What we need are builders that can do more than just lay blocks…

A sort of follow-on from the post about how you rethink things following CPD:

The benefits of a timber frame are significant; from increased u-values to increased levels of airtightness and speed of construction; so why do we still rely on builders putting one block on top of another?

Even when it’s specified, it still frequently comes back to this familiar and comfortable method of construction. Builders are well versed in laying blocks, but the actual construction of a timber frame is straightfoward, fast to construct, easier to insulate and more straightforward to air-tighten.

There are timber frame companies around but these tend to be for the larger jobs and for the smaller extension or simple works to a house they are frequently over-priced. What we need are more smaller builders that are used to different methods of construction; a training scheme if you like for the general jobbing builder that can teach him/her that there are other ways of building than laying blocks.

The house featured in the CPD Blog Post is significant in terms of its construction as it omits the outside skin of blockwork entirely (as is common with most timber frames) and the outside skin is a rendered rainscreen that is fixed to the Gutex external insulation. I can’t think of a single builder in this area who would be able to construct in this manner. If you know one please let me know!

So who’s with me, what’s needed is a nationwide training academy that can teach these new skills; now I know that there are PassivHaus Tradesmen courses but what I’m talking about is more fundamental – a complete shift in our way of thinking in how a building is constructed – not just the insulation and the airtightness.

9 thoughts on “What we need are builders that can do more than just lay blocks…

  1. I agree with what you are saying. The training of the buildings trades needs to be radically altered to incorporate the fundamentals of Building Physics, Passive House methods of construction (foundations, walls, roofs, all junctions), airtightness and the major services.

    There is no reason why the current Passive House Tradesmens course could not be incorporated into the general trades courses run by FAS and rolled out to all the FAS training centres. At the end of the day there is no excuse for future tradesmen not being able to build to the Passive House standard.

    The problem at the minute is that the industry is on it’s knees and barely surviving. However it’s a great time to introduce a change of this magnitude as people are more open to change during a major recession but it will take years to see it through to fruition.

      1. I wonder how many Passivhaus buildings are built on mainland Europe using bricks/ blocks and concrete. A considerable more than timber frame.
        Whatever happened to the master builder. The Passivhaus builders course doesn’t turn you into a good builder overnight. Most good tradesmen are craftsman. Learning were to put sticky tape and silicon do not make you a good builder.
        What is needed is an old fashioned apprenticeship. Even designers and builders working together, for the same goal. Know who would have thought that!

  2. i think it’s an excellent idea mark….of course that means it wont happen though. seriously cynacism aside it is a good idea and a good time too i think to get something like that up and running. dare i say we need a more competent and professional group of so-called small builders in order that we back up the new stringent regs in place with the expertise on the ground to meet them. joe public will need to be educated too in this or he will still just want his blocks like has always been done here
    the whole industry needs an overhaul too on so many levels but that a discussion for a different blog.
    ps dont let the concrete block construction lobby find out about this heresy you speak of

  3. I was pretty surprised to see that everything was made of blockwork when I moved to the UK, as nearly all housing in the US is timber frame. On the west coast, even very large multifamily buildings are built mostly of timber – my office is currently designing two 450-unit projects that are timber with the exception of the ground floor which is post-tensioned concrete. Do you know how the cost of timber construction versus concrete block construction compares in Ireland? Do builders charge a premium because they are unfamiliar with it?

  4. I was surprised to see nearly all homes built of blockwork when I moved to the UK from California. In the US, nearly all housing is timber frame (particularly on the West Coast). Our office here in San Francisco is currently doing two 450-unit apartment buildings, each is timber with the exception of the ground floor which is post-tensioned concrete. How does the cost of timber compare to concrete block in Ireland? Do builders charge a premium because they are unfamiliar with it?

    1. I’d say it’s a bit of both, the timber frame seems to be more expensive; over here (Ireland) the timber frame is done by specialist companies rather than the general builder which pushes the price up. What is not realised is that the block laying is cheap but getting equivalent levels of insulation & airtightness pushes the price up

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