Paul Simpson, Commercial Director at Recticel Insulation, says the current health and political crisis must not prevent the UK from building better, and despite possible price hikes on the horizon “the construction industry could do well to drive home the message for the benefit of its members and consumers that – unfortunately – quality comes at a cost”.
As we head towards 2021, as far as the construction industry is concerned, the legitimate urges for us to build better and more sustainably remain reassuringly loud. In some respects and despite the terrible pain COVID-19 has wrought upon millions of lives across the world, the unprecedented experience we’ve all endured may in the long run serve us well. The virus could serve as a lesson on how to live our lives – and not just build – better.
Although we must not also downplay the terrible hit that businesses have taken during the pandemic, particularly in the hospitality industry, and the huge job losses that have followed, the lockdown-related reduction in road and air travel has led to us – when allowed out – to breathe cleaner air.
A change for the better?
Of the few unexpected upshots of the current crisis, highlighting the futility of the many journeys we make in the course of work, for example, could have huge beneficial consequences for the environment, as well as our physical and mental wellbeing. Those of us fortunate enough to be able to work from home whilst quarantined were able to do so effectively, thanks to the brilliant technology that kept us in remote touch with colleagues and clients. A report by the Carbon Trust found that CO2 emissions decreased by more than 30% during the UK’s first lockdown in March compared to the same period the previous year. Statistics such as this provide a basis for arguing that remote working – where possible – has to be a way forward next year and beyond if we are to maintain this improvement in respect of our natural and physical worlds.
For the construction industry, this consolidation means continuing to exploit technology such as BIM, which not only helps design-out building imperfections, it also helps us build quicker and safer by eliminating the need for site visits and physically having to measure-up elements such as roofs and produce drawings based on the resulting information. Sir David Attenborough, one of the world’s greatest ecological campaigners, continually impresses the need to prevent waste if we are to truly tackle climate change, and BIM is a superb tool for reducing waste in terms of energy relating to unnecessary travel, pollution in respect of minimising on-site labour times and the ultimate desired outcome: well-designed homes which achieve industry-standard thermal performance.
Next year will also confirm what the UK has managed to negotiate in terms of a Brexit deal. As it stands, a lack of economic agreement could mean British building-based products facing a huge price hike at the worst possible time, what with the country potentially in the midst of a post-coronavirus recession. It’s possible, for example, that World Trade Organisation tariffs will put an additional 6.5% on the cost of PIR panels, an expense that will be passed on to the customer in terms of higher house prices or renovation costs.
As distressing as this prospect is, the industry must stick to its guns and not veer from its path to build better. By cutting corners and swapping-out specified products for cheaper, less-effective alternatives, we will be trading short-term gain for long-term pain in the form of costly retrofits for properties that fall short of energy standards and impede the health and wellbeing of occupants. In fact, the construction industry could do well to drive home the message for the benefit of its members and consumers that – unfortunately – quality comes at a cost, and failure to build to the highest specification could have a mass of negative implications for future generations and the environment they shall inherit.