Over the last decade, there has been a significant uptake in all methods of offsite construction driven by the demand for new homes, the current skills shortage and changes in environmental regulations. Precast concrete, light gauge steel, engineered timber and volumetric modular are now established approaches to manufacture and delivery.
The increased trend towards offsite manufacturing, particularly in the residential sector, has meant that it is now necessary to call upon these methods of construction to increase output and keep up with demand. As an example, the Greater London Authority stated that 50,000 new homes a year are needed in London to satisfy the growing population; a challenge that can be facilitated by employing offsite manufactured solutions.
Offsite manufactured solutions enable key elements of a facade to be produced offsite in conjunction with the project's overall critical path; while site foundations and utilities are being prepared, units can be produced offsite ready for final installation. Full offsite solutions, or smaller components that interlink with the traditional elements of a build, are available dependent on the scope and scale of a project.
With the increased shortage of skilled labour, offsite manufacturing provides greater certainty for project delivery, whilst minimising wastage, inefficiencies and delays in a safer, controlled environment. Construction within a factory environment is not only safer but achieves quality control from precision manufacturing. Ultimately this ensures fast builds and lengthy lifespans, alongside significant environmental benefits from reduced transport pollution and the use of products with outstanding energy performance.
Brick soffits provide extra depth and dimension to masonry facades above window heads, door openings and canopies. Production of offsite soffit solutions has become quicker and more cost-effective to achieve. These complex design features can be produced using two different manufacturing methods. The first uses precast concrete and the second is a prefabricated lightweight stainless steel system.
Where on-site mechanical lifting equipment is available, precast concrete provides a low cost and resilient support for structural openings, ensuring the facing material becomes an integral part of the precast section.
An alternative to this method of construction is a BBA accredited lightweight steel system which offers several benefits over the traditional precast concrete method. The overall weight is reduced by more than half, which in most cases will allow the brick-faced units to be applied on-site without specialist lifting equipment, reducing installation time and cost.
Both methods of construction utilise almost any brick or masonry product and each feature unit is constructed using exactly the same facing material as the main facade, ensuring consistency throughout the project. These products allow for creative designs and building features to be built in brickwork, which otherwise would have been difficult to achieve traditionally.
Lightweight soffits are an increasingly popular design feature due to the combination of a specially developed lightweight brick-faced steel unit, with an accredited stainless steel support angle system. Until recently, creating such a design feature would have been a complex, costly and time-consuming process involving the drilling of individual bricks and threading of metal rods for support. However, a recently developed stainless steel system means that the soffit arrives on-site as a unitised section.
To suit different designs, these units are prefabricated offsite to the required dimensions. All of the system components are produced to the highest quality and are engineered for economy and durability, with slips permanently bonded to the high grade stainless steel system using a BBA accredited bonding agent.
The two part system design provides maximum adjustability, both vertically and horizontally, which facilitates alignment on-site. The quality of the product components allows the units to be perfectly aligned and, once in position, the brick facing needs to be pointed, creating a seamless match with the main brickwork.
Precast Components and Facades
We offer a range of architectural and structural components and facilitate a full facade solution. This portfolio includes full structures and facade panels, which are available in a variety of material finishes and colours including acid etched, grit blasted, polished, exposed aggregate, stone-faced, brick-faced and tile-faced.
A facing brick finish can be used for most bespoke precast-concrete applications, including arches, columns, wall panels, balconies, soffits and retaining walls. A combination of precast-concrete finishes can be used within the same or adjacent units, and smaller elements can be used in combination with traditional brickwork, such as brick-faced lintels or underslung soffits.
If choosing a facing brick finish, the selection of brick type should be a key consideration, not only for visual impact but for manufacture and overall cost. Purpose-made precast brick slips or practically any cut traditional brick material can be used, but not all brick types are appropriate or as easy to bond into concrete.
Colour uniformity of the brick material must be considered, and pallets should be mixed to minimise any obvious variations on a facade. This is particularly important for large expanses of brickwork, or where adjacent panels are manufactured at different times, decreasing the risk of colour changes between panels. This needs to be stated in the material specification.