In-depth social housing condition reports pave way for targeted spend tackling fuel poverty

Dockside properties in Ayr in need of repairs and energy efficiency upgrades are hoped to gain inclusion to South Ayrshire’s HEEPS: ABS programme following in-depth condition reports by specialist surveyors CIT.

CIT (Consultancy, Investigation, Training) inspected almost 200 flats built in the 1940s and ‘50s in the Newton Green area of Ayr after the Energy Agency – the managing agent for South Ayrshire Council – tasked it with providing evidence-based conclusions ahead of planned improvement works. CIT identified repairs vital to preparing the homes for external wall insulation (EWI), providing a clear direction for remedial works.

Energy Agency Project Co-ordinator Andrew Filby said:

“We realised the homes would need technical assistance to bring them up to the condition required for EWI to be considered but were uncomfortable placing that onus on contractors.

“For the first time, due to the complicated nature of the works, we decided to appoint a surveyor to assess the properties and provide an evidence base and conclusions to tell us what work we would need to put in place.”

CIT was contracted to assess the condition of the properties to determine which insulation approach was suitable for each; determine if works were required before insulation solutions were installed and carry out due diligence to ensure South Ayrshire Council gained the most from its investment.

South Ayrshire holds major potential for EWI installations but the properties posed specific challenges, as Mr Filby outlined: “The mixed tenure nature of the blocks in this area, coupled with high levels of deprivation, has limited the amount of maintenance the council has been able to undertake over the last 40 years due to lack of owner buy-in. This has led to the deterioration of these homes, which now have multiple external fabric issues. Build quality, and the quality of retrofit insulation measures attempted a decade ago, is also a concern,” he said.

Two clusters of properties, for example, were suspected of having no damp course, while failures in the cavity construction were also identified. In-depth remediation work was identified as  required to refill the cavities and refit wall ties before EWI could be installed.

The project falls under HEEPS:ABS (Home Energy Efficiency Programmes for Scotland: Areas Based Schemes). HEEPS is a Scottish Government initiative to tackle fuel poverty and increase energy efficiency in homes. For 2018/19 the ABS portion of the programme has a budget of £49 million. The Energy Agency is looking at the possibility of tapping into this revenue stream to improve the homes. Some 35% of households in South Ayrshire are estimated to be in fuel poverty, equating to around 18,000 homes.

Rob McCormack, CIT Director, said:

“The Energy Agency approached us looking to assess 194 properties – including examples of each of four different archetypes – to produce a statistically relevant result. Their location on the seafront meant they would benefit from inspection to see if they were suitable for EWI.”

CIT made appointments with tenants in the 45 low-rise blocks sited in a deprived residential area at high risk of fuel poverty within an industrial estate near Ayr docks. Its experts assessed  not just insulation requirements but total property condition, identifying loose or missing roof slates, eroded cast iron guttering, eroded mortar joints, cracked render, voids in cavity wall insulation, missing loft insulation, inadequate draught proofing etc.

“By providing an independent, impartial and comprehensive report our client can help its  contractors deliver the required level of proficiency, capability and integrity,” added Mr McCormack. “The legacy of our input into the project is that South Ayrshire can make the right investment at the right time. Assessing suitability of properties is key to ensuring the correct housing improvement investment decisions are made.

“Our assessment demonstrates the benefits that independent surveyors can deliver to local authorities and housing associations in helping assess repairs, maintenance, investment and remediation of medium and high-risk dwellings,” said Mr McCormack.

CIT’s work ensured refurbishment and improvement solutions could be identified to deliver the best results for all concerned, as Mr Filby explained: “We don’t usually use a surveying firm as our contractors are employed on design and build contracts. However, on this occasion we employed a consultant, CIT, as we were aware of the deterioration of the blocks and the potential requirement for a more bespoke solution. By bringing in a specialist we can be confident that the solution proposed will make the biggest impact to these homes and provide longevity to the life of the building fabric.”