The Flood Performance Certificates scheme urgently needs a firm foundation based on empirical evidence and detailed expert knowledge if it is to succeed, argues Aquobex
Flood Performance Certificates (FPC) are an idea that in some ways follows the template of Energy Performance Certificates (EPC), making the case that FPC would inform homebuyers and tenants about the risk of flooding before they buy or sign a lease agreement.
This applies equally to business premises as well as homes and if the FPC is presented during the conveyancing process, it can help to inform the buyer and seller of the steps necessary to improve the resilience of the property. The advantage of such a system is that the steps could be achieved incrementally rather than all at once, which could spread the financial burden over time more easily.
Property flooding is on the increase as climate change affects the intensity of large rainfall events and the consequences for homeowners in terms of disruption, mental health, anxiety and financial burden are well known. How flooding can be mitigated at the property level is not so well known by the general public or developers, at large. The FPC scheme, if promoted well by the insurance sector, has the opportunity to address this lack of knowledge for property owners.
Aquobex and partners BACA Architects proposed this exact idea some six years ago when working together with BRE (Building Research Establishment) on a Defra-funded study on how to develop building policy in flood zones, so it is good to see it being revisited by FloodRe.
As we discussed and described in our study, building new homes in a flood zone is not difficult, it is simply a matter of putting the current state-of-the-art technology into practice. Nothing major needs to be developed* but it does need to be put together with care and attention to detail.
[*A key development for new build and property renovations is the need for a zero or low threshold door that addresses disabled access into residential and commercial buildings].
Retrofitting the current housing stock is a lot harder though, with the hard to reach areas of floor, wall and foundation proving the hardest to protect. This is why this type of repair is best achieved after a flood. When access to these areas is easier after the fitted kitchen, stairs and fireplace have been removed.
Of the 5.2m homes at risk of flooding in the UK, 5.2m have already been built.
With this in mind, it is imperative, in our opinion, that the FPCs provide a “whole house” certification scheme focused on the existing building stock for retrofit. New properties will build on the experience of this scheme as they are far easier to protect at the building stage and developers should be keen to demonstrate the resilience of their homes.
Getting the most out of FPCs
It is great to see that the FPCs are being promoted by FloodRe as we believe it will be the insurance industry that drives the much-needed change in customer attitude to flood resilient repair for homes and businesses.
However, it is important to get to the detail of such a scheme correct at the outset. During our study of six years ago, Aquobex also proposed adopting a scheme that is well known in the construction industry, called Robust Details®.
This scheme is an example of a comprehensive guide to soundproofing a property and contains design detail and a registration system for new build properties and retrofitting of existing stock. This example shows how the construction industry is already managing building components to improve their usability and providing the evidence required to prove that it has been done correctly.
Aquobex proposed adapting this scheme with detailed designs on how to provide retrofit flood resistance and flood resilience solutions to existing properties. A scheme we called Robust Flood Data that could be administered by the same organisation, Robust Details®.
The FPC plans to build on the proposed new Code of Practice that has been introduced (in consultation with the industry) by CIWEM this year but that needs to be considered carefully as they have inexplicably split out the design responsibility from the construction and delivery phases. This is completely at odds with BS 8102:2009 (the standard for protecting below ground structures from groundwater penetration), which incorporates Design Philosophy as a fundamental part of the design and execution of a successful project.
Nicely summarised in this Property Care Association (PCA) document from 2013: “The decision to separate design responsibility from delivery is a fundamental flaw in the whole process, in our opinion, as it does not address the issue of split liability and could undermine the Flood Protection Certificate at birth. This is less of an issue for flood resistance products as the solutions provided are easily verified and checked.”
For flood recovery solutions such as waterproof linings, tanking, renders, plasters, cavity wall insulation and some floodproof kitchens, it is not so easy to prove that they have been installed correctly and to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Of further concern is where a combination of flood resistance and flood recovery solutions are provided and how they are joined at their interfaces. All of this is best addressed at the design stage by a specialist practitioner of such solutions.
With this in mind, the FPC survey needs to be very robust and although august bodies such as RICS have excellent practitioners in the built environment, they probably lack the detailed knowledge of water entry and water exclusion, which makes training such an important subject.
Training courses are already available at the PCA and BRE as mentioned in the WPI Economics strategy paper but this needs further development to include resilience measures and product understanding. This is a task we believe is best done by the PCA as the trade body for the flood protection industry. This training has to be extensive in both its understanding of how water enters a building, as well as how to mitigate it, so an understanding of manufacturer’s solutions is essential too.
The term resilience has taken on a meaning to encompass both water exclusion and water entry solutions and the surveyor needs to fully understand what they are proposing in their design as it may be one or the other, or both.
Surveys need to be intrusive for both solutions, flood resistant and flood recovery, if the designs are to be robust and not open to interpretation. Drain covers need to be lifted and facilities flushed, floors need to be uncovered and wall and foundation constructions need to be documented.
Cost is always an issue, as has been highlighted in the study, both for the FPC survey and for the Build Back Better policy advocated by FloodRe. £10,000 sounds like a good budget for property flood repairs but the reality is flood resistant solutions may cost between £3,000 to £7,000 per property, depending on size, and flood resilient repairs can cost between £10,000 and £30,000, again depending on size.
Of all the barriers to the uptake of Property Level Resilience (PLR) by homeowners, money is by far the biggest obstacle. People are very reluctant to spend their own money on flood resilient measures as they fail to see the value in it. The FPC scheme has to convince them that flood mitigation is a good investment for them personally and for their home.
So, a key part of making FPC work in our opinion is to provide empirical evidence to the insurance industry that PLR solutions work.
Aquobex has formed a world-class partnership of solutions providers who together can delivery seamless, insurable flood resilience schemes for our customers that will provide the foundation for the FPC scheme, from survey through delivery, handover, maintenance and insurability.
It can and needs to be demonstrated to the key stakeholders (property owners, developers, government and insurers) and our proposal is to build a demonstrable and working property at the HR Wallingford site in Oxfordshire.
It needs funding and all stakeholders need to be funding it, along with the associated training through the PCA so the FPC has the foundations it urgently needs.
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