Pre-built structures

Pre-built structures set to change landscape of Irish construction industry in coming decades.

Industry professionals Eoin Madden and Rachel Reddin give their take on the impacts that pre-built structures are set to have on the ever-changing face of the Irish construction industry.

“The increasing demand for housing in Ireland has placed pre-built homes front-and-centre in a sea of expanding options for both building materials and methods. With top-level energy efficiency ratings and vastly reduced build times, pre-built structures are set to  become a big-hitter in the industry, but not without a fight”, says Rachel Reddin of Kelly’s Homevalue Hardware, in Dublin’s North Strand.

Deviation from traditional methods

“Irish builders can be slow to adopt innovations in construction”, according to Rachel, who said that many of her customers haven’t adopted the pre-built business model at this point in time. “I haven’t yet felt a big impact on my business from pre-built structures. The big builders are still using heavy build materials”, Rachel said. “The overall cost of pre-built structures seems to be more-or less the same, however, the large saving here is time and
space. All you need is the hoisting machinery and workers to install the structure.”

Eoin Madden, Managing Director of FrameSpace Solutions Ltd, said it’s only a matter of time before pre-built structures are rolled out en masse. “I’ve been predicting this for a long time”, Eoin said, referring to the recent upward trend in the purchase and utilisation of pre-built structures and a move away from “the stranglehold of ancient processes” in construction.

Drawing attention to construction work in Dublin City, Rachel Reddin said, “The construction at Dublin’s South Dock has not been done with this pre-built type of business model, and I don’t foresee companies like FrameSpace being heavily involved with the construction of the North Dock either, which is the next phase of the build. As of now, they’re still using heavy build materials, for example the EXO building beside the 3 Arena is all precast concrete, and that’s in the centre of Ireland’s capital city”, said Rachel.

Self sufficient

Both Rachel and Eoin agree that local builder’s merchants will not be shouting from the rooftops about the arrival of pre-built structures. Reflecting on a recent build that he completed, Eoin said, “We bought absolutely nothing from the local builder’s merchant. I wouldn’t know who they are or where they are, I didn’t need them. We don’t require cement or lime and we buy all our steel from abroad.” According to Rachel, “these pre-built structure companies have everything they need. It’s basically plans and drawings that are entered into computers by one or two people, and the machines get to work using whatever materials they input.”

Energy efficiency and fire safety

Sharing some of the advantages of these pre-built structures, Eoin said that they are “completely noncombustible”, bringing reference the issue of fire safety; an ever-relevant topic after the Grenfell Tower tragedy of 2017, which has “pushed fire safety forward”.

Eoin’s structures don’t use any oil-based insulation, but rather a mineral wool variety. These structures are “thermally superior and airtight”, said Eoin, citing the fact that “thermal ratings regulations have changed dramatically in recent times, which is making it difficult for traditional block-work to match up to pre-built structures”. Additionally, Eoin said that his structures offer an advantage over timber-frame builds, which “have a tendency to move and are naturally flammable”.

Streamlined process

There is a significant logistical advantage to pre-built structures, according to Eoin. “If you think of a traditional construction site, you’re going to have a 100 subcontractors arriving in 100 different vans at different times all over the site, and the coordination of that is just
horrendous. We can stick 70% of that work in a factory that can operate 24/7, where all elements of the build are put together under one roof. We can do tiles, joinery, window fitting, plasterboard and external insulation. We’ll also look after everything from fire safety, structural engineering, acoustics, thermal etc. all in a controlled environment.”

Going forward

According to Eoin, builder’s merchants aren’t going anywhere in the near future. “Our pre-build sector only makes up 2 or 3% of the construction industry at this point, and it’s a big job to get people to change from traditional construction. Nobody needs to be thinking
they’re going to be bust in a year, absolutely not” said Eoin.

Rachel’s closing forecast suggests that builder’s merchants will need to adapt to the changing market, saying, “These pre-built structures are becoming popular in the UK, and it would be accepted amongst the Irish construction market that what becomes fashionable in the UK will eventually move over here. I wouldn’t be surprised if in maybe 10-20 years time that I don’t recognise this industry for what it used to be.”