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Batten Down The Hatches, Here Comes Barbara!

20 December 2016

storm-barberaAs the rainy season approaches, something of a blamestorm has broken out regarding culpability in respect of flood resilience and flood resistance for domestic properties. For those unfamiliar with the terms, flood resistance is a building’s ability to keep water out; and its resilience is how readily it is returned to normal having been flooded.

In a nutshell, the insurance industry is claiming that homeowners, especially in areas prone to flooding, aren’t taking adequate measures themselves to ensure their properties are either resistant, resilient or both. In turn, insurers have been criticised by the Environment Agency (EA) has criticised insurers for only brining properties back to their original state following claims – rather than taking the opportunity to include resilience and resistant measures as part of a claim-based refurbishment.

Examples of flood resistant measures would be fitting air brick covers, door boards or non-return valves to drains. Flood resilience measures would include laying stone floors, raising electrical accessories to about 600mm or fitting stainless steel plinths to kitchens.

If this wasn’t enough, local councils have too piled in, criticising the EA and the Government for taking insufficient steps – like dredging – or providing local authorities with enough funding to get on with their own initiatives.

And then central Government ministers are suggesting that housebuilders haven’t been as active as they could in developing flood resistant designs; and are calling for tougher Building Regulations in this respect. It is a right royal flooding tag team event, and you’ll be excused for feeling excluded if you haven’t jumped off the side-ropes to join in. The BBC’s take on the row is here

The squabble came to light in a recent, and not well publicised report, from DEFRA and compiled by Sir Peter Bonfield (busy bloke – he of the post-Green Deal and long-awaited energy efficiency review). His findings are available on the gov.uk website here

All this to and fro reminds us, as we have stated before, that the building design, construction and insurance sectors should actively consider the important role that UPVC building products can play in adding flood resistance and resilience to homes actually and potentially threatened with disaster and, in this context, especially those made from UPVC.

With the careful selection of building materials, construction techniques and internal finishes, the deployment of resilience measures can not only hasten repair and recovery; but also the building can then be re-occupied more quickly because less time, effort and cost will be required to repair the damage.

Somewhat obviously, floodwater will always follow a path of least resistance and will enter a building at the weakest points in the construction, particularly through masonry and construction joints, and any voids and gaps. With doors and windows not least among the possible pathways – especially when inadequately sealed, ill-fitting, draughty and of materials that will absorb water.

But in the context of doors, windows and fittings, UPVC has a role to play – which the Government more than implies with Improving the Flood Performance of New Buildings stating under General Advice for Resilient Design: “The main principle is to use durable fittings that are not significantly affected by water and can be easily cleaned (e.g. use of plastic materials; or stainless steel for kitchen units)”. It then goes on to use an illustration of UPVC skirting – like Eurocell’s Roomline – as an example of resilient fittings.

While it would be a significant overclaim to say that UPVC windows and composite doors would play a major part in a ‘water exclusion strategy’, there is no denying that their inherent weather tightness would at least slow the ingress of water to a degree – and keeping low water thresholds at bay for even short periods may buy a little extra time for sandbagging, or a chance to move furniture, valuables and appliances out of the way.

Yet UPVC products – including fittings such as plastic skirtings – have an unequivocal and obvious contribution to make to flood resilience; being resistant to twisting, swelling, shrinking, rotting or warping – unlike the many timber windows and doors undoubtedly wrecked in the recent deluges.

Not only is this of benefit to the poor homeowner – who is saved the hassle of replacing ruined joinery items; and is able to maintain the security of the home in the face of looters, like we shockingly witnessed in York recently – but also to the insurance sector, reducing the cost of claims by thousands of pounds.

In respect of doors, raising the threshold as high as possible is desirable – while still complying with level access requirements – should be considered as the primary measure. In addition, sealed UPVC external framed doors and the Government recommendation; and logic dictates that twin-seal composite items would be an acceptable equivalent.

Hollow core timber internal doors should not be used where the predicted frequency of flooding is high.

Where windows and patio doors are vulnerable to flood water and a similar approach to that used for doors should be taken. Special care should be taken to ensure adequate sealing of any UPVC window/door sills to the fabric of the house. Of particular concern would be excessive water pressure on the glazing of patio doors. Double glazing conforming to the relevant standards would in principle adequately resist the pressures generated by flood waters; debris carrying flows may cause damage.

Flooding is simultaneously an emotional issue – for the victims – and a controversial one, for the body politik. For those experiencing it: it is hard – having a detrimental impact financially, physically and psychologically. Yet with the pressure on the UK’s housing stock, and the ceaseless demand for new homes, it is now almost inevitable that we will build houses in flood zones. The critical thing then is to ensure the optimum levels of flood resistance and resilience are met. While no-one wishes to profit from the misfortune from others, our sector’s products meets a very specific – and increasing – need for resilience in the face of severe weather conditions.

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