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  • Nicky Frost

Bricks and steel production hampered by ongoing energy crisis

If you are in the planning stages of a self build or major home renovation or extension, you are probably aware of the impact that the energy crisis is having on build costs. Building materials prices have soared since the pandemic, and although the construction materials shortage is slowly improving, we are now seeing the added effect of sky-high energy costs on the production of certain materials.

Bricks, timber, cement, plaster, and steel were already severely disrupted since the start of 2021 which has led to major supply chain issues for those working on self build or renovation projects. But overall product availability has improved across most categories in 2022.

However, prices remain a rising problem. The business department's monthly Building Materials and Components Statistics for August revealed a *24.1% increase for 'all work' in July compared to one year prior, while year-on-year repair and maintenance costs rose by 21.9%.

Take bricks, for example, production relies on enormous gas-powered kilns, heated to over 1,000 degrees to fire the bricks, the surge in energy prices has meant several price increases. This then begs the question of whether to plan your work around traditional brick-built methods and factor in more price-hikes, or whether you should be now looking for alternative build methods such as SIPS or modular build.

This also applies to steel, with production prices rising so steeply this year, even some of the largest project managers in the country were beginning to feel the heat. Prices, which had been largely stable at around £350 per tonne, were suddenly hitting levels of between £500 and £700, and even more.

In an interview with **Construction News, Aecom director Jon Leach said he expects to see more use of offsite prefabrication and modern methods of construction in steel projects in order to make the use of the material more efficient.

“Significant steel-price escalation has made taking a structure-led approach to design more desirable,” he says. “Minimising the amount of steel – or materials generally – in a building’s structure can have big cost and carbon savings.

“As clients became more carbon-conscious, structure-led design was already increasingly popular and recent steel-price inflation broadens the appeal.”

Leach says that reuse of steel has become more desirable both from a cost and ecological perspective. Big efficiency savings can also be made in the design stage, he adds.

From a steel manufacturer’s perspective, they have not seen people look to design steel out of new buildings. But he “doesn’t rule it out” in the future.

“If there are viable alternatives to steel being used in construction in the future, probably for environmental reasons, it may happen.”




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