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22 Feb 2023

Why choosing masonry is putting resident safety first

Sweeping changes to building regulations have put increasing pressure on housebuilders throughout 2022. With greater scrutiny surrounding the building products being used for residential builds, developers and housebuilders ensure the materials they specify are safe, sustainable and scalable. This also applies to asset owners, who are now mandated to put resident safety first. It guarantees a more robust framework – where everyone is responsible.

In the wake of high-profile failures, regulations have come increasingly under heightened scrutiny. Amendments to the Fire Safety and Building Safety Acts, respectively, have removed any margin for error or oversight, with wholesale reform introduced to protect the safety and security of social housing residents. 

This was reinforced by recent legislation from government, as they have now extended a number of measures under the Building Safety Act 2022 (BSA) in order to target contractors with building liability orders (BLOs)[1]. Introduced to protect leaseholders and tenants from building safety costs, alongside changes to the Defective Premises Act 1972, this extension ensures contractor liability when premises are deemed defective or not-fit-for-habitation.

The introduction of BLOs, broadens responsibility, supporting the golden thread approach of increasing accountability and ensuring that all parties involved in the design and build are liable to face legal action and pick up the financial costs of fire and safety remediation work.

Further, the expected changes to Approved Document B will ensure the use of inappropriate materials and value engineering never occurs again. It means ‘quick fixes’ are no longer an option, and a checks and balances culture is fostered, supported by better governance on fire safety, including Gateway 1. Here, the Local Planning Authority (LPA) could potentially stop a project from being delivered before it’s even started if deemed unsafe.

As a result, everyone from asset owners to product manufacturers are placing greater emphasis on occupant safety. With build cost inflation, a looming recession and stringent sustainability guidelines also circling, the era of cutting corners is now over, prompting smarter and more logical thinking around the building products used to increase our housing stock.

A mandate for masonry

The good news is that masonry can meet these requirements while lowering safety risks and ensuring higher structural integrity, given the inherent safety qualities of concrete and aircrete blocks. Under fire conditions, masonry doesn't produce any hazardous volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or droplets, providing the maximum level of security for occupants in the worst-case scenario. 

Furthermore, its structural fire capabilities also ensure that building integrity is maintained in the worst-case scenario of an extended fire period. An adaptable material category, such as masonry, can offer the best possible security and comfort for residents. The balance is key, and with masonry’s high thermal performance properties, it not only offers protection from fire but also from the elements.

Properly specified cavity wall systems, especially when combined with other modern components, can deliver the low U-Values required by incoming legislation. Moreover, there’s the added advantage of modern construction details that reduce the risk of thermal bridging, another frequent and preventable factor in substandard fabric performance.

With that being said, ensuring resident safety is not all that’s on the agenda for housebuilders; with the impending implementation of the Future Homes Standard, energy efficiency and embodied carbon-reducing products are also at the forefront. With proposed targets anywhere beyond a 70% reduction in operational carbon outputs, the choice of material and its ability to deliver a strong ‘Fabric First’ approach is key. Masonry is critical to the success of this change, being able to deliver safety, efficiency and its ability to supply demand at a large scale across the housing market. 

Ultimately, tightening regulations around our ability to build homes that offer good insulation, are fire-resistant, and adhere to sustainability targets will greatly shape the way we look to build. Still, housebuilders and developers can look closer to home for prime solution in masonry that delivers on those requirements.

Steve Callow, Housing Manager, MPA Masonry