Insulation: the impact of industry changes

Changes to Building Regulations, Brexit uncertainty and shifting purchasing decisions are just some of the issues affecting the construction sector and its suppliers. Stuart Bell, Managing Director of Polyfoam XPS, explains the impact on the insulation industry and what lies ahead in 2020.

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The last 12 months have presented a number of challenges for the construction sector and many of these have had a domino effect across the supply chain. Yet despite the hurdles we’ve faced, industry change is also leading to new opportunities for manufacturers of roofing and flooring insulation.

Regulatory changes and confusion

Amendments to Building Regulations for fire safety, following the Grenfell tragedy, and the publication of revised British Standards have had one of the biggest impacts on our sector.

As a manufacturer of XPS insulation, we have understandably had lots of questions from architects, contractors and specifiers about the changes in regulations and guidance documents.

In particular, the updated version of BS 6229 – the code of practice for ‘flat roofs with continuously supported flexible waterproofing coverings’ – has presented our technical team with an ongoing challenge.

The guidance on inverted blue roofs and some of the advice in BS 6229 is causing concern across our sector, particularly a supplementary note that suggests insulation should be increased by 10% in inverted roofs.

As a result, we’re working closely with the Liquid Roofing and Waterproofing Association (LRWA), as well as other organisations across the flat roofing industry, to collectively voice our concerns. This has led to the recent launch of the LRWA’s Insulation Subcommittee, which aims to work with organisations to find a proactive and structured way forward to address some of the issues raised by the update.

Brexit risks

In terms of the wider construction market, Brexit will continue to generate uncertainty in 2020. Irrespective of what happens after we eventually leave the EU, many property investors will have slowed capital investment following the referendum result. The impact of this is likely to be seen from next year, which could lead to a slowdown in major projects, especially multi-occupancy residential, commercial and industrial.

This risk has also resulted in requests for long-term pricing for projects, especially for larger schemes. Like us, many contractors are worried about rising product and labour costs, so want the assurance that prices will remain stable despite potential changes to market and/or economic conditions.

Design and distribution shifts

Although industry change has raised uncertainties, opportunities have also been opened.

For example, the demand for XPS insulation within the new-build commercial sector is increasing, driven by the growth of inverted roof specifications.

We have also noticed a shift in how insulation products are being distributed. Roofing contractors are increasingly ordering insulation from the waterproofing manufacturer rather than a specialist distributor. In these situations, the product is predominantly delivered to site by the insulation manufacturer, so we have adapted our services accordingly, including providing additional vehicles to meet our customers’ demands.

Specification switching crackdown

Following the recommendations in Dame Judith Hackitt’s Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, we have seen a reduction in specification switching. Long-term, this will have a positive impact on our sector as switching specified insulation during construction can lead to inaccurate U-values and potential non-compliance with Building Regulations.

We have also noticed purchasing decisions changing with customers now less likely to prioritise cost over quality. Although affordable products are still important, contractors want the assurance that insulation will perform to a high standard before purchasing, which has put more emphasis on third-party accreditation, such as BBA certifications or system guarantees.

Adapting to alterations in an ever-changing market

The insulation sector is a niche, but fast-moving industry so all manufacturers have to be in a position to adapt quickly to market changes. At Polyfoam XPS, this has seen us develop plans to upgrade some of our equipment which will enable us to develop products for new markets next year. We’re also in the process of adding further products to our range.

Like all construction businesses, we won’t be immune from further challenges, but we’ve put the systems and processes in place to help overcome these, so remain optimistic about 2020 and the positive market trends for both inverted roofing and its associated insulation.

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