Standing up to the true test of time

It’s quite clear that Britain was built to last.  This comes down to how it was built; the skilled tradesmen and the UK sourced materials used in its construction.  In 2010 a survey of the existing housing stock in the UK found that over 4.8 million residential dwellings were built prior to 1919 and a further 3.7 million between 1919 and 1944.

Towns and cities dotted across the UK show proof of this successful traditional style of building. Shrewsbury, Winchester and York all have historic buildings that date back centuries.  Since the buildings have stood the test of time, so too then, have the methods of construction.

The UK construction industry is littered with traditional practices.  Some believe that tradition halts progress and that as an industry we are behind the times with our traditional approach to building.  In my eyes, I see tradition as a positive influence.

It is seen in some architectural circles that success derives from modern design but I wonder, in centuries to come, will people look back on these ‘new-age’ buildings with the same nostalgic aura and see a building that has stood that same test of time?

Although lifespan is one of the most important values when assessing the quality of a building it’s far from the only one.  Building using masonry materials, be that aircrete, clay, stone, marble or concrete, is ingrained into UK heritage.  It has also created quite significant regional vernaculars that contribute massively to the look and feel of a village even at a subconscious level.

Each individual vernacular was often created because of material or labour constraints in an area.  Often, only local materials could be sourced due to high transport cost and the same can be said for the availability of labour.  It is important therefore that we don’t drastically alter how we build, else risk losing a sense of what British architecture truly means.

Britain was built on the backs of its hard working labour force.  The skills developed and discovered over centuries of construction are just as important as the landscape that they provided.  Now, more than ever, we need to be making sure that the skills acquired over the years remain desired and readily available to learn.

When it comes to the design of a building, the great deal of performance data already available in the public area can make the specification of tried and tested materials easy.  Specifiers know exactly what they are to expect and what they can achieve with the use of brick and block materials.

With all the benefits of a traditional approach to construction, it is also very important that we don’t venture forward with closed eyes.  While I believe there will always be a significant place in the UK construction sector for traditional masonry, it’s still vitally important that we take a fresh look at developing our products.

Innovation is a key part of most construction material manufacturers and H+H is no different.  Our Research and Development department is constantly working on new ways to look at our products in an effort to improve construction methods and techniques.  While many industries are seeking to invent entirely new products and systems, a lot of what we find successful at H+H is our ability to improve existing products.

We rely heavily on being ahead of the pack, innovative in our thinking and progressive with our approach to research and development.  Our aircrete blocks were first introduced into the UK market in the early 1950s but there is consensus that our products are more relevant to the construction industry today than they were 60 years ago.  This comes down to the work our teams do on analysing the market and assisting with its growth.

A great example of this is the development to our High and Super Strength Grade Celcon Blocks.  We have recently been awarded a new BBA certificate as a result of improving their thermal conductivity from 0.19 W/mK to 0.18 which will enhance U-Values and diminish heat loss at junctions.  A reduction in weight has also made life that little bit easier for block layers who transport the light weight aircrete blocks around site.

Due to Research and Development, Celfix Mortar, made by H+H as part of the aircrete manufacturer’s Thin-Joint System, can now be used from 0OC and rising, a full degree lower than traditional mortar systems.  Approved by the NHBC, the new extended temperature range will enable an increase in productivity during the colder months of the year. Builders using the H+H Thin-Joint System to lay aircrete blocks will be able to start work on site earlier in the day and will potentially be able to work on days that previously would have seen little onsite activity. 

Research and Development at H+H were also heavily involved in producing the Robust Details, E-WM-23 and 24 for high performance cavity separation wall construction.  The fully filled cavity solutions, design to address the thermal insulation requirements of Part L, have the added benefit of a high acoustic performance.

Further developments to the already highly efficient Thin-Joint System have seen Retro Fit Joist Hangers being introduced as a more effective solution than traditional methods.  This has meant the inner leaf can be built up faster with masonry work not having to stop for the installation of joist hangers; this gives more build flexibility and reduces time and waste by removing the need for a split course of blockwork.

A great deal of time and effort has gone into research focused of the improving thermal performance of our products.  We have recognised that our customers are becoming more aware of the need to take a ‘fabric first’ approach to building.  Home owners are more interested in using materials that will maximise performance of their buildings before they consider using electrical or mechanical building services.

We work with key stakeholders in the construction industry as well as trade organisations and other manufacturers to make sure that our products remain relevant in the marketplace.  Partnering with other organisations on a long term and strategic basis is a priority for us at H+H as we believe that collaboration leads to far greater success than and individual approach.

We were recently involved with the Government back AIMC4 research project which is seeking to develop a method for the volume production of low carbon homes for the future.  Aircrete was signalled as an easy to use, one-stop building material that would adhere to strict construction requirements with regards to design flexibility, acoustics, fire, thermal, environmental, below DPC use and health and safety.

Legislation changes are often a driving force behind the redevelopment of existing products.  Being one step ahead of the game means that our products will not only shape up to the changes being made but will continue to be market leaders.

We can be proud of the resilient construction industry that has been established in this country and the integral history that we share.  It’s vitally important that we never ignore that history because we can still find lessons to be learnt from those processes that have been used for centuries.  It’s less about reinventing the wheel and more about honing it in an effort to make things more efficient.