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Support for Research

Services Available to Support Research Projects

The initial stages of a research project will vary depending upon the proposed sources of funding and the nature of the project. Experience of working in an industry funded Research Association and in the University sector has provided detailed experience of a number of research models.

Support can be given in a variety of ways tailored to the specific project and planned to ensure that sponsors achieve good value for money. Examples of the various stages at which support may be given to the total project are shown below.

  • Identification of funding possibilities
  • identification of potential project partners
  • preparation of outline and detailed research proposals and bids
  • project planning and management
  • organisation of steering group and funders meetings
  • placement and supervision of testing and laboratory investigations
  • interpretation of test results
  • preparation of final project reports
  • proposals for regulatory changes and updates to design codes and standards
  • preparation of closing financial statements and budget reports

Typical Research Projects

The type of project will determine the control mechanisms required to ensure project completion in an effective and timely fashion. EPSRC, European framework programmes, Government and Industry funded projects will all impose different requirements. Examples of projects are shown below.

Improved Economy in the Design of Dwelling Basement Walls.

Project partners: DTI, DTLR, Kingston University, Basement Development Group, NHBC, Autoclaved Aerated Concrete Products Association, Brick Development Association Ltd., British Cement Association.

Basements enable the better utilisation of land by increasing the useable living space per plot, thereby optimising the use of scarce building land and helping to reduce the environmental impact of new housing. The increasing need to use brownfield and other "difficult" sites often results in the need for deep excavation and contributes to the cost-effectiveness of providing a basement. Basements offer high standards of thermal performance, hence addressing the key environmental need to reduce the consumption of carbon based energy. The proposed amendments to Part L of the Building Regulations will increase the relevance of their inherently good energy efficiency and low carbon dioxide emissions performance.

Basements and semi basements are an important means of providing improved amenity in new dwellings. Using unreinforced brick or block masonry would assist in this major improvement to the provision of living amenity in the UK. Neither BS 5628:Part 1 Use of Masonry nor the Basements for Dwellings Approved Document cover this due to the lack of a suitable design method. Eurocode 6 contains a simple approach which results in over-safe and uncompetitive solutions for UK use.

Unreinforced masonry is much more attractive in this situation than reinforced masonry because it has better client value and is simpler, easier, cheaper and quicker to build. An earlier Project - Plain Masonry Basement Walls has developed a more economical basis for the design of unreinforced basement walls.

The outcome of the project is an updated "Basements for Dwellings" Approved Document to the Building Regulations (first published in 1997) incorporating information dealing with plain masonry walls for basements.This will facilitate more widespread user take-up of domestic basements and semi-basements as improved amenity through:

Reduction in the overall cost of building basements for dwellings. Use of simplified basement construction methods. Improvement in the ratio of construction cost to dwelling useable floor area. Improvement in the ratio of useable floor area to site area.

Behaviour and Design of High Perfromance Low Density Aircrete Products.

Project Partners: Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), Kingston University, Autoclaved Aerated Concrete Products Association Ltd. (AACP), Catnic, Corus UK Ltd. National House-Building Council. (NHBC)

Project Brief: This research project picks up on the need to adjust UK design procedures to reflect developments in the structural Eurocode 6 and the supporting CEN TC 125 standards. There is a particular opportunity to achieve a significant improvement in productivity by exploiting the use of wider low-density aircrete masonry walls. The practice of using such walls has been developed in Europe but it must be recognised that there are some important differences in construction practice (e.g. the inner leaf is very much thicker or solid walls are used). There are clearly opportunities for improvements in productivity by using such low strength walls but these will only occur if the overall structural approach is approved for UK conditions.

The efficiency of construction is improved by providing units that are easily manhandled and readily cut, shaped and chased. There is also the potential for simplified external wall constructions, which address several of the key aspects of “Rethinking Construction”

As well as addressing the key economic aim of making dwelling and building construction more profitable, low strength units provide a high level of thermal insulation. This, in turn, will assist in meeting the proposed changes to Part L of the Building Regulations, thereby addressing the key environmental need to reduce the consumption of carbon based energy. The fact that these units have a very low density (typically 350kg/m3), have a high air content and often contain industrial by-products such as pulverised fuel ash, also addresses the environmental need to preserve natural resources which would otherwise be consumed by denser products.

The principal objective of the proposed work is to create further value-added outlets for exploiting the environmentally friendly and beneficial properties of high performance low-density aircrete in dwellings in the UK

Transfer of Masonry Diaphragm Wall Technology into Practice.

Masonry Diaphragm Walls are an efficient structural solution which combine the attractive appearance of masonry with the need for efficient on site construction. Their use enables elegant and imaginative structures to be constructed using simple foundations and the continuity and speed of a single trade operation. They are ideally suited to applications which require an attractive high quality finish allied to robustness, low maintenance, good sound insulation and inherently good fire resistance. Very high standards of thermal performance can be achieved by incorporating insulation within the cavities of the wall.

The objective of this project was to achieve greater use of masonry diaphragm wall construction by producing updated, relevant and authoritative design guidance. Nine recent projects were considered and interviews conducted with representatives of the design teams for each. The projects are briefly described in the report but any design issues raised are presented independently to preserve confidentiality. The range of projects considered confirms the variety and flexibility achievable with masonry diaphragm walls.

All the published design methods were reviewed and are summarised in the report. The implications of the recent revision to BS5628 Part 1 were considered and a revised structural design approach developed. Guidance is also given on other aspects of design.

The development of simple "deemed to satisfy" in situ concrete basements for dwellings.

Project Partner: Readymixed Concrete Bureau.The current focus on sustainable construction has placed additional emphasis on the optimisation of the space provided within the 'footprint' of each dwelling. The incorporation of a basement can provide a very efficient way of increasing dwelling space, especially in locations where land for development is expensive and in short supply.

The use of basements has been supported by the work of the Basement Development Group and the publication of an Approved Document for basements by the BCA. Although reinforced concrete basements are covered by the Approved Document, the design is in accordance with BS 8110 which requires comparatively high percentages of reinforcing steel. The purpose of this project is to develop simple 'deemed to satisfy' in situ concrete basement designs which can be readily built by house builders.

This study considered international best practice before developing design recommendations for UK housing. Key parameters for this project were:The need to evolve simple design solutions:
Site construction must be simple: Wall thicknesses likely to be in the range 150-350mm for efficient compaction of the concrete and to enable masonry walls to be built above:Concrete specifications likely to be C25, C30 or C35: Minimum levels of reinforcement: Design for movement: Compatibility with a range of suspended ground floor and walling options.

Prefabricated Brickwork.

Project partner: Brick Development Association.CASE EPSRC student at Kingston University: Jennifer Hogg

Currently very little use is made of prefabricated brickwork and the vast majority of brickwork is constructed using traditional skills employed directly on the building or engineering site. This aspect of the procurement of brickwork has not changed over many decades. Whilst many brick manufacturers and merchants do supply special brick units to be made into small pre-assembled building components, such as minor brickwork arch sets, no recent attempt has been made in the UK to produce and supply larger prefabricated brickwork elements on a consistent and regular basis. Prefabrication does hold out the opportunity for significant improvements in overall building construction efficiency, quality and greater economy over traditional site constructed work. At the same time it is important to maintain the basic characteristics and attributes of brickwork as a construction material including attractive appearance, longevity, low ongoing maintenance and sustainability.

A small number of one-off projects has recently demonstrated the technical feasibility of providing both loadbearing and cladding brickwork elements through the use of industrial production techniques employing either off-site factory production or on-site prefabrication. The Inland Revenue Building at Nottingham and the Powergen Building at Coventry are good examples of each approach. Although both were highly successful projects, the full realisation of the potential improvements to the construction process resulting from the use of industrial production methods was not achieved because the prefabrication systems put in place to service these buildings were created and disbanded for each respective project. The major advantage of prefabrication should be the repeatability of the approach for many different building projects - not just for one project.

Although there are obvious parallels with precast concrete industrial production methods, brickwork is different in its make up, character and method of assembly. The transfer of brickwork craft skills to a factory production unit creates its own needs and the way in which designs might be called-off and translated into manufactured elements will be different. These aspects need to be investigated in a rational way in order to assess the best methodologies to use to transfer craft skills to a factory based environment.

Getting Masonry Research Information into Practice.

Project Partners: DTI, Kingston University, Autoclaved Aerated Concrete Products Association Ltd, British Masonry Society, Brick Development Association Ltd, Building Research Establishment, Ceram Research, Concrete Block Association.

There are many sources of research-based information which do not reach potential users. The "Partners in Technology" and "Partners in Innovation" project outcomes have not all received the level of exposure which they deserve and could usefully be made available to a wider audience. EPSRC research projects often result in publications in specialist research journals and do not reach the wider construction industry community.The Proceedings of the British Masonry Society and its International Conferences contain a great deal of masonry research information which mostly reaches other researchers only. A number of organisations in the UK have web sites containing useful information relating to masonry (e.g. BDA, BMS, BRE, CERAM, DTI, DTLR, Kingston University, Teesside University, University of Wales, etc.) and this needs to be brought together into a coherent, user friendly, database which is capable of being easily interrogated.

This project is a scoping study for the feasibility of setting up and maintaining a "One Stop Shop for Masonry Research Information". The project will identify the potential customers for the information and the likely demand and cost factors. The numerous sources of information will be mapped and the basis on which their information can be made available determined. In order to demonstrate the quality of information which could be provided, a prototype web site will be established and customer reaction tested. A full business case will then be presented.

The production of a working prototype web site, database or similar information repository will demonstrate to the construction community the value of having ready access to masonry-related information. Access to the latest findings will encourage designers to be more innovative and use masonry materials to their full potential, thereby improving competitiveness. The information will also provide the latest research findings on construction efficiency, material durability, etc., with links to best practice guidance, thereby assisting builders and specifiers.Information will also be readily available in support of changes to the Building Regulations and the needs of those engaged in Building Control. Finally, the research community will benefit from a detailed mapping of recent research, which will avoid unnecessary duplication of effort and help to highlight where further work could be beneficial.

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