Digitalization of Construction Allowed Progress Despite Pandemic


Unable to operate normally, COVID-19 hit global construction hard. With material shortages, prolonged lockdowns, labour disruptions, and financing challenges, construction outputs for many sectors fell. This inability to conduct business as usual led to the global construction sector shrinking by 3.1% in 2020, 5.3% excluding China, a decline unseen since the financial collapse of 2008.


Irish construction experienced the most severe restrictions and shutdowns, and still, housing output exceeded expectations – such is the tenacity of our industry. However, the first three months of this year recorded a 21 percent drop in production when compared with Q1 2020. Estimates predict that just 16,000 to 19,000 homes will now be built this year, a far cry from the 35,000 Ireland needs to address the housing crisis. While this slow progress is largely due to the Irish industry being shut down for the first quarter of 2021, progress was slow even in countries where construction could continue.


In an article for, a team of analysts, consultants, and regulatory specialists have detailed how digitalization helped some in the industry continue working. Namely, the article points out how the digitalization of permit approval and virtual inspections allowed the construction sector in some countries to continue. Unhampered by stay at home orders, these digital solutions allowed progress even during the height of the pandemic. You can read the article in full here: and below are just a few of the more interesting global insights. 


Digitalization of Permits

Disruption to the construction industry came in large part from social distancing orders. Governments around the world attempted to limit the transmission of the disease through measures that reduced the proximity of people to one another. For construction, this proved difficult, with one-way systems and limited workforce numbers creating bottlenecks in production.


The Los Angeles Department of Buildings, for example, implemented 16 rules recommended by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Similar to Ireland, these included on-site controls such as social distancing, face coverings, and handwashing, with mandatory compliance inspections.


One of the positives to come from the disruption, however, is the renewed interest in how digital tools can help the industry.


The digitizing of the permit process is one area that has seen particular focus. Countries with a fully digital permit granting process saw their construction industry continue despite the unprecedented issues. In these countries, planning, zoning, and permission granting were streamlined and conducted remotely, meaning little to no disruption to the process.


Online portals that facilitate the permit process have been around since 2007. Singapore’s online permit platform can even be traced back to 2001, now allowing digital building plans to be submitted remotely. With a completely paperless process, the checking and approval of plans continued undisrupted by COVID-19, despite a total lockdown in April and May of 2020.


Other countries, such as Morocco, improved their own digital facilities with their Rokhas platform. Improving functionality, they allowed video conference calls to review plans. Elsewhere, Yangon (Myanmar) and Benin digitized their application processes to keep the industry moving forward.


With Ireland’s Build Digital project, the hope is that Irish construction will soon reap the same benefits, incorporating digital practices into the industry from start to finish. Amongst other innovations, the Build Digital plans include a provision to digitize the planning application process.


Virtual Inspections

As well as progress in digitalizing the planning process, authorities across the globe also had the issue of quality control to contend with. Under strict stay-at-home orders, many inspection officials were unable to visit sites freely. While some countries had to simply slow or stop construction, others fared a lot better thanks to digital tools.


Kuwait, for example, replaced in-person inspections with digital photographs. These high-quality photographs allowed qualified engineers to conduct quality control remotely, keeping worksites moving forward. Miami, USA, implemented their own form of virtual inspection. Using Microsoft Teams or Zoom, engineers there are now regularly in contact with control officials. In the United Arab Emirates, inspection has taken even greater strides towards digitalization with the regular use of aerial drones. These allow remote, virtual inspections of job sites and make it safer to inspect dangerous locations.


Remaining Challenges

The WorldBank report authors believe there are still some unresolved issues that need addressing before e-permits and virtual inspections become the norm:


  • Improved cybersecurity and privacy measures to keep data safe
  • Implementation of video conferencing into existing platforms
  • Standardized 3D and 4D formats for digital files
  • Better integration of electronic payments
  • Access by all relevant agencies in the building process to digital platforms.


Most importantly, the relevance and advantages of further digitalization need to be promoted to civil servants and the private sector. The article details that in the US, 60 percent of local building permit departments cannot perform remote virtual inspections, and 40 percent cannot conduct remote reviews of building plans.


With global viral outbreaks set to be more common in the future, the ability for the industry to continue unabated will come from digitalization. With the Irish government’s Build Digital strategy, Ireland’s construction industry will soon see the same digital solutions.


About McKeon Group

Established in 1950 and ISO certified for more than two decades, McKeon Group offers expert construction, fitout and building services. The family-run Group delivers projects, services and maintenance across a range of sectors for State, local authority, FDI and private clients. For more information, contact:



Decarbonising the Construction Industry

In a comprehensive and detailed report, international colleagues from the McKinsey management consultancy firm have published a breakdown of the construction industry’s decarbonization efforts, highlighting the importance of design to a building’s sustainability. With rising corporate awareness of the issue, and with governmental and customer interest in energy-efficient housing growing all the time, creating a sustainable sector benefits everyone. The report can be accessed in full here: 


The Construction Industry’s GHG Contribution

While environmental, social, and governance, or ESG, metrics attempt to gauge the sustainability of a business as a whole, for the construction industry, it’s the environmental factor that relates directly to the issue of greenhouse gases (GHG).

 Evaluating the construction sector’s contribution to global GHG emissions is not easy. However, the McKinsey article estimates the industry is responsible for around 25 percent of total GHG emissions and 40 percent of carbon fuel combustion contributions.

Aside from GHG emissions, the other areas that the construction industry needs to address are:

-Waste production

-Water consumption

-Particulate matter air pollution


Though the article focuses specifically on the emission of GHGs, it establishes that these additional issues are something that a sustainable industry would need to look at. High water usage, for example, is well-known for carrying with it a considerable carbon footprint, with the industry currently requiring 200 liters of water per cubic meter of concrete.

The two key aspects of the construction ecosystem that are driving up GHG emissions are the raw materials used in infrastructure and building, and the lifetime operation of the building itself.

 The manufacturing and processing of materials are estimated to account for around 30 percent of the industry’s carbon emissions per year, with most of this coming from cement and steel production. Building operations account for the other 70 percent. This operational contribution is attributable to the poor insulation and energy inefficiencies of existing buildings.

 Early-stage designing with sustainability in mind is the best way to reduce a building’s lifetime GHG contribution. These design measures include multi-use or flexible floor spaces, building size considerations, and due consideration of whether renovating or repurposing existing buildings would be a more efficient option. 

However, with the Net Zero target of 2050 well-established and almost 80 percent of the building stock for that date already built, the necessity for retrofitting to meet sustainability goals is clear. If unmet, the issue will compound with construction’s carbon output expected to grow as it tries to meet growing demand, which in Ireland, is now close to 50,000 new homes per year.


Carbon Abatement: Existing Builds

As mentioned above, to achieve the Net Zero goal, the report authors argue that it will require not only sustainable design and building of new assets but also the reuse of existing stock. They believe that there needs to be clear goals for all players within the industry, however, the report anticipates that achieving these goals will result in substantial cost savings over the longer term. It should be noted that the decarbonization pathway for construction has an average cost per tonne of CO2 that is significantly lower than other industries. Also, heating is considered one of the key ways to curtail CO2 output.  Up to 70 percent of the EU’s energy use is directly related to the heating of buildings. This high energy use is down to the existing building stock’s thermal insulation being insufficient and poorly designed heating control systems. Upgrading insulation can reduce the energy demand of a building by 30 percent over a 50-year lifespan.

 Complimenting the improvement of these is the increased use of renewable energy to deliver heat to these buildings. This abatement method involves moving the industry towards the use of heat pumps, district heating, biogas, and solar thermal where possible. The McKinsey authors argue that increased use of such renewable heating technologies would see a 72 percent reduction in operation emissions within buildings and drive the cost of the technologies down over time.


GHG Emission Reduction in New Builds

With such a high proportion of the GHG emissions relating to operations locked into existing builds, the report considers a pathway for net-zero carbon with new builds. This primarily involves the decarbonization of materials.


This can be achieved through three key measures:

– Demand reduction and circularity. This involves reducing waste, increasing the recycling of materials, and designing so that primary resource demand is lowered.

– Optimizing construction and material use. By switching to high-efficiency, low-carbon materials through offsite production and modern methods of construction (MMC), the industry can drastically reduce its overall carbon footprint.

– The decarbonization of materials. By reducing the CO2 emitted during the production and processing of materials, the industry can further its way to sustainability. This can involve the increased use of electrification in the process and implementing production efficiencies and technological advancements.


The use of low-carbon materials, offsite production and other MMC is likely to be the most impactful way for the industry to achieve its net-zero goal.

 Critically, with any given construction project involving many different players, industry-wide cooperation is needed to achieve carbon neutrality. The McKinsey report suggests this may well involve some drastic changes in philosophy, particularly around up-front costs versus lifetime costs of a building. It will also require a major shift towards MMC and the implementation of nascent technologies. As the report points out, “…the drive to sustainability is racing ahead…accelerating this journey and addressing the challenge head-on will be the key”.


About McKeon Group

Established in 1950 and ISO certified for more than two decades, McKeon Group offers expert construction, fitout and building services. The family-run Group delivers projects, services and maintenance across a range of sectors for State, local authority, FDI and private clients. For more information, contact:




Indoor Air Quality a Growing Concern

Ireland’s Proposed Workplace Ventilation Bill


Over the past 18 months, with much of the world ravaged by COVID-19, governments globally have resorted to implementing prolonged lockdowns to contain the spread of the virus. With only key workers out on our roads, many cities across the globe found a significant reduction in air pollution, with formerly smog-ridden landscapes in places like China experiencing clearer air.

 In an article for The Conversation, University of York Researchers David Carslaw and Nicola Carlslaw describe how, with outdoor pollution likely to reduce over the coming decades, there now needs to be an increased focus on indoor air quality. You can read this article in full here:

Earlier this week People Before Profit launched a campaign for the Workplace Ventilation Bill, which, if passed, could force bars and schools in Irelands with poor ventilation to close. The party’s Employment Rights spokesperson, Paul Murphy, says proper ventilation standards are needed to cap the amount of CO2 allowed indoors and enable workers to request an inspection if they’re concerned about compliance. Workplaces that fail to comply with an inspector’s ‘improvement notice’ could be forced to shut. Current laws require workplaces to ensure ‘sufficient fresh air’, however, there is no clarity about what this entails. McKeon Group company specialises in Smart Buildings (and Happy Buildings!), with an expert focus on indoor air quality. With Irish construction standards resulting in increasingly insulated and airtight homes, concerns about indoor air quality are growing. 


Side-Effects of Electric Vehicle Use

The two researchers are at pains to point out that while a reduction in road traffic is good for photo opportunities comparing smog levels, other factors need to be considered regarding air pollution with far-reaching ramifications for indoor planning and facilities management.

With more and more people opting for electric vehicles and nation’s around the world setting cut-off dates for non-green vehicle production, it does appear the reign of fossil fuel is over. One of the most striking problems put forward as we move towards a greener future is that we may find an increase in respiratory problems.

 While vehicles have been one of the primary sources of air pollution over past decades, this move to electric vehicles means less nitrogen oxide is being released into the atmosphere. One of the few benefits of this pollutant is that it neutralises the toxic gas, ozone, released by industrial activity. High up in our atmosphere, this gas forms a protective seal around our planet, however, unneutralised and down in our communities and urban areas, it acts as a pollutant, causing respiratory problems like asthma.


Ozone Gas Moves Indoors

The concern is that this pernicious gas moves freely from outside to inside our buildings, through our windows, open doors, and even cracks in exterior walls, bringing the problem of outdoor pollutants well and truly indoors. Corroborating this claim is a 2020 UK government report that used computer modeling to establish a 50 percent increase in indoor ozone gas during COVID-19 related lockdowns.

 Worryingly, the University of York researchers explain that after finding its way indoors, ozone gas begins to react with chemicals related to indoor activity, such as household cleaning solutions. These newly emitted pollutants often pose significant risks to our health.


Indoor Air Pollution and Ventilation

Citing a report by the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), the article explains that ozone is but one of the issues affecting indoor air quality. Common-place activities such as cooking a steak on a gas hob, for example, will release nitrogen oxide and particulates into our immediate environment, as well as the volatile organic compounds emitted from scented cleaning products and candles.

 The issue is also seen as compounding, with some of these harmful compounds forming new pollutants as they react with the higher levels of indoor ozone. Also compounding the issue is the increased use of airtight seals in modern construction. While these seals afford better energy efficiency, they don’t allow harmful gases and pollutants produced by indoor activity to escape. The emphasis on adequate ventilation systems is therefore expected to increase, aside from the pandemic-induced measures.

 And with many now continuing to work from home, our indoor air quality is more important than ever. Due to an increasing trend of spending time indoors, the majority of pollution we are likely to encounter in the future will come from within our own homes and workplaces.


A Complex Problem

While ventilation allows the dilution of pollutants, it offers the chance for more ozone gas to enter our buildings, meaning any proposed solutions are unlikely to be straightforward.

With long-term exposure to air pollution leading to serious health issues such as cancer and cardiovascular diseases, the need to understand the issue becomes pressing. The drive to produce clean air outside is making the issue of clean air inside a complex problem. The researchers point out that the effects of outdoor pollutants such as nitrogen oxide are relatively well understood compared to the indoor pollutants that have, so far, gone unstudied.

For expert advice in this area, contact the team at McKeon Group


About McKeon Group

Established in 1950 and ISO certified for more than two decades, McKeon Group offers expert construction, fitout and building services. The family-run Group delivers projects, services and maintenance across a range of sectors for State, local authority, FDI and private clients. For more information, contact: