Modular construction

Modular construction technique slashes carbon emissions from new buildings

Image credit: Tide Construction

Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from homebuilding could be slashed by up to 45 per cent with a modular construction system that sees part of the building precision-manufactured offsite.

The system was developed by academics from the University of Cambridge and Edinburgh Napier University. It has been used in a study for two developments delivered by Tide Construction, with the modular system used to construct a total of 879 homes.

The study calculated that around 28,000 tonnes of embodied carbon emissions were saved from construction across both schemes combined – well ahead of the industry’s current targets.

The researchers believe their approach has the potential to radically reduce the carbon footprint of the construction sector and could aid the government’s ambition to build 300,000 better-quality homes.

Embodied carbon - the CO2 produced during the design, construction and decommissioning phases of a development - is dramatically lower when modular systems are used because buildings require less volume of carbon-intensive products such as concrete and steel.

Modular construction

Image credit: tide construction

Traditional approaches also create significant indirect carbon emissions, such as those caused by deliveries and on-site workers. Instead, modules are produced ‘offsite’ in a controlled assembly line environment and then taken to site to be assembled efficiently.

Some 11 per cent of global energy-related carbon emissions are from construction materials and processes, (known as embodied carbon), according to the World Green Building Council.

The two developments, which were built in London, achieved embodied carbon savings of 41 and 45 per cent respectively when compared to traditional construction.

Christy Hayes, CEO of Tide Construction, said the system can “significantly reduce the embodied carbon footprint of buildings”.

“In the UK, modular housing has a huge role to play in ensuring that the government’s ambition to build 300,000 better-quality homes per year is achieved faster and more sustainably.”

Rory Bergin, partner for sustainable futures at HTA Design, said: “Modular is the future of housebuilding. Two of the biggest challenges our country faces are tackling the climate crisis and the acute shortage of housing. This research shows that only through modular construction, which can deliver low-carbon homes quickly and at scale, do we have any chance of meeting both these challenges together.

“Building modular homes is quicker, safer, more reliable and more environmentally friendly than traditional housing construction methods.”

Dr Tim Forman, senior research associate at University of Cambridge, said: “Buildings are responsible for approximately 40 per cent of global energy-related carbon emissions and there is an urgent need to reduce the carbon intensity of construction and buildings in use.

“As buildings become more energy efficient in operation, reducing the carbon associated with construction - including the production and transportation of materials and site activities and their end of life - is becoming increasingly significant. This study underscores the fundamental importance of quantifying carbon in construction and across a building’s life cycle.”

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