Construction component specifications: What’s in a Name?

15th Jan 2021

Following the publication of Dame Judeth Hackitt’s Draft Building Safety Bill – provisionally due to be enacted in 2023 –  it is becoming increasingly clear that days are numbered for building product manufacturers who use marketing messages that masquerade as technical substance and certification. In our latest Insight Article below, we reinforce the importance of qualified material performance data in specifications and the responsibility of manufacturers in the delivery of safe buildings.

 

Validating performance data

The reassurance that comes from being able to see a third-party test certificate pertaining to the specific material required, with examples of use in the prescribed situation, cannot be underestimated.  

In this respect naming a specific manufacturer and their product in a specification seems logical, so a base line example of unambiguous performance data can be established. This also sets the parameters for truly being able to understand if an alternative has equivalence and can subsequently be approved for use without dilution of the originally intended performance levels.  

However, behind that named product it is imperative that the data on which any claims of performance are made, is true and trusted. 

Thankfully, the golden thread of information and certification is becoming ever present within the design process, leading to a more widespread and simpler methodology to verifying performance claims, choosing the optimum materials and critically ensuring the specifiers choice ends up in the final build. 

Investment into fire testing to validate and certify material performance in the event of a fire – both structurally and from a combustibility standpoint – were key to the development of Farrat’s TBF Structural Thermal Break material. Maintaining structural integrity in general use or in the event of a fire, without succumbing to catastrophic failure whilst not contributing to the fire load, is a difficult balancing act. Add achieving this whilst also being an effective barrier to thermal bridging and the balance act becomes all the more remarkable.

Impact of design elements

Developing this further, we are starting to see the UNICLASS 2015 classification system supersede CAWS – The Common Arrangement of Works Specifications, as the preferred format for delivering details in data. 

Environmental and energy performance come both from the products specified and their interaction/use with other materials. As the efficiency and availability of digital tools advances, the figures derived from the specific materials used to calculate and build digital models becomes crucial. Substitution of a specified product – based on isolated data sheet figures – becomes difficult.  Verification of whether a product will work in conjunction with all other design elements in the realms of Thermal, Structural and Safety becomes onerous. 

Entering an era where electronic building models are interwoven with information directly influencing performance in numerous disciplines, the impact on changing just one of a materials parameters can have wide ranging implications, unseen until it is too late. 

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Manufacturers responsibility to guide specification

Guidance on how best to specify materials and what pitfalls can be avoided, should be the stock-in-trade of all product manufacturers, but particularly those in construction where the use of a component can vary dependant on the nature of the building and the desire of the designer. 

Farrat’s depth of specialism and in-house design engineering resource means that at all stages of the process there is a full understanding of the implications of any changes in performance criteria imposed from other influences. Reassessment using finite element analysis and crucially, the experienced and unbiased interpretation of the results to identify any issues is a guiding value at the core of every project undertaken by Farrat.

This ensures not only a solution with best performance technically, but also a solution with the best economic value outcome.

To this end naming a product and company to supply that product becomes a matter of trust, and that at any stage of the design, procurement or construction of a building the specified company can be asked a question and respond with an expert assessment and advice as to the suitability of their product for a given set of circumstances. 

This ownership of responsibility for their products, their performance and their safety in use will come to define those manufacturers that prevail globally and those who do not. Understanding and naming those companies will ensure the ‘sweet smell’ and reassurance that comes with a correctly understood and delivered specification.