Precast Wall Panels – The Future Is Sustainable

There is an increasing desire in concrete design and manufacture to move towards a more sustainable way of constructing buildings and having a positive impact on waste and energy efficiency. Sustainability is becoming more and more important too, with the design, function and manufacture of buildings needing to be low carbon 

Investing in energy-efficient and environmentally sustainable processes, equipment, workshops, office facilities, management systems is key to creating an environment that has sustainability at its core. 

The Benefits of Precast: Future-proofing buildings 

Architects and designers are looking to manufacturers to help create carbon-neutral buildings and precast wall panels and facades lend themselves very well to that. They are being used in conjunction with precast frames to increase the amount of construction carried out remotely. The advantage of that is the decreased number of people on site, as crews are typically 4-5 people in total compared to wet trades that can typically number ten times that. Other benefits include better health and safety, less need for large site facilities, lack of waste on the construction site and reduced time from manufacture to erected finished product. 

The speed of manufacture and erection doesn’t reduce the range of designs available to the architect either. If anything, they can be offered a lot more. The range of façades available from precast concrete manufacturers far outstrips what can be done on site with wet trades. The design-in geometry can be a lot more complex, with added textures, colours and integration of other materials available without secondary framing and fixing required. This reduces cost as well as the number of trades needed to finish the façade. The incorporation of elements such as windows and brise soleils into a single precast system makes for the fast and efficient construction of a building. 

Many clients will be looking for cost and programme reduction. This can be achieved in many areas of the build with offsite manufacture and fewer people on site to install. With precast façades, the panels can be made up to 20m², and 100m² can be installed in a day.  

Early engagement is key to creating a low carbon footprint 

As with most stakeholders involved in any project, early engagement with clients, architects and manufacturers make the difference in sustainable building. The right design at the beginning reduces cost and time as well as the margin for mistakes that will inevitably lead to redesign and waste. 

Being involved at an early stage with the architect and structural engineer, precasters can work out the optimum wall panel size and placement of restraints and fixings to the structure to reduce relative movements. They can then look at how to design and rationalise the panel layout to reflect the architectural intent. They can even disguise the fact that it is a prefabricated façade, if necessary, by the careful placing of joints.  

For balconies, the ease of fixing precast wall panels comes down to the design of the building and the geometry of the façade. The design has to take into consideration the need to reduce cold-bridging through structure, water egress and thermal breaking back to the building. 

Sustainability over cost 

Precast is not always the cheapest option to reduce material costs, but the benefits far outweigh the additional cost of the panels. Fixing the panels from the inside, covering the building a lot quicker and the lifecycle cost of the panels works out to be more economical and you can design the panels to match the life of the building. Sustainability, testing and quality control can be assured with offsite manufacturing too.  

This leads to a lifecycle of high-quality precast walls panels matched to the life of the building – between sixty to 100 years. 

This article is based on an interview with Darren Brown, Pre-construction Manager and Derek Russell, Technical Director, Techrete.

Darren has a wealth of experience in sales and estimating for the architectural precast façades industry. He is particularly interested in problem-solving with clients to assess project suitability and ensuring best fit for production capacity and clients programme.

Derek joined Techrete in April 2018 as Head of Engineering & Design and was promoted in 2021 to Technical Director. He is responsible for our large team of Engineers and Draughtsman across Ireland and the UK. He is an accomplished Civil and Structural Engineer with over 20 years’ experience in his field. 

“The range of façades available from precast concrete manufacturers far outstrips what can be done on site with wet trades.”