Approaching refurbishment and conversion

Refurbishment and conversion projects require the right approach to satisfy structural warranty requirements explains Clare M Thomas, Managing Director of Q Assure Build.

The concept of refurbishing or converting an existing building to create a new home or office is becoming increasingly common. The benefits are clear from the perspective of environmental responsibility, and there are often persuasive commercial arguments for creating something unique or something with a bit of history; compelling reasons to redevelop old into new.

Permitted development rights can also mean that many sites involving existing buildings do not require planning permission – an attractive option for investors and property owners alike.

These projects do tend to require more specialist input during design and construction to ensure that the existing structure can be properly developed and realistic cost projections can be set early. It is also common for purchasers to expect that refurbished and converted properties will perform in the same way as new build properties; while there are some limitations to these expectations (particularly with listed buildings), it is neither unreasonable nor impossible to meet these standards.

Key components of success

Some developers avoid existing structures, believing that it will be cheaper to start again with a brand new, modern building. There is some merit to this argument. However, the commercial viability of a refurbishment or conversion project usually starts with realistic planning by those who are prepared to be flexible in their approach in terms of timing, resource requirements and material purchases. This usually means adopting a different way of thinking if you normally build new, standardised units.

The more you can find out about the existing structure, the easier it will be to deal with issues and a thorough investigation by an expert will establish an accurate basis for cost and timescale planning. The nature of some of the issues may seem daunting but by understanding requirements early, issues can be dealt with effectively and robustly with the right technical advice and support. Don’t expect that you can deal with everything yourself; engage professionals who can share the benefit of experience and contractors who have dealt with similar projects before.

With the cost and technical pressures these types of projects can present, it is all the more important to engage a warranty provider who will work with you to agree technical solutions for structural stability, outline any insurance requirements to ensure you can budget for your project properly and whose surveyors will provide technical guidance and support once the project is underway. The last thing you need on a complex project is an inexperienced warranty surveyor who cannot deviate from textbook requirements and who may not appreciate the importance of outlining significant technical conditions early in the process.

Technical considerations for refurbishment and conversion

When providing a structural warranty for a refurbishment and conversion property project, Q’s overarching principle is that the building will remain structurally stable, dry and watertight. We balance this with retaining existing characteristics and the commercial viability of your project – this is where our pragmatic approach comes into its own!

Each project is unique. However, we concentrate on these key elements:

Structural stability

Most structures will require an appraisal by a structural engineer, addressing the condition of the existing structure. Unlike other providers, Q will not necessarily expect a wholesale replacement or underpinning, but will take a view on historical stability, along with an assessment of proposed new loads.

Roof coverings

In general, if the existing pitched roof covering is under 15 years old then Q will consider retention of the roof covering, subject to an expert report. Due to the shorter replacement cycle for most flat roofing products, all flat roof coverings will normally need to be replaced. However, we do appreciate that there are often alternatives so early discussion regarding innovative approaches are always welcome.

Timber treatment

While treatment is not always necessary, expert assessment of existing timbers in relation to moisture content, insect and fungal attack will be required. Traditional chemical treatment is not the only solution and many companies offer more holistic solutions that can be useful for listed buildings.

Resistance to damp and wind driven rain

Effective resistance to rising damp can be addressed in many ways – either by the provision of physical/chemical barriers or by isolating the finishes from the structure. Either approach may be suitable, but the effects of both insulation and waterproofing products can affect the overall moisture content of the building fabric. This is an area where expert advice can pay dividends.

In each case, early engagement is encouraged; we are always keen to provide support during the early design discussions with your team of experts to help ensure a cost-effective and appropriate solution.

The Q Approach

We actively encourage refurbishment and conversion projects – they are exciting, unique and can create truly desirable living or working spaces, capturing the heritage of a local area. If you engage the right specialists and commit appropriate resource, there is no reason for your warranty provider not to adopt a sensible approach to cover.

We regularly hear from developers who have been asked to undertake unnecessary works to existing structures or who have been frustrated by bureaucratic processes, adding cost and time. Some of these experiences are unavoidable. However, we are aware of the need for a practical approach so that you know we are working with you, not against you.

This doesn’t mean there won’t be any challenges along the way, but Q ensures that you are given a knowledgeable support structure through our technical and surveying teams. Above all, we want to make sure that the units you convert are quality properties for your customers, delivered within your expected timescales and budgets.