Why do home insurers treat non-standard construction differently?

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UK homes are generally made from traditional materials such as brick, stone, roof tiles and slates, that have been used for well over 100 years. These sturdy and familiar materials may vary in size and colour as you travel across the country, but in essence are all quite similar and predictable in their performance.  Insurers like to insure homes made in this way. 

By contrast a home that does not follow these construction norms, is less popular with insurers, hence the term ‘non-standard’ construction. 

A non-standard home is likely to have a main structure and/or roof, that employs different and often more modern materials or methods. Moving away from traditional materials can create a whole host of benefits. These may relate to the speed of the construction process, which can help reduce costs and reduce build times.  Other benefits often relate to environmental performance, with improved airtightness and thermal properties to help reduce embodied carbon found and lower heat loss.

The two key areas that determine whether a home can be classified as non-standard relates to its structure and its roof.  

The main structure – traditional (standard homes) will generally have structural walls made of concrete blocks on the inside, clad with brick or stone on the outside. A non-standard home can often have a structure that relies on a lightweight frame made of timber or steel. Another alternatives is straw bale construction, which provides insulation as well as structure. In these buildings the materials used as external cladding could still be traditional options such as brick (making the building appear more traditional) or could be timber or render.  Using a steel, timber frame or straw bales reduces the amount of embodied carbon in the building, speeds up construction, creates more design flexibility and helps thermal performance. 

traditional wall vs non standard construction

The roof type – Most insurers will expect a (standard) home to have a pitched roof (made of timber joists) covered with roofing ‘felt’ (correctly known as a vapour permeable membrane or VPM) onto which are fixed roof tiles or slates. Historically these materials reflected what was available close to where homes were built – i.e. large clay deposits in the south east resulted in clay plain tiles, whereas in the west, natural slate roofs reflect the abundance of slate.  When it comes to homes classified as non-standard, the roof will often be very different in terms of its design and the materials used. Such roofs are often covered in metal or rubber (which can then be built up to become a green or sedum roof.  One key difference with these non-standard options is usually pitch, traditional roof tiles and slates must be laid on a slope to stay watertight. Generally, tiles and slates don’t go below 22.5 degrees although some can perform down to 12 degrees. Modern materials such as steel however have no such problems and can successfully perform at very low pitches, which gives far greater flexibility to architects. (Note: planners are less keen on these roofs for aesthetic reasons)

Traditional roof vs non standard roof

New heating & power technology – the presence of heat pumps, solar panels or batteries does not mean a property will be defined as non-standard, however, insurers that specialise in non standard construction generally make better provisions for such technology, as these items are more commonly present in the homes they insure.

So why don’t insurers like non-standard construction 

The issue for many insurers relates to history and available data. With the majority of the 25 million homes in the UK sharing similar ‘traditional’ construction methods and materials, the job of accurately assessing risk is, in some ways, quite easy and predictable. By comparison, the innovative materials and technologies often used in new design situations for more modern house construction, means it is harder to assess what could go wrong. It is also an issue when it comes to repairs, it undeniably more difficult and expensive to repair a damaged home that uses SIPs panels than one made of brick and block. Bricks are generally available in every town in the country, SIPs panels, by contrast, are often bespoke and made in single locations. To an insurer these issues translate as risk and are therefore to be avoided.  


Why do Naturesave firmly support non-standard construction.

The UK has one of the leakiest housing stocks in Europe. Across the country there are almost 19 million homes that are in need of upgrading, due to issues such as poor levels of insulation. This not only makes our homes expensive to heat and contributes to health issues, but also significantly adds to our carbon emissions. As a result, our homes produce an estimated 58.5 million tonnes of CO2 every year, which is more carbon that all the country’s cars!

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) estimate that the UK needs to spend an incredible £250bn to decarbonise our housing stock. Without doing this we have no credible pathway to achieving our net zero objective. 

From Naturesave’s perspective, we recognise the need to rapidly deploy new materials and technologies to improve this situation. This is one of our biggest challenges in the coming years, whether it is in retrofitting the homes we have, or budling highly thermally efficient new homes. In both cases they will need to be heated using low carbon technology such as ground or air source heat pumps and help decarbonise the grid through roof mounted solar power generation.  

From an insurance perspective, we do not believe that advances in how we build and adapt our housing stock should be penalised by the insurance industry, as this will only hamper the urgent progress required. This is why, here at Naturesave, we work hard to offer comprehensive and affordable insurance cover for the type of homes that should soon become the norm. 

Not currently insured with Naturesave? Find out what we can offer here

Thatched roofs –  Insurers usually class homes with a thatched roof as non-standard construction. This is not an area Naturesave cover. For customers with thatched roofs we recommend Lloyd & Whyte Heritage (also part of the Benefact Group).