In this article, Richard Tonkinson, Executive Director of the UK-leading bathroom pod specialist Offsite Solutions, looks at the benefits of off-site manufacture for bathroom construction.
The shift towards off-site across the construction industry is being driven by the shortage of skilled labour, particularly in the South East; issues with consistent quality and the construction industry’s poor record of on-time and on-budget delivery. The publication of reports such as the House of Lords Committee Review into off-site manufacture has further highlighted the need to move more work off site.
There is now unprecedented demand for bathroom pods; for high-end apartment schemes, mixed-use developments, social housing, student accommodation, build-to-rent, healthcare, care homes and hotels.
What to consider when specifying bathroom pods
The most critical specification considerations are:
- Early engagement – this is essential to achieve optimal efficiency by designing pods into the early stages of a construction project. Accommodate pod installation in the build-up of walls and floors and take account of access for delivery of the pods to site, particularly on constrained sites.
- Look at economies of scale – standardised designs with minimal variations allow cost savings and time efficiencies by using the repetition of the off-site manufacturing process. To optimise efficiency, specifiers should rationalise the number of design types in size, shape and variations, such as left-
and right-hand versions,as far as possible.
The benefits of factory-built bathrooms
Reduced build programmes
One of the key drivers for off-site is to reduce programme. By moving bathroom construction into a controlled factory environment, the programme saving on a major project can be as much as 20 weeks. This means less risk for the contractor, earlier occupation for the client – and much greater certainty of completion on time and to budget.
Superior quality control
The production line environment of off-site manufacture offers consistently higher quality and improved productivity. The repetitious nature of factory production means that units can be completed to higher quality standards than on site.
Pre-delivery testing should be rigorous, and quality assurance procedures are stringent for ready-to-use installation, mitigating defects and remedial works.
Improved cost efficiency
The use of an off-site solution allows a number of trades to be combined under one contract, further reducing risk. This simplifies cost management and cash flow forecasting as the cost of factory works is more predictable and stable than site-based labour and multiple sub-contractors.
In-situ bathroom construction requires around seven different trades and 10 to 15 operations plus the required drying times. With off-site manufacture, this is reduced to a single supplier, which means less risk of delays and simplified procurement.
Off-site manufacture uses lean production techniques and better management of materials. Efficient processes optimise the use of resources and waste can be designed out. These factors combine to help to reduce waste in the factory to below 1%.
Improved site safety
Site safety is a huge issue for contractors and clients. Moving construction off site into a safer factory environment is a key benefit and research has shown that preassembly significantly reduces accident rates.
A good bathroom pod manufacturer will design the pods for fast installation on site, using, for example, mechanically-fitted pan connectors and pre-wired junction boxes to simplify electrics.
There have been significant advances in bathroom pod technology, and there is now a wide range of solutions for different building types:
- GRP pods – widely used for student accommodation, healthcare, care homes and social housing. Lower capital expenditure and low maintenance.
- Steel-framed pods – a premium aesthetic with ceramic-tiled finishes and a high level of design flexibility. Applications include apartments, higher-specification student residences and build-to-rent.
- Hybrid concrete/steel pods – a concrete base and steel-framed walls for high-specification wetrooms such as for healthcare
- Demountable pods – a sectional structure for projects without access for fully assembled pods, such as refurbishments and commercial-to-residential conversions
- Hybrid GRP pods – an enhanced finish and improved aesthetics with ceramic tiling and recesses
- Floorless pods – where a continuous floor finish is required throughout or for DDA compliance for floors with no threshold.
Cutting-edge off-site technology for bathrooms
Building bathrooms on site can be inefficient and too often causes issues with delays, health and safety management, and poor workmanship which impacts on quality and defects.
In contrast, factory-built bathrooms are delivered to site ready for installation, providing a consistent quality of finish that is unachievable on site.
The latest off-site manufacturing technology and quality-controlled production ensures each pod is delivered to site as a complete, fully tested unit – and this is revolutionising the efficiency of bathroom construction.
Case study – student accommodation, Swansea
Crown Place in Swansea will be Offsite Solutions’ sixth and largest student accommodation scheme for the developer and brings the total value of its projects for Crown Student Living to £6.8m.
Offsite Solutions will manufacture 645 GRP composite bathroom pods working with Midas, the main contractor for the £40m scheme on Swansea’s waterfront. All the bedrooms in the nine-storey development will be en-suite.
Designed by ECE Westworks, Crown Place will have shower rooms with a tile-effect wall finish, a large mirror, wall cabinet, contemporary dark bamboo-style flooring and specially-designed access for ease of maintenance.
The Swansea project awarded to Offsite Solutions follows its earlier student schemes for Crown Student Living in the university cities of Bristol, Reading, Cardiff, Portsmouth and most recently Norwich, which is nearing completion.
Commenting on the use of bathroom pods, Alan Pulver, Director of Crown Student Living, said: “Our aim is to create an exceptional student experience which is reflected in our approach to bathroom construction. The quality of the en-suite shower rooms is definitely a significant factor in students’ choice of accommodation – which can be their home for up to three years. We have specified Offsite Solutions’ bathroom pods from our very first development – a refurbishment and conversion project in Bristol – and for every scheme after that. We have established a very good and positive working relationship with their team.
“This use of off-site construction allows us to have every en-suite built to the same exacting quality standards. It also gives us the benefit of a much shorter programme than in-situ bathroom construction. There is no assembly on site; only M&E connections which are extremely efficient and fast. We would never consider traditional bathroom construction for any of our schemes.”