What does non-standard construction mean?

As a contractor, you’ll be familiar with the prefabricated concrete homes built at the end of World War II. These houses might have been the most common type of non-standard construction in the UK, but there are many more to be aware of. Today, affordable, factory-built, modular housing is being touted to help to solve the housing crisis. In addition to this, non-standard construction methods are creating eco-friendly, sustainable homes. So keeping up with the latest non-standard construction trends will ensure that you stay competitive.

But what are non-standard construction methods and are they worth adding to your range of expertise in preparation for future challenges? 

What does non-standard construction mean?

It’s pretty straightforward: non-standard buildings are made of non-standard materials. A standard building will be made of brick, slate, stone or tile. A non-standard building can be made of materials outside the norm, such as cob (sandy-subsoil, clay and straw) or clunch (limestone rock). Or it can have wattle and daub infills or be steel or timber framed. In fact, the walls, roof and/or frame of a building can be made from a non-standard material.

Examples of non-standard wall materials:

Concrete  Metal 
Corrugated iron  Wood
Glass  Flint
Asbestos  Wattle and daub


Examples of non-standard roof materials:

Thatches Fibreglass  
Corrugated iron  Asphalt 
Steel  Concrete 
Plastic Glass 
Asbestos Felt and timber 
Shingles Stramit board (straw board)

Types of non-standard construction

Certain types of non-standard construction are becoming increasingly popular due to their sustainability, energy efficiency and/or low-cost. Here are some examples: 

Cob construction

Cob is a mixture of subsoil, straw and clay and it can last for hundreds of years. There are many 14th and 15th century cob houses in the UK. Today, it is gaining popularity as an eco-friendly way to build, with numerous environmental benefits

Living eco-roofs

These roofs are covered with a waterproof membrane to grow and sustain plants. The plants and vegetation cover the roof and absorb water, pollution and greenhouse gases. Some living eco-roofs include irrigation channels and root barriers. 

Prefabricated concrete

The prefabricated concrete homes that were built after World War II were designed as emergency housing and not built to last forever. Modern prefabricated concrete buildings use precast architectural concrete panels made off site. This concrete is waterproofed and designed to be durable.

Glass walls

Contemporary glass walls are surprisingly energy efficient due to triple glazing technology. When the sun shines, the glass wall absorbs the warmth, so on sunny winter days there is less need to turn up the central heating. A glass wall also provides a large amount of natural light, which means there is less need for artificial light — another energy-saving benefit. 

Timber frames

For Brits watching American TV and films, this type of housing stands out — it is normal in the states to build houses using wood. This is due to the plentiful supply of timber in the US and Canada. With a timber-framed building, the walls are insulated and covered with plasterboard inside and something like vinyl siding on the exterior. The result is energy-efficient and they can be protected to be fire-proof. 

Around a quarter of all new homes built in the UK have a timber frame and the number has been growing year on year.

What is classed as a non-standard construction house

Today there are various different types of non-standard construction properties around. These include

  • Steel-framed houses
  • Timber-framed houses
  • Prefabricated concrete houses
  • Flat-roofed houses
  • Thatched-roof houses
  • Corrugated-iron roofs

Are there any problems with non-standard construction properties?

Whilst non-standard construction is becoming more popular, there are some difficulties when it comes to buying or selling these properties.

It can be particularly hard to secure a mortgage on non-construction houses as lenders often struggle to determine the condition of some non-standard elements/materials. Plus, some companies will charge higher rates when offering a mortgage on these types of properties. 

Secondly, non-standard construction properties often have higher repair and maintenance costs, as they require specialist care. For this reason, some buyers might expect these extra costs to be taken into consideration when determining a sale price. 

Non-standard construction requires special maintenance

Non-standard construction often requires specific maintenance or it will cause damage that will decrease the value of the property. A common example in the UK is a thatched roof, which has to be replaced every 30 years. 

Sometimes a mortgage will be hard to find for a non-standard construction house due to reservations about structural risk. Likewise, it can be difficult to insure or sell. However, non-standard constructions can be converted into a more mortgageable property. It is possible to reinforce a steel-framed building, for example. 

The best way to gain experience working with non-standard materials is in situ. Just make sure that you have the right tools to hand.

How long will a non-traditional construction last for?

Typically speaking, many older, non-traditional constructions won’t last as long as traditional ones. Materials such as concrete can deteriorate with age, giving the buildings a shorter lifespan. However, with proper care and maintenance, these buildings can outlive their life-expectancy. 

Is non-standard construction the future?

Absolutely. Non-standard construction is becoming more popular, because it provides solutions for sustainable, affordable housing. Prefabricated, modular construction is surging in popularity and that isn’t showing signs of slowing down. And if your work means that you are building houses, then you will probably find there is increasing demand for non-standard materials. Property TV shows where people are building their own sustainable homes also serve to inspire. And these particular homes are not only eco-friendly — they also look good, standing out from the crowd with stylish features. 

To achieve net-zero carbon by 2050, almost all of the UK’s 29 million homes will need to be improved through energy efficiency measures. That’s a huge undertaking and so increasing your skill set to account for non-standard construction methods could help you to stay competitive in the future.

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