Last week Rachel took a day trip to the NEC in Birmingham to visit the exhibitions taking place as part of UK construction week 2016.

The 9 exhibitions included in UK Construction Week covered a wide range of areas of the construction industry, from specialist demonstrations in the plant and machinery show, through to HVAC systems, surface materials and inspiration for aspiring self-builders at Grand Designs Live.

I was particularly interested to see the Smart Buildings show, having recently been adding some smart home technology to my own extension. I’m interested in knowing how homes, both existing and new, can become more intelligent and learn from the occupants to save energy and make homes more responsive to needs. Wireless learning thermostats such as Nest and Hive are becoming more common now and can be adapted for both existing and new heating systems. These thermostats learn from occupants’ activity to eventually become autonomous, running in the background to efficiently control the use of heating systems and even relating this back to the weather outside.

What is growing in ambition now are full smart home systems, such as ZipaTile which control not only heating but also lighting, sound and security systems. These run from a single control point, or even remotely from your mobile phone. These systems are not running purely for energy efficiency, but also allow homes to become more bespoke to your moods and use, I particularly liked The Button from Fibaro which with the press of a button changes the settings of lights to give particular mood settings!

It was also great to see a local company on show with a Chopshop plywood pavilion forming the stage for discussions at the Smart Buildings show.


The Innovation Trail ran throughout all the shows at Construction Week and brought attention to some of the most innovative ideas at the show. One of the products on the trail was Pavegen. This is a flexible footpath surface which converts the movement of the surface when stepped on into energy for lighting. As well as this, the surface records data about usage and busy periods.


Another fascinating idea was paint which allows electrical current to run through it, resulting that an electric radiator can essentially be painted onto a wall. With a current supplied to each side, the wall itself becomes the radiator, painted over and hidden in the finishes. It will be interesting to see how this idea develops.


At Grand Designs, the finalists for this year’s Self Build on a Shoestring competition that we entered 2 years ago were on show. The brief this year was for a stylish starter home for £50,000. Of the finalists, the adaptability of the M House design by Lewis Williams was very interesting and reminded me of some of our ideas in the Tetrohome. I particularly liked the Half a House proposition by Jack Richards that built the essentials for a starter home but left space for occupants to expand their home in the future, creating long term communities from starter homes. Well done to all the finalists.

The exhibitions are also great to see 1:1 scale examples of small kit homes, designed similarly to the Self Build on a Shoestring ideal to give affordable, small scale living spaces. My particular favourites this year were Cabu and Koda.

Cabu by Cowley Timber is a modular building system formed from a simple pitched timber frame, clad in stacked, interlocking SIPs planks, sheathed in OSB, battens and timber cladding. The simplicity of this system would be suitable for any keen self-builder to give extra space in the garden, or even a simple flexible starter home.


Koda by Kodasema provides a liveable small apartment with a footprint of only 25 square meters, using its height to provide the feeling of space in living areas and a deck bedroom above a bathroom at the back. Built in fibre reinforced concrete, this unit is factory built using minimal amounts of concrete and sustainable materials. The home is completely mobile and the components are reusable at the end of its use. It also incorporates a number of smart home technologies, PV panels on the roof and LED lighting throughout. A clever, well designed space that could be a great office as well as a small home.


UK Construction Week is an annual event at the NEC. I’d encourage any aspiring self builder thinking of going to Grand Designs Live to also see if you can go to some of the exhibitions at UK Construction Week. The trade show gives much more detail on the different types of constructions, materials and technologies available and a chance to see these in the flesh and with experts on hand is invaluable for understanding and assessing if they are suitable for your project. Details of next year’s show are already available here, or if you can’t wait that long look at some of the Home Building and Renovation shows that run throughout the country and across the year, the next is in Harrogate in November.