When RAAC is the tip of the iceberg

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Stephen Scott


Stephen Scott


Market Insights

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There is a chain of events that estate managers can be all too familiar with. An emergency fix which, on the face of it, seems reasonably containable turns out to be the tip of the iceberg leading to a larger set of problems that need to be addressed.

And this is one of the scenarios that can happen when surveying for RAAC and why we advise clients to take a holistic approach and avoid jumping straight to remediation options. As RAAC was most commonly used in buildings which are now 50 plus years old, it is likely that it will not be the only issue and may not be the most significant one that needs tackling. Other problems typically associated with facilities of this age include poor thermal performance of the envelope; presence of asbestos; life expired M&E; fire compartmentation and accessibility compliance issues and poor space efficiency and/or utilisation. All of which result in higher asset lifecycle costs and poor operational carbon performance of the building.

So, it is important that the remediation of RAAC is considered in the context of wider building management issues as it can be that ‘tip of the iceberg’ that sets off a cascade of backlog maintenance and compliance work. It can be an extensive list with some chunky issues to resolve. Taking a holistic approach to any form of remediation is particularly important for those estate managers overseeing estates with multiple and complex building typologies such as universities and health trusts.

Take, for example, the discovery of RAAC panels forming the roof in a highly serviced building. The replacement of the roof deck, coverings and consequential refurbishment of the spaces below is a minimum requirement. However, in order to replace the RAAC, M&E plant has to be removed from the roof – this is life expired and won’t survive a ‘lift and shift’ operation so has to be renewed; the services distribution on the underside of the roof slab needs to be removed – this requires access to the risers which are contaminated with asbestos, triggering asbestos removal works; the extent and intrusive nature of all these works triggers consequential improvement works to the building envelope under Part L of the Building Regulations etc.

In addition, decant space will be required to maintain critical operations while refurbishment is in progress. This can be costly or impractical to provide in the case of highly serviced environments.

What was originally envisaged as a relatively simple maintenance project has transformed into a major refurbishment scheme requiring substantial investment and potentially causing significant disruption for the building users. It is vital to look at the remediation as part of a holistic approach to the estate and consider if the asset warrants the level of investment needed and what its lifecycle cost and operational carbon performance will be even after this outlay.

The balance of this equation is further impacted if space efficiency is brought into the reckoning. How good is the space utilisation of the existing building? Do you still need the same amount of space, could this be provided more efficiently? Could requirements be met in a different way in another building? 

When lifecycle cost, operational carbon and embodied carbon are all taken into account, a better decision can be to build a new, smaller, space efficient and energy efficient facility and demolish the existing structure. This results in an overall net reduction in space, making the estate more sustainable both in terms of OpEx costs and carbon. These are all complex decisions which are never taken lightly and can only be taken when looking at the estate as a whole. Retrofitting or refurbishing assets is often the preferred route, and rightly so, but sometimes it is not the best route from both a financial investment and a decarbonisation standpoint.

This is where we can support clients, helping them work through these considerations to find the right solution for their particular estates and always looking at it in its entirety.

Even with the remediation of more simple structures, for example flat roof buildings at a school, taking a holistic approach may result in a better long-term value for money solution. For example, if RAAC roof panels need to be replaced could a solar photovoltaic system be installed at the same time to help the school meet its carbon targets?

We also know how hard it can be sometimes to find the way into managing these complex issues, taking the first step and prioritising what needs to be done and when. We advocate that data is that way in and facilitates that first step, forming the bedrock of any estates management programme. We know not every estate manager has the luxury of robust condition and space utilisation data sets but through our Six Facet Surveys combined with our digital and data analysis expertise we can fill data gaps and build the all-important baseline. From this, we can draw out long term goals and high-level strategies and then start to plot the journey to achieving these targets and prioritise resources, aligned to budgets. While we can’t always predict issues such as RAAC, by taking a holistic approach we can certainly mitigate the impact through better solutions.