Creating more housing: can we build better?

Architects, engineers and designers plan and oversee the construction of our new homes and apartments, with construction increasingly being outsourced to a few large home construction companies.

Surveyors inspect and appraise these new properties for buyers and mortgage lenders, not only when they are new, but also throughout their lifespan. Therefore, surveyors are in a unique position to comment on the quality of this new construction.

Surveyors meet with occupants, look for defects and advise lenders on the suitability of certain types of construction as mortgage security.

We also advise social housing owners when problems arise with rental properties, so the knowledge and experience of surveyors should provide a valuable contribution.

There is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that the general public is unhappy with the quality of most new construction, especially apartments. Part of it is about manufacturing, but most of the criticism is about the design.

Every now and then you’ll see articles in the press describing modern properties – usually apartments – suffering from humidity with mold on the walls and a request from the tenant (usually accompanied by a photo of a disgruntled occupant) for the owner to do something.

In the long run, all flat roofs leak and the most damaging leaks can be the small leaks, undetected for some time, which will seriously damage the supporting construction without necessarily appearing as spots on the lower ceilings to a point of advanced stage.

Surveyors know from experience that in our climate the best roofs are sloped so that water runs off the edge, and there is a void under the roof so that the construction can be checked from below.

The Grenfell investigation highlighted the need for much better fire safety not only in terms of the exterior cladding but also in relation to the entire structure and means of escape, not to mention that some occupants may be disabled. or elderly and you cannot use an elevator in a fire.

Closures as a result of Covid have left us wondering if small apartments without outdoor space – not even a balcony – are a suitable environment for everyone and especially a family with children.

It may be a good idea to improve the minimum room size and include an open space or a mandatory garden.

Fortunately, major structural failures are rare, but it reminds us of the risks associated with building on unstable ground or using unconventional constructions like the collapse of Ronan Point apartments in London in 1968 and more recently towers. Champlain in Miami.

Can we build better? Should we impose better design standards and improve the quality of construction?

After Grenfell, a fairly complete overhaul of building regulations is likely with better independent testing of building materials and perhaps improved space standards.

Hopefully, experienced surveyors, who have so much to offer, will be consulted during this process.

Peter Glover is a surveyor and author of Building Surveys and Buying a House or Flat

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