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House building: a century of innovation (NF85)

Despite outward appearances, the construction of British homes appear to have remained unchanged for centuries and yet they currently incorporate forms of construction that were once seen as ‘modern methods of construction’ (MMC).

NHBC Foundation’s latest report  ‘House building: a century of innovation’ looks at technology, materials and construction methods used in building the modern home, charting the progress made over the last century.

Summary of content

This guide, prepared for the NHBC Foundation by Studio Partington, looks at the evolution of the traditionally built house. On the surface, new homes currently constructed using ‘traditional’ methods appear to have remained unchanged for the last century yet incorporate many forms of construction that were once seen as ‘modern methods of construction’ (MMC).

Clear comparisons are made between methods and products from typical Georgian, Victorian, pre- and post-war eras with modern-day construction and new, evolving low-carbon technologies.

This illustrated report highlights the benefits to new home-owners of homes built to the latest NHBC Standards and building regulations. It details innovation at every stage of construction – from the foundations, the building envelope and typical components to the latest technological advances in individual methods, products and services. This has led to homes being constructed at greater speed, with better quality standards and improved energy efficiency.

Overall, the report reminds us that new traditionally built homes are more robust, provide more environmentally friendly living spaces and offer a greater reduction in running costs.

Neil Smith, Head of Standards, Research & Innovation at NHBC, said: “People living in newly built homes are able to reap the many benefits of improved building standards, ranging from better energy efficiency levels, which not only help look after the environment but also lead to greatly-reduced fuel bills.

This report is a useful reminder of the technology and materials incorporated in the construction of a modern home whilst comparing the performance achieved in relatively recent times with the advancements of the last two decades. What’s more, this report makes clear that what lies beneath the skin of new homes is quite different from what has gone before.”

Summary of Content

This guide contains 3 main sections:

1 Building envelope

Introduction: Looks at technology and materials incorporated in the construction of a modern home and compares recent performance with advancements of the last two decades.

Foundations and ground floors: Compares typical 19th-century foundation with modern-day foundations designed to NHBC Standards.

Windows and external doors: Compares traditional timber windows and doors made by skilled craftsmen with low maintenance PVC-U maintenance-free double glazed units

External masonry walls: Compares solid nine-inch solid brickwork with multi-layered cavity walls with thermal insulation.

External timber frame walls: Compares commonplace vernacular timber framed construction dating to medieval times with modern SIPs (structural insulated panel systems) and platform timber frame construction.

Upper floors: Compares solid timber joists built into nine-inch thick solid brick walls to lightweight engineered timber joists.

Pitched roofs: Compares cut timber rafters constructed on site to trussed rafters and the latest SIPS construction where the roof is used as additional living space.

2 Building services

Introduction: Looks at the growth of new technologies that harness natural resources and compares to a typical home in the early 20th century without central heating or even an internal bathroom.

Gas central heating: Compares boilers fuelled by coal and firewood with open flues to energy-efficient combination boilers with no water storage.

Heat pumps :Compares homes where typically only one room was heated and there could be ice on the insides of windows to heat pumps that extract heat from the outside and underfloor heating.

Background ventilation: Compares uncontrollable ventilation through ill-fitting windows and floorboards creating a draughty home leaking heat to ventilation systems that reduce condensation and mould and utilise natural ventilation.

Efficiency, safety and security improvements: Looks at energy efficiency with a range of low-carbon technologies and enhanced safety and security features.

3 Energy efficiency

Introduction: Highlights that regular building regulation revisions have enabled the modern home to be increasingly sophisticated in technology and led to significant improvements in heat loss through the building fabric.: