Base materials and finishing materials used for prefab elements is country dependent
Within countries, differences were always seen between the way buildings are constructed. Now that prefabrication is a building method that is becoming more popular, you might expect that there will be a tendency towards more standardized products and to a certain extent that is the case. Prefab elements, however, are in general locally produced, mainly due to logistical reasons. This also means that these local producers of prefab elements are using their own preferred way of constructing buildings and that they will use their own preferred materials on prefab elements. Therefore, the used materials also vary per country, both for the structure of the element as well as for the finishing of the elements. Clearly this is very interesting for manufacturers of building materials. Within the current usage of prefab elements architects see clear differences in the materials used per country, for different type of buildings and different building parts. This is one of the key findings about the current status of prefab in construction. In the European Architectural Barometer USP Marketing Consultancy has asked 1,400 architects in eight European countries on their expectation regarding the development of prefab in construction.
Base material for structure of prefab elements mainly differs in UK
Overall, concrete is very dominant in all building segments, except for the UK and to a slightly lesser extent Italy. In these countries there is a tendency for wooden structures in the single family housing segment. In the UK lightweight steel is clearly becoming popular for the structure of prefab elements in the high rise segment. For multi-family housing of five floors or more, offices, hotels, healthcare and student housing, this material is seen as a material that is being used in many projects when prefab elements are applied. This is a completely different picture when comparing the UK to other countries, which could probably be explained by the fact that if prefab is applied in the UK, it is usually a more developed way of prefab such as advanced 2D elements and 3D modules. The way of working in the UK is different and the type of prefab elements that are being used is not always comparable to other European countries.
In basically all other countries – but mainly in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Poland and France – prefabricated elements are usually structured using precast concrete regardless of the building type. Small differences can be seen per building type, but concrete is the dominant material overall.
Strong preferences for finishing materials per country
The finishing of prefabricated elements for different parts of the building is still not being done off-site very regularly, but is expected to show a strong increase in the coming years. The materials used for finishing the elements strongly differ per country, but not for every building part.
Architects agree most on the finishing material for inner walls. In all countries plaster is the main used finishing material when elements are fully finished off-site. Also for facade elements it is clear that usually panels are used, except for the Netherlands and Belgium. In the Netherlands architects mainly see stone-strips being used, while in Belgium prefab facades are usually finished with plaster. For flooring and roofing elements the preferences per country strongly differ. Especially within flooring there is a big difference per country. This differs from Vinyl/ PVC in the Netherlands, Germany and Italy, to LVT in Belgium and France. In the UK finished flooring elements usually contain timber, while in Spain it’s ceramic tiles. In Poland the most used material is carpet tile.
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