The safety of residential high rise buildings has come under intense scrutiny due to the Grenfell fire and the problems raised from the Hackitt Report. There has been an increase in the need for proper confirmation that these buildings are safe. In the case where they are not, possible remediation efforts need to be carried out.
In December 2019, the new External Wall Fire Review came into effect. The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors developed the EWS1, and it was later endorsed by the Finance Association and the Building Society Association.
In March of the following year, the authorities put in place a £1 billion to support the removal of unsafe cladding from these buildings. The money was placed in a specially created fund known as the Building Safety Fund.
Despite the large sum, the various local Housing Communities and even the Local Government Committee has already given fair warning that the fund will be insufficient in the event of a disaster. As such, an estimation was given that it would only cover up to a third of the 1700 buildings that required dire remediation. Experts weighed in and suggested that the following ten years' total cost could reach a whopping £15 billion.
The updated EWS1 Survey serves to provide standardised approaches to dealing with fire cladding safety issues. However, some confusion still surrounds the application and the total validity of the details.
Simply put, EWS is the shortened form of External Wall Survey. In the case of residential buildings, the external wall is the outside wall of the building. The external wall also includes the insulation, the cladding, and even the fire break system.
The form used is termed EWS1 and records information in a consistent yet universal form after assessments are carried out. As previously mentioned, these involve the external wall that is above ground and at least 18 meters and more. These external walls also involve those in specific corners.
For the assessment to be valid, it must be conducted by a competent and qualified professional. These include certified Chartered Construction Professional as recommended by the RICS. However, it should be noted that one assessment is valid for each building and the EWS1 form, when completed, is valid for up to 5 years. With that said, this can change if need be.
Before the tragic Grenfell fire, following building regulations was enough to prove that the building was safe. Then, when buildings were signed off as compliant, this was done by both private and building inspectors under an inspectors scheme. As such, the government created a specialised panel to advise on this matter properly.
The advice given by the panel would seek to drastically shift the responsibilities to the owner and away from the approval governed by regulations. The government later published the Advice Note 14 to provide the guidance needed for owners. At this point, they were now able to check the safety of those that were 18 meters and more.
However, the carefully selected panel issued no help on how evidence should be generated. This then led to mortgage lenders becoming very worried that they didn't have a real way to tell if a building was safe or not. Regular evaluators don't have the required skills, nor are they in any shape to deal with the necessary work. In essence, they were unable to assign accurate values to flats to issue loans without proper evidence.
Since all of this became a huge issue, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors took it upon themselves to design the EWS form and process. It provided clear and consistent methods for buildings to be accurately assessed with the results recorded.
EWS1 forms are applicable to all residential buildings that are over the height of 18 meters. Possible upcoming changes in the future can see the restriction being changed since mortgage companies would want protection. While the EWS1 form does not support those that are below 18 meters, both lenders and investors are now requesting comfort.
In their request for added comfort, the lack of guidance makes it even more difficult for building owners, managing agents, leasehold occupiers, mortgage providers, and even insurers.Who Should Undertake an EWS1 Survey?
Professional and qualified individuals should do the EWS surveys. One of the main bodies is that of the Chartered Construction Professional as suggested by the RICS guidelines.
Based on significant experience, some qualified professionals still tend to carry out highly inaccurate assessments. This makes it even more critical to have proper processes that cover everything. Hence the EWS1 form is accompanied by the correct supporting information.
In the case of option A, an expert is the only one who can sign off after they've identified the materials. As previously stated, external walls should not contain combustible materials. However, it is still necessary for experts to be trained in the field of fire engineering. The person signing should be a part of a professional body in the industry, including the Chartered Institute of Building or even RICS Chartered Surveyor.
For option B, an assessment should be done by someone that can adequately assess fire risk prevention for external flammable materials. They should also be affiliated with a professional body. This can either be from the Institution of Fire Engineers or even a Chartered Engineer.
Within this industry, the most unfortunate thing is that there is a lack of qualified persons. This prevents several forms from being signed off as fast as they need to be with growing demand. Hence, there are always delays within the field.
Since consultants are required to be from one of 21 different specific bodies, they owe a special duty of care. Anything that they put on a form should be completed correctly. In the event of errors, negligent claims can be filed, and the risks are covered by professional indemnity coverage.
As of May 2020, the terms of insurance underwent changes, and coverage for EWS1 was removed. For consultants to attain an agreement, they must seek coverage before the policy came into effect. Since there are so many risks attached to persons in this field, coverage is now harder to secure.
This left a lot of consultants being unable to conduct these surveys.
All materials used for construction should be properly documented. Reviews of architectural drawings can prove helpful, but they are not enough. This also leaves other studies being inefficient as they try to follow the regulations.
To gather proper evidence, physical inspection and photographic evidence are needed. Additionally, intrusive tests can be helpful when there is not enough documentation to prove which materials were used. Intrusive measures require walls to be opened up and cladding to be properly examined.