can move apertures, have more tolerance, and rectify common issues like blocked cavity, for example, more easily. Another good point is that all foundations and footings are concrete and masonry-based anyway, so why stop there? A continuation of materials makes the most sense when it comes to skills and procurement. Here, I should also mention that blocks are usually sourced, manufactured, and delivered locally all around the UK, which, combined with masonry’s thermal mass qualities, ensures a low energy demand legacy.”

Indeed, one truly hot topic, which has emerged lately and that has once again brought the benefits of concrete to the fore, is the issue with overheating in new homes. Various research has indicated that due to its lightweight construction, modular housing does not have thermal mass, with the latter having been deemed critical for the safety and sustainability of new premises. “The thermal mass provided by masonry homes can lower the risk of summertime overheating, helping to ensure comfortable conditions for homeowners,” Chris insists. “Masonry is also non-combustible, protecting life and structure. During construction, these properties also protect the developer and the surrounding community from potential spread of flame.

“Yet another advantage of the technology, is the fact that homes built from masonry suffer much less damage from floods, because they are robust, dimensionally stable, and do not rot. Finally, masonry also exceeds minimum noise performance requirements, which means that you are less likely to be disrupted and disturbed by noise through walls,” he clarifies. “In my view, and judging from my professional experience, sustainability sits very high on public agenda and we are looking to continue spreading the word of the performance benefits delivered by masonry solutions.”

Two of the key considerations for the block-making sector at the moment are associated with the development of more environmentally-friendly processes, as well as the narrowing of the skills shortage gap. Chris updates us on the progress that has been made so far and the future actions Modern Masonry is planning to take. “Block manufacturers are widely installing new and more efficient curing systems and infrastructure to reduce energy waste. What is more, they are also adopting green technologies like wind and solar to offset grid energy usage, also harvesting rain and run-off water as opposed to using mains water.

“We are well on track to achieve the sustainability targets set out for 2020 in our Sustainability Charter Scheme,” he continues. “This includes targets for the reduction of mains water usage, CO2 emissions, pollution, and resource use for materials, including alternative cement replacement. Importantly, we have already reached the 2020 target of waste-to-landfill, and the overall waste figure is now 23 per cent lower, compared to 2014.”

As an affiliate of British Precast, Modern Masonry maintains good relationships with a number of fellow organisations across the construction industry, including the Aircrete Products Associations, the Concrete Block Association, and the Mortar Industry Association. “Furthermore, because addressing the skills gap is high on our agenda, we work closely with the Brick Development Association and we have undertaken an initiative together with the Construction Industry Training Board to provide a number of on-site courses on bricklaying, which, when all completed, will be equivalent to a Level 2 NVQ,” Chris reveals.

He goes on: “It was also encouraging to hear from the Association of Brickwork Contractors that their new on-site training schemes are underway with good progress being made. These modules empower contractors to train unskilled labour and apprentices alongside upskilling other trades. On a broader note, every house built supports an estimated 3.1 jobs meaning that the industry is now supporting over 700,000 – almost 300,000 more than it was six years ago.”

For years on end, the undeniable superiority of masonry building methods has rendered this construction type the preferred choice for the housing industry. Vitally, the masonry community has moved with the times and sought to incorporate modern technologies to streamline its processes and remain appealing to a wider customer base, the majority of which is now insistent upon the introduction of more sustainable and environmentally-friendly practices. As a body coordinating the future development of masonry construction in collaboration with several other companies, Modern Masonry has displayed enviable agility in responding to emerging trends and demands. Now, the organisation is fully focused on ensuring that the objective of building 300,000 new homes per year by 2025 is met, contributing to the creation of solid buildings that will stand the test of time and serve multiple generations.

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