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From the blog

The future of housing

by Warren Pope

I recently met a work colleague who asked me how I was getting on in my new role at PECT, as a plain talking engineer, my friend commented that he thought I would soon be a houmous eating vegetarian driving an electric car.

While I have driven an electric car, and may well yet purchase one in the future, I am not quite set for a vegetarian lifestyle just yet.

As a past development manager for several housing associations, I still have a desire to help and assist with the development of truly affordable housing that will allow people on a small income to be able to afford to buy their own home.

For the past nine years I have been working in my spare time to help develop an ICF (Insulated Concrete Formwork): imagine polystyrene blocks with a break in between, the opening can change from 4 inches up to 12 inches and is filled with concrete.

On the subject of sustainability, you do not have to travel far to find individuals that will argue that Timber frame is best or Passive House through to traditional brick and block, and now modular housing is the popular phrase.

When comparing building types, even the most ecologically friendly building type can be a “non-sustainable” building if built poorly, or the materials sourced cheaply, which in turn compromises the integrity of the structure. Generally speaking, if you have a modern “softwood” timber frame home, the manufacturer’s guarantee will be from 10 to 40 years however the building should be durable for approximately 60 years.

Hardwood timber frames such as Oak, as can be seen by the fact that many of the old Tudor homes have been around quite some time, houses made from a traditional brick and block house are generally expected to have a lifespan of approximately 65 years, however the country has a lot of Victorian housing still in use.

Nowadays, when building with ICF, it is possible to use low carbon cement in the manufacturing process, and at this current moment in time research is active on viable “cementless” concrete. Some ICF manufacturers are getting close to being able to offer a minimum lifespan of 120 years on the product. As the concrete sets it forms a solid monolithic wall which allows the wall to maintain what is known as high thermal mass (stays warm in winter, and cool in summer), I see it as the future of high thermal mass housing that can offer a low energy solution.

ICF is quick to build and does not require extensive training, unlike some other building trades. The internal finishing still requires the normal trades, but the basic wall and roof can be completed in a fraction of the time that traditional building process does. Furthermore, the polystyrene forms will not rust or rot, they can be manufactured with an element of recycled polystyrene, making it more resilient against national disasters.

At the extreme, ICF buildings have survived tornadoes and are earthquake resistant due to the reinforcement that is included in the concrete. The polystyrene bricks that contain the concrete do not hold water, if an ICF house gets flooded; you simply chip the plaster and plasterboard off and re-skim. In a traditional or timber frame house, it would require months for the structure to dry out before any form of refurbishment could take place.

The ICF work is still in progress and I will continue to help and push it forward. I am of the belief that it could be one of the solutions to resolve the current housing shortage and think that there are many additional benefits of its use.

Although, as far as becoming a vegetarian goes, I am too fond of a naan donner kebab so don’t plan to change just yet! The electric car may become a reality in the next year or so…