The UK is one of the world’s largest construction markets, generating strong interest for U.S. exporters. U.S. building products enjoy a strong reputation for quality and reliability in the UK, while import tariffs and regulatory requirements pose challenges. U.S. architectural and engineering firms have a good reputation and track record in the UK.
The UK construction market is estimated to be $386 billion in 2023, with almost 2.8 million people employed.
The strongest construction subsector in the UK remains infrastructure. Infrastructure output is projected to increase 4.6% in 2023. The UK government affirmed its commitment to spend $127.4 billion to support economic infrastructure from 2022-23 to 2024-25. Approximately half of infrastructure investment in the UK is publicly funded.
Private housing repair, maintenance, and improvement are expected to decline given higher than expected inflation and rising interest rates. A steep downturn in housing construction led to the industry to report its first monthly decline in 2023.
The UK has proximity to European manufacturers of high-quality products, as well as access to global suppliers of competitively priced building products. However, the industry faces headwinds of inflation, high energy costs, and supply chain shortages. The departure of EU skilled workers due to Brexit compounded these difficulties. The government is now easing visa restrictions to attract migration for certain construction occupations to fill gaps.
U.S. suppliers must overcome transport costs and deliver on product performance and post-sales service requirements to compete in the UK. Success may also require regular, direct engagement with buyers to distinguish specific product performance vs. competitors and highlight a product’s “green” performance attributes in areas such as energy and water savings and improvement of indoor air quality.
The best prospects for products include technologies for digital construction and innovative, environmentally friendly products. The trend in housebuilding is moving toward modular construction.
U.S. architectural and engineering firms are well received in the UK. The UK is the third largest market for U.S. Architectural and Engineering Services, although it should be noted that the competition in this market is fierce.
Specific U.S. products that play an important role in the UK’s imports fall under the following categories:
- Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration (HVACR) - U.S. HVACR products are highly competitive in the UK. The UK has a target of installing 600,000 energy efficient heat pumps per year to 2028 but has fallen behind in its goals, opening potential opportunities.
- Insulation – Increasing home insulation can help the UK meet its goal of reducing demand for gas heating. In 2022, the UK announced $1.2 billion of public funding available for home insulation projects. U.S. insulation products are strongly competitive in the UK.
- Lighting - In the lighting subsector, opportunities exist in niche products and for those at the cutting edge of green attributes. This relates to the emergent recognition of the non-visual effects of light, and awareness of how different spectrums and intensities of light impact well-being, productivity, and overall comfort.
Green building: Green building has a well-established history in the UK and is embraced by both the public and private sectors. The voluntary Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) system for rating the sustainability of non-residential building designs emerged decades ago. Most local planning authorities require that new buildings in the UK are certified and achieve high BREEAM ratings. In 2015, the UK Government included green standards into Building Regulations and is improving the standards at regular intervals.
Architecture: In 2022, the UK and U.S. architecture licensing organizations signed a mutual recognition agreement. The agreement streamlines the processes for architects to get licensed/registered and perform services in each other’s countries.
Intelligent Building: In support of intelligent buildings, smart meters are being rolled out as standard across the country. The UK government is also working to advance building performance and resilience.
High Speed Rail: The construction of High-Speed Rail 2 (HS2), the UK’s largest transport infrastructure project (valued $72 billion), commenced in September 2018. The project has been continually delayed with current expectations for 2033. HS2 cost projections continue to rise. HS2 is looking for innovation and products and services to help with the following challenges: systems integration, reduction of carbon footprint, circular economy, digital building, and offsite manufacturing. In summer 2023, HS2 will award new contracts for earthworks, minor civil and road works, drainage, formwork and concrete work. “Meet the contractor” events are opportunities for U.S. companies to meet potential customers.
15-16 November 2023, London
Various 2024 events throughout UK
27-29 September 2024, London, plus other events throughout UK
- UK Infrastructure and Projects Authority
- Office for National Statistics
- Trade Associations:
- Association for Consultancy and Engineering
- Building Magazine
- Construction Products Association
- Construction Industry Council
- High Speed Rail Group
- Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors