BIM offers a powerful tool for better housing repairs and safety management

Victoria Saunders of BTP architects explains how new technology can create safer and better designed homes

BUILDING Information Modelling (BIM) has the potential to create safer, better designed homes.

Vicky Saunders
Victoria Saunders,managing director, BTP

It could greatly improve the fire safety of high rises by using it retrospectively, but more often than not, this has been overlooked as an option.

We are working with leading landlord Great Places on a cutting-edge project reporting in to the National Housing Federation (NHF). The project involves using BIM on one of the housing provider’s existing tower blocks to improve fire safety within it.

BIM is a 3D model-based process that can drive more efficient and effective planning, design, construction and management of buildings and infrastructure. While it has been around for a few years now, not that many housing providers have been quick to use it and some that have aren’t using it effectively.

If used properly it provides a replica of the real building and a bank of accurate data associated with each of its components – and crucially – how each of these will perform in a fire.

It is a fantastic tool for landlords’ asset managers not only for building maintenance but for fire safety compliance.

In the wake of Grenfell, The Hackitt Review highlighted that past failures have centred around a misunderstanding of the capabilities of BIM, with cheaper options being selected and a lack of responsibility for maintaining and reviewing the data.

Ultimately there were no penalties for not using BIM or not using it correctly.

Now, as the Government is consulting on “digital by default” when it comes to record keeping on high-rise buildings, we have used BIM to survey and map out a complete replica of Great Places’ Bowland House tower block in Blackburn.

Phase 1 of the project has involved six months of logging all relevant data associated with each component of the building to build the BIM data bank.

BIM can support high quality fire risk assessment. It can show where the fire escapes are in the building, which walls hold and where any weaknesses are. Firefighters can use it to plan the best route into and out of a building.

We have been working in partnership with the fire service on our project to get their valuable input and insight.

BIM also has the important benefit of driving efficiencies for landlords in repairs and maintenance of buildings.

Use of BIM
BIM offers a powerful asset and safety management tool

It gives you an effective building management system that means housing providers can also make better judgements about repairs and renovation work.

For example, from the BIM you can find out the size of a door, the materials it is made of, how many hinges it has and what type. This kind of information can be used by the repairs team so they can get the job done in one visit, saving time and money for everyone.

Often housing providers’ systems don’t marry up or aren’t compatible with BIM. This is a practical challenge that has put many off using BIM in the past – but it can be overcome.

For BIM to succeed the data must be accurate and kept up to date.

That’s why a system that clearly outlines who is responsible for reviewing and updating data is essential so that errors don’t crop up.

Phase Two of our work with Great Places is now getting underway.

It involves using our expertise in BIM to help the landlord assign roles and responsibilities to ensure the system is properly maintained and updated. We are also working with their IT team to implement BIM and its data across all relevant roles. For example, linking it to repair operatives’ hand-held computers and call centre systems.

BIM can provide robust, accurate information that can ultimately save lives and should be a key part of the tool kit for all housing providers.

NH

Victoria Saunders is the managing director of architects BTP

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