As a contractor, you’re an expert on standard construction methods: brick and mortar, stone walls and slate roofs, for instance. Reliable and robust, traditionally built houses will probably always be around; non-standard construction methods and eco-friendly homes are becoming increasingly popular, however. So, what are non-standard construction techniques, and are they worth incorporating into your skill set?

In this Countingup guide, we’ll explore five different non-standard construction techniques, and we’ll explain why non-standard buildings are here to stay.

What is non-standard construction?

Sustainable buildings are gradually becoming mainstream — and with them, non-standard construction techniques. In simple terms, non-standard buildings are made of non-standard materials — materials that don’t meet the ‘standard’ definition. Standard homes are made of brick, mortar, stone, slate or tile, for example; non-standard homes aren’t. 

Non-standard construction falls into two main categories: frames and walls, and roofs. Let’s take a closer look at five examples of non-standard construction.

1) Timber-framed homes

Timber-framed homes are considered ordinary in other countries, but they’re still relatively unusual in the UK. Instead of being made entirely out of brick, timber-framed homes have a treated timber frame and a breeze block or vinyl siding exterior. Walls are insulated and inside, they’re covered with plasterboard to create a paintable surface. The result is an energy efficient building with a low U-value.

In 2018, about 28 percent of all homes built in the UK had a timber frame. According to industry experts, the market for timber-frame homes will strengthen in the coming years. Timber is one of the most sustainable construction materials out there — and it’s also quicker to erect a timber structure than a conventional brick-and-mortar building.

2) Prefabricated concrete

Prefabricated concrete homes are some of the most common non-standard houses in the UK. Many of the prefab concrete homes in the UK were built between the end of World War II and the mid 1970s. Initially they were intended to have a lifespan of less than 10 years, but many prefabricated concrete houses in the UK — some of which now have structural issues — are still in use.

Modern prefabricated concrete buildings are made using precast architectural concrete panels, which are made off site and assembled on site. Concrete ingredients for modern prefab buildings are carefully chosen and waterproofed to minimize the risk of concrete cancer and structural failure. 

3) Glass walls

Glass windows are commonplace; glass walls, not so much. At first glance, glass walls might seem like an odd choice, but actually, they can be both energy efficient and surprisingly durable. In fact, architects have been using glass to design almost zero-energy buildings since the 1960s. 

Double and triple glazing technologies have made glass an efficient insulator. As a result, buildings with glass walls capture solar heat gain, so they stay warm and use less energy, even in the winter. Buildings that incorporate a lot of glass are also much brighter inside, reducing the need for artificial light and further lowering energy bills.

4) Cob construction

Cob is a very old construction method — it’s still considered unconventional, though. Simply put, cob homes are buildings made of earth. Cob itself is a mixture of subsoil, straw and clay: because soils vary from area to area, cob builders sometimes add extra ingredients to make the material less prone to shrinkage. Hand-finished cob can look very aesthetically appealing, and providing its roof and lower walls are maintained, it can last centuries.

Cob houses in the UK date back hundreds of years, with numerous examples built in the 14th and 15th centuries still standing. Contrary to popular belief, many mortgage companies consider cob buildings perfectly acceptable. Cob-based construction is also relatively cheap, so it’s a genuinely accessible green building technique.

5) Green roofs

Also known as living roofs, vegitative roofs or eco-roofs, green roofs are either partially or completely covered in vegetation. Green roofs incorporate a waterproofing membrane to protect the structure from water, and a growing medium to sustain plants. Some green roofs also include root barriers, irrigation channels and other features. Essentially roof gardens, green roofs are generally accessible.

Because green roofs absorb a lot of water, they relieve pressure on sewers and cool the surrounding air. As a result, they create what’s known as a ‘mono climate’ and help to reduce the heat island effect in urban areas. Homes with green roofs feel cooler in the summer, too. Finally, green roofs absorb greenhouse gases and pollution, so they’re an eco-friendly construction choice.

Is non-standard construction here to stay?

In a word, yes. As sustainable buildings become more common, non-standard construction methods and materials will become more widespread. If you build homes from scratch, you’ll probably receive requests to use non-standard materials more often. If you repair or maintain buildings, you’ll need to know how to work with non-standard materials in situ.

According to a recent survey, 40 percent of construction companies in the UK expect that the majority of their projects will be green by the end of 2021. Expanding into sustainable non-standard construction methods could help you thrive in the eco-friendly building industry.

Build a clearer financial picture with Countingup

Non-standard construction methods are both challenging and fascinating — and they’re often eco-friendly, too. As a contractor specialising in non-standard construction techniques, you’ll have lots of opportunities to break new ground, so to speak.

You’ll also need to stay on top of your company finances — and that’s where the Countingup app comes in. With Countingup, you get a business current account and free accounting software in one app. You can create and send invoices, track incoming funds, scan receipts on the go for organised bookkeeping, and much more. Learn more here.