As the recession finally comes to an end, it is important for contractors to take action to improve their margins. A policy of more of the same will only lead to disaster as costs increase.

To survive, companies must improve margins and to do this they need to demonstrate specialist skills and competences that clients are prepared to pay for.

Becoming experts in sustainable construction provides such an opportunity.

Last month saw the latest edition of Document L of the Building Regulations become law. This means any projects granted planning permission after April 2014 need to incorporate new, higher, levels of energy efficiency.

During Document L’s consultation period there was much debate about this edition and its possible higher requirements.

In the end there was just a modest step towards what we are told will be much tougher regulations when the next edition is published in 2016.

Focus on end results

While it can be argued that more demanding regulations mean higher construction costs, it should not be forgotten that the end result is energy-efficient buildings, making them more comfortable to live and work in and cheaper to heat, which will benefit both owners and occupants.

In terms of design, while traditional construction methods can be modified, there are a raft of new construction techniques available.

Some are based around the fabric of the building and will make the structure a better insulator; they include new systems such as triple glazing and lightweight walls.

Others are designed to minimise the amount of energy required to heat or cool the building and range from more efficient boilers to means of recovering waste heat.

Things for contractors to consider

For the contractor, this means you need to be up to speed with the latest offerings available from manufacturers.

If you understand the pros and cons of the different systems then you can advise your clients, presenting yourself as someone they can rely on to help make what can be a complicated choice.

It is also important to know how to install these systems correctly. Very often their performance can be let down by poor installation, and clients want to know that they can trust the contractors they use to do a good job.

All of this provides the opportunity to differentiate your business from those of your competitors and justify a premium price – key to business survival.

Ways to learn about efficiency

So take the opportunity to learn about the new systems and products available. In addition to details on manufacturer websites, many trade associations and industry organisations are running seminars to inform about the options available.

One example is a free event being organised by the Green Construction Board on the morning of 3 July at Nottingham University.

This will explain some of the changes to Document L and then give a tour of the demonstration houses at the university.

If you are based in the area why not come along and learn more about the details of sustainability. You can register at

And when you have gained a good understanding of solutions, present you organisation as an expert. Publish case studies about projects you have completed with quotes from satisfied clients.

Perhaps write a blog commenting on your experiences installing different systems.

And if you have been certified to install specialist systems, make sure this is clearly shown on your website, prequalification documents, proposals and bids.

First published by CN Plus May 2014.

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