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Sheep’s wool insulation is used on innovative, ultra-low-carbon housing project

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Neath-based timber frame construction specialist, SO Modular, has completed work on an innovative housing development with contractor Capsel and Monmouthshire Housing Association (MHA), to build 17 new homes across two derelict ex-garage sites in Pembroke Road and Western Avenue, Chepstow.

Both sites comprise of two housing types: a terraced mews style house with a patio area, and an interlocking courtyard bungalow. The innovative design concepts aim to address the specific housing ‘wants and needs’ of two definitive demographics: younger first-time buyers and older people wanting to downsize.

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The low-carbon homes have been developed using £3.1m of funding by the Welsh Government’s Innovative Housing Programme. They are extremely energy efficient, with a Standard Assessment Procedure (SAP) in excess of 100.

The houses have been constructed using SO Modular’s closed panel timber frame system and also fitted with solar panels on the roofs and ground-source heat pumps to transfer natural heat from under the ground to keep them warm – eliminating the need for a gas supply.

The state-of-the-art project is the first to be completed using this exclusive closed panel timber system with natural Welsh sheep’s wool insulation, developed by SO Modular.

The insulation is made from 75% sheep’s wool and 25% recycled polyester; a blend that allows for the full benefit of sheep’s wool with enhanced performance, breathability, durability, and sustainability.

This insulation has many benefits which will be enjoyed by the houses’ occupants: it regulates humidity, is mould resistant, has excellent sound reduction properties, and is breathable – purifying the air within the home.

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Its convenient compressed form also reduces transport impact by more than 50% compared to other insulation and is recyclable.

SO Modular is a rapidly expanding timber frame manufacturer with headquarters based in South West Wales. At the forefront of innovative and creative solutions within the construction industry, SO Modular is pushing boundaries and developing products that boost efficiency, sustainability, and cost-effectiveness across a diverse range of construction projects.

The company’s current research and development projects consist of manufacturing carbon-neutral but affordable timber-frame homes; homes that are so thermally efficient, with U-values so low, they require minimal heating and cooling, potentially completely removing the need for a central heating system at all.

Charlotte Hale, Operations Director, SO Modular, said: “We’re very proud to have been involved in such a forward-thinking scheme, implementing for the first time, our innovative panelised timber frame system, incorporating Welsh sheep’s wool insulation. I’m sure that the benefits of this type of construction will soon be adopted by the wider construction industry as a way to sustainably insulate homes and reduce the carbon footprint of such projects.

“With the construction industry constantly changing to incorporate more environmentally friendly practices, and timber frame buildings fast becoming the norm across the UK, the use of these kind of forward-thinking alternatives is a positive encouragement for us here at SO Modular to continue researching, developing and adapting to meet modern housing demands.”

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Stephen Venables, Senior Quantity Surveyor, Capsel Ltd., said: “We extend our thanks to SO Modular on their service, support and professionalism when delivering the two schemes in Chepstow, South Wales for Capsel and MHA.

“Whilst this project, being a new design concept, experienced its challenges, SO Modular’s site team worked tirelessly to resolve any issues that arose and embraced the ethos of collaborative working between client, design and delivery teams. Their commitment, hard work and enthusiasm was incomparable.

“This development has been for us and MHA a great first experience utilising Natural Welsh Sheep’s Wool Insulation on-site, and I believe this being SO Modular’s first full scheme using such an innovative insulation, they are extremely proud of themselves – and so they should be.”

Lead image: Artists impression of Capsel and Monmouthshire Housing Association development

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Construction

Housebuilder reports “exceptional demand” as Aberavon development launched

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“Exceptional demand” has been reported as the first homes at a new development on Aberavon seafront were released for sale.

All appointments were fully booked on Saturday as Persimmon Homes West Wales opened the doors to the sales office.

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Two homes were purchased at the Awel Afan development and a further 10 reserved on the Early Bird scheme over a busy weekend.

A total of 137 homes are being built on the former Afan Lido Leisure Centre site on Princess Margaret Way.

Sharon Bouhali, Sales Director at Persimmon Homes West Wales, said: “We’re pleased to have launched our Awel Afan site.

“The demand has been exceptional. Right from the moment we acquired the site and announced the plans, we have seen a phenomenal amount of interest from a wide range of people wanting to live in his amazing location.

“The housing market remains buoyant in West Wales but, even so, the buzz around Awel Afan is almost unprecedented.”

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Opened by the Queen in the 1970s, the Afan Lido was destroyed in a fire in 2009 and the site has been unused since.

Persimmon say the development will bring a massive boost to the local economy through the construction industry and its multiplier effect. According to figures from the House Builders Federation, for every £1 spent on housing, £3 goes back into the economy.

The national house builder says that each home built also creates 1.5 full-time direct jobs – and at least twice that number in the supply chain.

The development will be made up of two, three and four-bedroom houses, as well as a range of two-bedroom flats.

Homes currently on sale include the popular two-bedroom terraced Alnwick with its modern open plan kitchen/diner and the four-bedroom detached Hornsea with ensuite and integral garage.

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Persimmon Homes recently supported Afan Lido Girls FC with a game-changing grant of £20,000 through its Building Futures campaign.

(Lead image: Persimmon Homes)

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Time to raise the bar on Wales’ housing standards says Minister

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Welsh Government Minister Julie James has announced the upcoming launch of a consultation on proposed new social housing quality standard for Wales.

The Minister said the Welsh Housing Quality Standard 2023 (WHQS 2023) would ‘build on the excellent achievements of its predecessor’ – the standard introduced in 2002.

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Since then, the Welsh Government has worked with social landlord delivery partners to invest billions of pounds to significantly improve and maintain the quality of social homes across Wales.

As a result, by the end of 2020, 99 per cent of social housing in Wales met the original WHQS – a standard which is more demanding than in the other home nations.

Speaking in the Senedd, the Minister said: “Reflecting on the levels of achievement of the current standard, I am sure members will agree that, after 20 years, the standard is due to be reviewed, especially to acknowledge the considerable changes to how people live, work and feel about their homes.

“The world has moved on apace in the last 20 years and our expectation of our homes has moved on too.

“The proposed standard aims to be bold but ultimately achievable. We aim with our consultation to ensure that the voice of the sector is taken into account in finalising these standards and getting them right.

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“Setting standards is not an easy business at the best of times. It is even more challenging setting standards relating to the decarbonisation of homes – which is a developing area where we are learning what works best on an ongoing basis.

“The £220m committed over this term of government to the Optimised Retrofit Programme, our whole house, pragmatic, approach to decarbonising existing homes will help.

“It will provide some of the answers to how we effectively and efficiently reduce carbon emissions from homes in line with our Net Zero Wales plan.

“However, in the face of the climate change emergency we cannot stand still, and we must continue to push progress and set standards to address decarbonisation through a variety of measures in existing social housing.”

More than 900 tenants have been involved in the development of the new standard and technical elements have been supported by experts who have looked at what else is happening across the UK and the rest of the world.

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The Minister added: “I make no apology for proposing what some will see as a bold approach, I am determined the standards bar should be raised again.

“Meeting our Net Zero Wales targets requires us to make determined progress and I believe these standards are fit to take us forward in that regard.

“Our social housing tenants deserve these standards to be the best we can make them.

“My firm hope is that these standards will not only be brought to bear for social housing, but that in the future other tenures may consider how they too might meet and exceed these expectations.”

The proposed WHQS 2023 standards will be published for consultation from Wednesday May 11 and will be open for stakeholders to respond to for 12 weeks.

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Skills shortages and material costs continue to impact Welsh construction activity

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man in white and black plaid dress shirt holding white printer paper

Construction market activity continues to rise in Wales despite rising material costs and ongoing skill shortages, latest data from the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) suggests. However, the sector doesn’t expect to make a profit this year.

The Q1 2022 RICS UK Construction and Infrastructure Monitor shows greater than +40% of respondents in Wales reporting a rise in workloads in the quarter, up marginally from +37% in Q4 2021.

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The report says that infrastructure projects, alongside activity related to the development of public and private sector housing shows the strongest workload growth – with private housing up +48% and public housing up +54%.

Despite the growth in current workloads, the impact of global supply shortages, rising costs and a lack of skilled workers are impacting on activity.

When it comes to labour, 66% of survey respondents said that they were experiencing a shortage of quantity surveyors, whilst 67% reported shortages in other construction professionals and 65% pointed to a lack of labourers.

Despite the current challenges, respondents still remain relatively optimistic for the coming year ahead regarding workloads. However, they expect profit margins to be severely impacted by rising costs. Over a third (+36%) of respondents expect workloads to rise in the next 12 months. However, expectations for profit margins are now firmly negative with a net balance of –25%.

Aled Davies of VINCI Construction UK Limited in Cardiff said that material prices are increasing exponentially.

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Peter Jenkins of Willis Construction Limited in Cardiff said that the impact of the war in Ukraine is being felt in fuel and material costs as well as their availability.

RICS Chief Economist, Simon Rubinsohn, commented: “The good news in the latest report is that the industry remains positive about the outlook for activity and that the generally upbeat mood can be seen not just in regard of infrastructure and housing development but also in the commercial sector.

“However, it is clear that the sector faces significant challenges which have been reflected in recent official data showing a sharp rise in vacancies across the construction industry. RICS numbers demonstrate these shortages are pretty much across the board including quantity surveyors and project managers as well as both skilled trades and more general labour.

“This, combined with problems around accessing building materials in the current environment, is exerting significant upward pressure on construction costs at the present time.”

(Lead image: Tima Miroshnichenko / Pexels.com)

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