YOU might be forgiven for believing that the vast majority of home building work takes place on site.
But for a local homebuilder, much of the construction phase is completed in a hidden factory in Gemini – and at a fraction of the carbon cost.
Developer Countryside is behind the huge new homes project next to Center Park in the city centre, with the former Spectra Packaging site along the Mersey to be transformed into the Rivers Edge estate containing over 500 homes .
These will be homes in Warrington, for Warrington residents, with a large portion of each home being built at Countryside’s modular factory in Warrington on Europa Boulevard.
A range of panels are built, from floors to walls
We visited the 185,000 square foot site, or a football field and a half in comparable terms, to see the home building process in action.
After arriving at the Gemini factory, which has been in operation for three years, we were greeted by manager Neil Stevens, who explained to us the role she plays in the home building operation.
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Essentially, workers create timber-framed panels that make up the floor, wall, ceiling, and roof structures, which are then transported and assembled as houses on site.
When Countryside decided to integrate this process into their own factories, they chose Warrington because of its location, with transport links across the north of England.
Neil Stevens, Factory Manager Countryside Warrington
It is also well established in Warrington, having developed sites in Appleton Thorn, Winwick and Orford over the past decades.
The company has invested over £30million in the closed panel system to date and recently celebrated building its 5,000th home using the method.
In Gemini, Countryside employs 68 people in the factory, and plans to further increase this number by recruiting and training local people.
Workers prepare the wood at the start of the process
Timber frame panels built in Warrington are used in Countryside developments across the North of England, from South Crewe to Middlesborough.
The main benefit of this way of working is environmental, with the homebuilder aiming to reduce its direct and indirect emissions by 42% by 2030.
It also aims to reduce indirect emissions from its supply chain and home users by 52% over the same period, with increased capacity at the Warrington plant being key to this goal.
A panel continues along the construction process
Each open-panel timber frame house emits 14,460 kg less carbon dioxide than a traditional brick and block house.
Such is the success of this method to reduce the cost of carbon, the Gemini factory has seen its production almost double since it opened in 2019, and it now has a maximum capacity of 1,400 units per year.
The production process begins at the factory store, where shelves of raw materials and accessories are kept – materials such as wood, plasterboard, nails, glass for windows and insulation.
Glazing stored ready to be placed on panels
Materials are sourced as locally as possible, including insulation from nearby St Helens, and 99% of waste materials are recycled.
These range from scrap wood and plasterboard, to plastic packaging, to the fabric straps used by cranes to lift the panels into place on the job site.
From the materials store, the first job is to cut pieces of wood to size using machine-controlled but human-operated saws.
The insulation is inserted into the cavities of the panels
About 20% of the unit building process involves manual labor, with machines doing most of the physical work.
However, humans are still needed, especially in skilled roles to service machinery, with two full-time engineers based at the Gemini site.
Workers are also required to read blueprints, so there is also a technical aspect to the role.
Specialized machines turn panels 180 degrees
Once cut to size, the wood is transported to the factory by conveyor, the next step being to add a vapor barrier membrane.
Specialized machines flip the panel 180 degrees to allow workers access and work on the other side, where they then add insulation and plasterboard.
Once completed, the panels are packaged and stored ready for distribution to the relevant site.
Panels are boxed and loaded, ready to be transported to the Rivers Edge site
During our visit we saw signs ready for installation at the Rivers Edge site, as well as other countryside developments in Yorkshire.
It remains to put them in place using a crane on the site of the housing estate, to finish the masonry and to put up the roof, as well as the mechanical and electrical work.
It was interesting to get a glimpse of this new way of working, and with the factory producing around 30 completed homes a week, ranging from small terraces to larger apartments, it’s great to see the industry in full swing growth in the city.