This Q&A is taken from the full podcast episode we recorded with Paul.

Q: Can you briefly describe your background in construction and why you founded GURBuild?

A: I have a 40+ year background in construction, starting from when I was a kid. Around 2010, I got involved in the Retrofit for Future program and could see that solutions for retrofitting houses should first be tried in new builds. In 2017, I got involved in a program in Cornwall looking at ways to affordably produce houses to passive house standards. I founded GURBuild because I saw the UK starting to look at alternatives to traditional construction and wanted to bring my manufacturing and commercial construction experience to the housing sector. 

Q: How has modern methods of construction (MMC) technology changed over the last decade?

A: The last 10 years has seen people trying different approaches, often trying to industrialize an old technology, which I don’t think works. Now some successes are emerging that have a common theme of using sub-assemblies manufactured offsite and assembled at the final destination, similar to how alternators are made for cars. The changes on the professional side are done – the focus now is on bringing the workers onsite up to speed with these modern methods.

Q: Can you explain what the passive house standard is and what an n-ZEP is?

A: A passive house uses building physics and technologies to create a structure that requires very minimal energy to run, so utility bills are very low. An n-ZEP, or net-zero energy house, is one that in its operation does not contribute to any carbon emissions, though embodied carbon in materials is still a challenge. The goal is to use technology to get homes to passive house standards in a cost-effective way. 

Q: What type of construction system does GURBuild use?

A: The GURBuild system is a hybrid approach using a light gauge steel frame and engineered timber that allows for liquid insulation to be injected to reach high thermal standards. It’s a “kit of parts” that enables a starter home to be expanded over time, going from a 2-bed to 3-bed to 4/5-bed by bolting on extensions. The parts are manufactured offsite using a “chassis” approach similar to car manufacturing.

Q: Where do you see the construction industry and MMC in 10 years? 

A: In the coming years, I think we’ll see more hybrid solutions, composites, and panelized systems being used in homebuilding. Homes will be simplified in their construction but still allow for individualization and aesthetics. More spray and pump finishes for plaster and render will be utilized. If these advancements can be applied in the affordable housing market to make stunning homes, that will be a major accomplishment.

Q: Where should the construction industry focus more attention? 

A: The industry is overlooking the workers onsite. We need to focus on making the onsite working environment safer, warmer and better in order to attract more young people into construction. Changing onsite work to be more like a production format could enable people to be paid better and improve quality of life. Using build rigs and bringing factory-like processes to the site can help maintain accuracy and eliminate mistakes while empowering a more diverse workforce. Women in particular could make phenomenal house builders if treated with respect and paid decent wages.