With the effects of climate change increasingly being seen around the world, particularly with flooding having recently devastated parts of northern Europe, the need for real environmental change is more apparent than ever before. For its part, Beattie Passive, the leading provider of Passivhaus homes in the UK, has demonstrated a real flair for innovation over the years that could provide at least some of the answers, even with the pandemic having made the situation all the more challenging.
“The Covid pandemic has been tough for us, just like it’s been for everyone, but by introducing a new volumetric factory during lockdown it has made it easier for us to control the risk of transmission,” explains Ron Beattie, Director. “Being able to segregate and build bubbles with teams coming and going at different times of the day has made the process safer, as a controlled factory environment means there’s much more we can do to reduce any issues in comparison to operating onsite. As a result, we’ve so far been Covid-free on the factory floor.”
The new factory is located at the Carrow Works site in Norwich and has allowed Beattie Passive to greatly ramp up production of its signature Passivhaus standard modular homes for clients across the UK. It has also led to the creation of over 80 new jobs, ranging from apprentices and carpenters to factory managers and other support roles.
The facility manufactures Beattie Passive’s Haus4 range of products, from Haus4Studios, Haus4one and Haus4two, through to one, two and three-bedroom volumetric apartments. The Haus4 range offers modular, relocatable homes that can meet the client’s immediate housing requirements, whilst delivering both the exceptional performance of Passivhaus and the higher quality of a Beattie Passive build. As a result, the company has seen a considerable rise in demand for its Haus4 range since the outbreak of Covid-19 due to the increasing pressure on Housing Association and Councils to find housing solutions for the growing homeless population.
Underlining this point, Beattie Passive recently completed works in the factory for 48 relocatable new modular homes split across three apartment blocks, plus an office block to help process the needs of homeless people, on the site of the old Gasworks in Grangetown, Cardiff. This temporary development consists of a mixture of one-bedroom flats (GIA 54m2), two-bedroom flats (GIA 72m2) and three-bedroom flats (GIA 86m2) and is set to achieve Passivhaus Plus certification through the addition of Photo Voltaics and Airsource Heat Pumps, so is firmly delivering on the zero-carbon agenda as well.
Beattie Passive have also recently handed over another completed project, at Hayes Place in Cardiff City Centre. A development including 18 Haus4studio apartments and one Haus4two, the whole project was delivered from start to finish in only eight months, as a response to the urgent need for temporary accommodation to get homeless people off the street.
“These units provide a warm, secure and safe environment for the homeless to be assessed and given health checks and mental health checks before hopefully being moved on to more permanent accommodation,” says Mr Beattie. “Similar schemes have been seen across Wales and into England as well.
“Certainly, when Covid hit there was a massive rush to get everyone off the street and within Wales there’s been a temporary relaxation of the planning laws for the period of the pandemic. We were therefore able to secure planning permission in a matter of weeks, with the structures being able to stay in place for a period of five years. The Council will need to reapply for planning, but we have a window where we can get things happening very quickly.
“We’ve put a great deal of thought behind making the Cardiff project as energy efficient as possible and Passivhaus improves the performance of the fabric. We’re also conscious that newer solutions are coming to market all the time that are currently too expensive but will eventually come down in price, thereby making them a viable option in the future. It’s vital that we keep a close eye on the latest developments within the marketplace, as well as continuing to innovate ourselves.”
Adding to the difficulties associated with Covid, Brexit has also been an issue that has led to supply chain problems across the construction industry, resulting in a shortage of materials. Thankfully Beattie Passive’s close relationship with its suppliers has helped reduce the impact.
“During the Covid pandemic and the early part of Brexit we have strived to anticipate potential issues by planning as much as possible and having an excellent supply base definitely makes the process easier,” outlines Mr Beattie. “This has been very important as having a pipeline of suppliers that you can trust is vital in these types of situations. We’ve been very lucky in this regard. Consequently, we have been able to reliably find materials, although unfortunately at higher prices. The level of pricing you could secure 18 months ago has since seen a 30% increase, which has made the situation difficult.
“Good relationships with suppliers have been absolutely integral. This has been achieved by being loyal to them, which has then been reciprocated. They therefore work very hard to make sure we’ve got a continuous supply. It is easier with a modular build process because we know exactly what the process is moving forward. In contrast, it’s harder to stock and manage the overall procedures onsite, whereas within a factory environment you can cordon off certain levels much easier.”
Due to the diversity of Beattie Passive’s offering, its systems can be applied to a wide variety of different projects. Its range not only encompasses modular but also other models of construction that are licensed and utilised by companies from Scotland right the way down the country through to Bristol.
Beattie Passive also has its TCosy™ retrofit system, which delivers a deep retrofit frame solution creating a void from foundations to roof, encapsulating the existing roof and external brickwork. This is injected with insulation to a give a highly efficient building envelope with no thermal bridges, greatly enhancing the U-value of the walls and roof in the process.
The TCosy™ system was utilised at the end of last year on the retrofit of a block of 1950s flats in Great Yarmouth. The completion of this project gave the building a brand-new look and dramatically increased both the energy performance and quality of life for the residents, who were able to remain at home for the duration of the project.
“Working in partnership with Oxford Brookes University and Enhabit, we performed a successful deep retrofit on the property, providing a new super insulated envelope around the whole building, MVHR units into every flat and new triple-glazed, Passivhaus standard windows,” explains Mr Beattie. “It’s reduced the running costs considerably, between 80% and 90%, which has helped lift residents out of fuel poverty. We’ve already seen how successful it has been by the fact that residents have not had to use their heating at all over the Christmas period, even on the coldest days. It’s also made the homes much healthier to live in.”
With a wide range of products for the construction industry that can be utilised for both the creation of new buildings and the retrofit of existing ones, Beattie Passive is now looking to increase its capabilities to meet its longer-term objectives.
“The idea of having a single factory delivering thousands of homes has always seemed very strange to me. What we actually need is a thousand factories delivering a hundred homes, giving communities and local people work opportunities. We are currently in negotiations with many organisations looking at how we can create local factories, building the Beattie Passive modular system but getting real local employment benefits and keeping the money local to that area, which is so important for promoting growth in the regions. We need to get people back into employment and if we can come out of the pandemic with a workable green agenda, both in terms of retrofitting and building new homes that are zero carbon, then we’ve got to take that opportunity.
“To support this, we need a whole new breed of construction worker. In terms of our own academy, last year we started off with two employees and have ended up with 76. The majority of them hadn’t been in the construction industry before and after just three weeks of training they’re now building houses that we believe are the best in the world. It can be done, but what we need now is a concerted effort to push things forward.
“Improved training is a must. As an industry we’re losing hundreds of thousands of people and while we can talk about apprenticeships and various other schemes, in the end nothing really happens. We’ve got to do more in prisons with offenders and with young people coming out of schools, colleges, and universities, so they have a real career in construction and are able to deliver the homes of the future. It’s not just about the building, how it’s constructed and by who is just as important.”
Due to its passion for staff development, all of Beattie Passive’s employees undergo a rigorous training programme to build the necessary skills to deliver Passivhaus standard housing. The company is therefore not only providing a positive impact on the local community through significant employment but is also sourcing materials and subcontract suppliers for the modular homes from local supply chains wherever possible. These factors combined are leading to positive economic and social benefits for the local community.
While Beattie Passive’s approach is admirable, there needs to be an industry-wide revolution if tangible improvements are going to be made on a larger scale.
“We’ve all seen the issues that Germany and Belgium are having and the devastation that’s been caused by the floods there,” points out Mr Beattie. “We all need to stop and wake up to the urgency of the situation. Using Passivhaus technology and maximising the benefits it can bring should be the norm, rather than being frightening and something that people think they can’t do. Anyone can build a Beattie Passive home to a high standard, not just in terms of sustainability but also in fire and sound and durability. The question is why aren’t we doing it?
“There’s a great deal of good will around and while everybody wants to do it, they’re also reluctant to take the necessary steps. In contrast we can deliver now, as we can provide a zero-carbon agenda on every building we construct. Everyone can do it, so why are houses still being built that need to be retrofitted in ten years’ time? It’s unbelievable because the costs involved are phenomenal.
“There has to be a complete overhaul of the industry’s approach. The key is making the required investment now rather than just throwing money away by doing small amounts that don’t actually achieve anything in the long term. This is a real problem. I hope one day we’ll wake up and realise that getting it right first time is the best approach.”
As the rest of the construction industry slowly catches up, in the meantime Beattie Passive is focused on developing its own approach and making the most of the opportunities it has identified.
“Fundamentally we’re an innovation company, so our drive is to create products before working with partners to make real progress,” says Mr Beattie. “This is where our expansion is going. We’ll soon be launching our school building process where we can create a school out of different sections, such as a classroom section, a hallway section, a utility section, a toilet section, etc. A decision can therefore be made about precisely what’s required. For example, a school with 40 classrooms and 16 toilet blocks that can simply be plugged together. This speeds up delivery considerably.
“The Beattie Passive classroom is a fully modular solution, adapted from our Haus4 range to suit any capacity requirement. These flexible units can be built to accommodate any class size and are built to completion offsite and delivered wherever to they are needed. The lightweight foundation requirements combined with fast connections to services means a new classroom can be up and running in a matter of hours with minimal disruption.
“There are also instances where a school has been built that turns out to not be big enough because there’s going to be many more pupils than were originally expected. At the same time, there’s situations where a school is not required anymore. In such cases, for schools constructed using our system we could dismantle it and move to another location in order to create a new building with a different use.
“We need to rethink building, particularly in terms of our schools, nursing homes and hospitals. At the moment we build for today, not tomorrow, and this has to change. With the amount of energy and materials required for the construction of a new building, it makes complete sense to not only ensure it is fit for purpose for as long as possible, but also has a viable afterlife.
“This is the way we need to be thinking about products, not just about it having one life and a single fit. This is also true of sustainability. You’ve got to think of the future, and I’m talking 50 or 100 years ahead.”
This foresight, coupled with the reputation for innovation that Beattie Passive has become known for, isn’t only attracting growing recognition in the UK but is also leading to interest globally. “We’re seeing very high levels of interest with enquiries coming in every day. In fact, we had one recently from Bermuda and we’re in discussions with companies throughout the world including Australia.
“From a local perspective, Homes England have been very supportive in the discussions we’ve had with them as they want to see Beattie Passive grow and deliver more homes because of the standards we adhere to. All of our partners have been fantastic. We’re a young business but we’ve got great ambition. We really want to see Passive housing become the norm, not in 30 years’ time but as soon as possible, and we want to see it utilised on many sites around the world.”
To help pursue its goals, Passive Beattie has put together a great team, a fantastic suite of products and has forged relationships with some leading contractors. This is giving it all the ingredients to achieve yet more progress.
“We can start a factory up anywhere within weeks, which is really exciting,” says Mr Beattie “What’s more, it doesn’t take millions of pounds to do so. Looking to the next 12 months, the objective is to grow Beattie Passive across the UK and hopefully abroad. There’s a massive problem in retrofitting and I really hope this is an issue that will be taken more seriously. We’re in discussions with many clients within this area and it’s something that really needs to start taking off.
“I’m hopeful that this time next year, our TCosyTM and TCosy+TM systems will have become more popular across the UK. It’s the only way to do it properly. The public are increasingly aware of what needs to be done to improve our homes and our public services and we’ve got a range of modular homes to suit every situation. I strongly believe we’re heading for a revolution in housing, it just takes time.”
While Beattie Passive is continuing to make excellent progress thanks to the strength of its offering, particularly with its new volumetric factory having added another significant string to its bow, let’s hope that others begin to follow its lead and real headway can be made in tackling global climate change.