40 RCI 0514

RCI May 2014

CLADDING & SHEETING “Crisis has always been a great driver of innovation” 040 MAY 2014 RCIMAG.COM Michael Sellars of Euroform explains why he feels real-brick-slip cladding systems can offer a traditional solution to a key problem There’s no shortage of innovation in the construction industry. Witness the Chinese company that is mass-producing houses using 3D printers. The walls and structure of the house are 'printed' layer upon layer using a mixture of cement and construction waste. The process allows up to ten complete houses to be printed and assembled in one day, at a cost of less than £3,000 per property. Then there's self-healing bioconcrete, where bacteria are activated when cracks allow water and oxygen into the structure. Once activated, the bacteria eat mineral food packets incorporated into the concrete and excrete calcite which then fills the cracks. Now, real-brick-slip cladding systems may not have the Tomorrow's World wow-factor of a 3D printed house or concrete that fixes itself with bacteria poo, but it is very much a part of the problem / solution dynamic that drives innovation within construction. Brick slips also tap into that other governing principal of construction, tradition. At the same time as being innovative and forward-thinking, construction is steeped in tradition. Take concrete, for example. It continues to dominate the industry some 3,000 years after its first recorded use in the royal palace of Tiryns, Greece, in 1400-1200 BC. Similarly, there's no sign of brick going anywhere soon. And where concrete dominates principally on the basis of its practical characteristics, the popularity of brick, particularly within the UK, is largely a matter of aesthetics. The British, like the more sensible of the three little pigs, like their houses to be built out of bricks. Which brings us to the brick shortage currently being experienced by the construction industry, with the housebuilding sector feeling the brunt of it. The UK mortgage crisis spiralling out of the banking crisis of 2008 resulted in a reduction in the number of houses being built. This in turn, quite naturally, reduced the demand for bricks. Brick manufacturing facilities were forced to either close down or were effectively mothballed. In 2007, brick production in the UK was somewhere in the region of 2.4 billion. By 2013, that had fallen to 1.73 billion, a 28% decrease in output. Many of the larger housebuilding companies have, on the whole, been unaffected by the shortage, thanks to a combination of stockpiling and, according the Federation of Master Builders, preferential treatment by brick suppliers due to the considerable size of their order books. It is small-to medium-sized housebuilders who are finding things particularly difficult. There have been reports of builders having to wait for as long as 40 weeks for their brick orders to be fulfilled. And even when bricks are available, increases in price are not uncommon. A 10% increase was reported in January. All of this sees SME housebuilders facing the very real possibility of housebuilding projects stalling. In London alone, there are currently about 200,000 consented homes yet to be built. Whilst land-banking explains some of this, the simple inability to physically build the homes is no doubt a contributory factor. Whilst the House Builders' Federation appear to be confident that supply will meet demand in the medium term, there is little evidence that there will be any improvement in the short term. The Brits love bricks But it isn't all bad news. Returning to the original subject of innovation in the construction industry, the FMB is already speculating that “SME housebuilders may be forced to build with alternative materials, such as render.” Although the word “forced” implies a kind of desperation, it's worth remembering that crisis has always been a great driver of innovation. It is the need to solve a problem that pushes people to new heights of creativity. Rendering onto a suitable render base board, such as Euroform's Rendaboard, is certainly one solution. However, the British really love their bricks and many people will not even consider the possibility of a rendered finish. It's bricks or nothing. Real-brick-slip systems may provide an answer. Aesthetically, a professionally installed real-brickslip system is impossible to distinguish from an actual brick finish, plus it has a much slimmer build-up, creating the possibility of a larger internal footprint. In relation to the brick shortage, the real-brickslip system has two distinct advantages. Firstly, a double-faced brick can provide two brick slips and, secondly, brick slips can be created from damaged bricks which might otherwise go to waste. This opportunity to use bricks that Above: EZWall on a prefabricated chimney wouldn't pass muster as an actual brick is, obviously, a huge advantage during a brick shortage. Brick slips can also be created 'from scratch' using precisely the same methods as that used for full-sized bricks but requiring only a fraction of the raw materials. To illustrate, Euroform's EZWall real-brick-slip system, part of Euroform's extensive Fast Build Range, was recently used on an episode of the BBC’s extremely popular DIY SOS programme, to air this summer. For those unfamiliar with the show, the projects are carried out by local construction businesses donating their time and materials and working to an extremely tight schedule. A large extension was completed in just three days, with EZWall matching-in perfectly to the existing brickwork. An additional advantage of EZWall is its unique, patented steel panel system providing high tensile strength, exceptional wind loading and racking and a Dual Weeping Mechanism ensuring excellent drainage. With bricks predating concrete by at least two thousand years, real-brick-slips represent a great example of construction industry innovation walking hand-in-hand with the forces of tradition. www.euroform.co.uk


RCI May 2014
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