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What is the attraction to using more alternative materials? The need for new housing is acute. With the population continuing to rise, demand for more property grows. Experts suggest that there needs to be more than 300,000 homes built every year to service this demand – and yet barely half of that total has been achieved in recent years.

The lack of supply only serves to further drive up prices, making it hard for first time buyers to get on the property ladder and ensuring that the housing market is never far from the headlines.

Politicians, industry leaders and fed up millennials all agree that the answer to the current housing crisis is to build more houses but there are many things that get in the way of delivering housebuilding on the scale required - chiefly the cost of building and the complicated rules governing planning permission.

It’s amid this backdrop that the way we construct properties is under the spotlight. How many homes are built, the cost of them, where they can be built and the environmental impact of building them all, in some way, can be affected by the method of construction and materials used.

You don’t have to look far to see innovation in this field. An article from This Big City highlights five different materials that could transform the face of construction. These are wool bricks that avoid the need for the traditional ‘firing’ process, solar tiles that can harness the sun’s rays, sustainable concrete which uses recycled materials, paper insulation as an alternative to chemical foam and triple glazed windows using krypton to act as an effective insulator.

These are far from the only new materials being used, but they offer a useful snapshot into the many ways in which the process is being refined. The benefits of all of this:

  1. Driving down cost. If houses can be built more cheaply then it’ll be much easier to build at the scale required.
  2. Quickening up build times. The faster homes go up, the quicker people can get in them – and developers can see a return on their investment.
  3. Greater durability. In houses, sheds and outbuildings, there’s a real need to ‘build to last’ to avoid delivering a short term sticking plaster that will store up problems for the future (with demand still rising). Durability particularly comes into focus when considering making homes that withstand the elements in an era of increasingly unpredictable weather.
  4. Greener credentials. There’s an increasing acceptance that more must be done to cut down pollution to protect the planet for future generations. Any way to cut down the environmental impact of construction – and make homes that require less energy – will help to cut emissions.
  5. Reducing the need for imports. There’s great value – environmentally, economically and politically – in being able to utilise locally-sourced materials in building projects, especially if free trades comes under threat.
  6. Flexibility and taste. Many people have a clear idea of what their ‘dream home’ is and would like something more than a mere identikit build, especially if they are going to have had to save up for a considerable time for the privilege of buying in the first place. Alternative materials can help cater for the tastes of buyers who demand something better than the ordinary – be that practical or aesthetic. 

There are many negatives to come from the housing crisis. But if it forces people to find better and more creative solutions to the construction process, this will at least be one positive.


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