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Old Buildings are at their Most Vulnerable when Undergoing Repairs

Lessons to be learnt from the Notre Dame fire
Last year in the UK some 300 historic buildings were damaged by fires, with many occurring whilst under-going renovations or repairs. There is an online national database of fires in heritage buildings that records all reported fires, and so far in 2019 they have 152 fires noted.
Archaic buildings are particularly susceptible to the fast spreading of fire due to dry old wood, voids and cavities in walls, floors and ceilings, effectively providing ‘runways’ for the flames. Windsor Castle’s 1992 fire, for example, was sparked by a workman’s spotlight accidentally setting a curtain alight in Queen Victoria’s Private Chapel.
Buildings undergoing refurbishment are vulnerable as they’re likely to have exposed wires and timber, and potentially hot works occurring as part of the renovation. All construction sites are high-risk safety areas in any case, as all it takes is a spark from a sander, an abrasive chop-saw, a blow torch or ash from a cigarette, to ignite common and flammable construction materials like wood, solvents, packaging and fuel. Fire swept through the top floor of the Paris Ritz Hotel as it was undergoing refurbishment a couple of years back, with 150 building workers evacuated from the site, and more recently, a huge fire destroyed a seven storey apartment building under construction in Raleigh, North Carolina.
So, following the tragedy of the 886-year-old Notre Dame fire in Paris last week, what can we learn from these occurrences to try and reduce the risks?
Firstly, ensure there’s a regular fire risk assessment in place – for ‘static’ buildings (i.e. not undergoing any repairs or refurbishment works), they can vary from annual to every 3 or 4 years, but construction sites or buildings undergoing works can be very dynamic, with the site changing almost on a daily basis. In these circumstances it makes sense to have a more regular fire risk assessment to ensure that any changes to the layout that the works have created are taken into account. One fire officer gave me a tip recently when walking through a site. To ensure that all the fire doors have been checked and opened, inspectors stick a little date sheet on the inside of the door frame. Invisible when the door is shut, every time they inspected and opened the door, they jot down the date on the paper list. A simple but effective way for the property manager to make sure the assessor/inspector is carrying out their job.
Secondly, install temporary fire detection equipment whilst works are being carried out. Wireless technologies available now allow for CE approved fire alarm systems to be installed without having to be cabled in and damage the framework or basic infrastructure of a heritage site, or of a new build for that matter. Fire extinguishers, blankets and escape route signage are all relatively easy to obtain and install. For particularly significant sites, or ones which are environmentally at high risk, ‘Smart’ CCTV Towers can be deployed very quickly to maintain a fire alert even when the site is deserted, say at night. They can also be easily re-aligned in different spaces as the repair works move through the premises. CCTV towers can have fire sensors attached and be connected to a 24/7 monitoring station. If an alarm is triggered, the monitoring centre can verify whether it is a fire or a false alarm, significantly reducing the hindrance of fire services being called out in error.
Finally, everyone on site should be made fire safety aware – there’s plenty of simple materials available on line – and there’s no better opportunity to do so than after a major blaze has occurred, such as Notre Dame. The dangers and risks are really high in people’s minds after these sort of events, and staff may be less blasé about them. There should be a locally on-site fire safety lead, to carry out regular sweeps checking the site is compliant with the assessment. Even having someone walk round on a daily basis wearing a fire safety arm band helps to raise awareness.

Nicholas Bye, Direc­tor, VPS Group


Investment in people electrifies performance for Energy Assets

Energy Assets is celebrating five years of success in the industrial and commercial (I&C) electricity metering market.
Since acquiring Bglobal Metering in 2014 – and rebranding it Energy Assets two years later – the company has more than doubled annual I&C meter installations, added in excess of 100 people to its original headcount of 50 and significantly grown the number of meters under management.
David Sing, Group Managing Director (Assets) at Energy Assets, believes the impressive performance results from a clear vision for the business backed up by significant investment in its people.
“Initially, there were some legacy challenges, but as soon as people understood we had a clear, well-funded plan for the future, they bought into the vision...and we haven’t looked back. Our people are today an integral part in the ongoing success of our business and are excited about the future,” said David.
The transformation programme involved every area of the business – and the results speak for themselves. Since 2014, Energy Assets has recruited and trained a 60-strong team of meter installation engineers, increased the customer service, data and planning headcount to over 100 at the Darwen office, and grown its electricity meter operator and data collection appointments consistently year on year. Last year the company showed growth of almost 135% in install numbers of I&C meters compared to when the business was acquired.
“We have made good progress, but what really excites me is the future,” said David. “We have a motivated, highly skilled workforce empowered to provide great service to our growing customer base of energy suppliers and end users.
“We have just launched our SMETS2 smart metering installation service targeting micro businesses, our core automated meter reading offer is growing impressively, and the value we create on behalf of suppliers and end users by collecting and aggregating consumption data will only increase as companies intensify their energy efficiency programmes.
“In addition, there are new opportunities emerging in EV’s and sub-metering, and we also aim to continue to add value through our electricity Meter Asset Provider (MAP) offering. These are exciting times.”


The Challenge of Specifying Building Envelopes

When disparate elements are brought together onsite, it is down to the specifier to assess whether the selected combination of materials deliver the required levels of performance. Steve Thompson, Managing Director for EOS, discusses those challenges when specifying building envelopes.
For some time, there have been concerns regarding the potential gap between design and as-built performance of buildings and now there is also the new building regulations to consider for fire resistance for buildings over 18m. As ever, the devil is in the detailing, and what was intended by the designer is not always what is achieved on site.
Cost is another area that can be problematic. The cost of the external envelope can be influenced by many factors including design complexity, or changes in the design and the coordination of the building envelope to accommodate structural support, glazing or louvres, for example. The overall installed costs must be considered, rather than solely the square metre rate of a material.
Until now there has been a lack of a system-based approach to the design and specification of lightweight infill walls. Instead, each component of the wall was offered by different manufacturers with each providing data relevant only to their element of the system. System solutions can however take away the uncertainty of specifying building envelopes and reduce the risk of not meeting building regulations, performance or cost requirements – helping specifiers meet the challenges of designing the external building envelope.
EOS, as part of the Etex Building Performance group of companies, can call upon the expertise of three leading lightweight construction brands – Siniat, Promat and EOS. The combination of expertise in drylining, external sheathing and steel framing systems, as well as passive fire protection, means that Etex Building Performance is uniquely positioned to bring these elements together to create a range of tested and warranted external Thruwall® systems.
After having completed rigorous fire, acoustic, weathering, airtightness and mechanical testing – all our Thruwall® systems are supported by a 30-year warrantee. They combine non-combustible A1 external sheathing, engineered steel framing systems and internal wall linings – meeting building performance requirements for fire, thermal, weathering, acoustics and airtightness in one certified solution.
Steel framing systems do not suffer from shrinkage or unpredictable differential movement, which can affect other forms of construction. It is not a single sector or single solution technology and can add value to a project ‘up-stream’. The adaptability of steel results in systems being used in a variety of ways and forms to meet the demands of low, medium and high-rise developments across all construction sectors. Offsite system manufacturers are operating in exciting times for the built environment and there has never been a better time to capitalise on the raft of benefits that factory-based offsite technologies can deliver.
With continued investment in advanced manufacturing facilities and product development – all underpinned by 14 years’ design and manufacturing experience in the sector, we are at the forefront of providing value-adding solutions in light gauge steel that meet real customer needs.
As specialists in the manufacture of steel framing systems, using LGS sections, EOS offers solutions for all aspects of light steel framing. Manufactured to the most demanding specification, under highly controlled conditions, EOS ensures the final outcome is more predictable and repeatable, eradicating the risk of onsite variability. By combining strength, durability and precision engineering – the EOS light steel frame system portfolio offers innovative solutions and optimises value engineering.

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