Refurb to reinvigorate

Updating a bathroom is no easy undertaking, but Chris Tranter of Bristan offers advice on how to tick all the boxes.

When it comes to refurbishing social housing, there are several considerations to bear in mind. While the updates should be attractive and appealing to residents, this must be balanced with budget constraints, ease of renovation and future-proofing measures.

Although every refurbishment requires careful planning and thought, this is especially true for social housing, where multiple criteria – including cost and time efficiency, sustainability, and future proofing – must be met alongside residents’ expectations. Water wastage is a serious issue for social housing providers. In 2015, UK charity Turn2us discovered that approximately eight out of 10 social housing tenants are struggling to pay for food despite a recovering economy. Today, housing providers more than ever have a duty of care to help lessen the financial load wherever possible.

Go green to save

While there is much talk around energy-efficiency strategy, the reality is that water-saving products can make a substantial difference to tenant costs too. In fact, according to the Energy Saving Trust, if a family of four used a water-efficient showerhead instead of an inefficient one, each year they could save around £72 off their gas bills and around £72 off their water bills, generating a total saving of almost £150. A refurbishment project can represent an ideal opportunity to replace older products with more efficient options that can reduce residents’ water usage and their utility costs.

A good starting point is the electric shower. Rather than being fed from a hot water storage tank or boiler, an electric shower instantaneously heats up the cold mains water as it passes through the shower unit. This means they only heat the amount of water that is actually needed, so there is no wasted energy. This energy efficiency makes the electric shower ideal for green focussed refurbishments, and, in conjunction with tenants watching their water bills, can ensure that only the most necessary amount of water is used.

For an easy way to identify sustainable fittings, specifiers should look for WRAS-approved products. Such products are fully compliant with the requirements of the Water Supply (Water Fittings) Regulations and Scottish Water Byelaws, which means they are of an appropriate quality and standard and do not contribute to waste, misuse, undue consumption or contamination of the water supply. In short, this provides peace of mind that the fixtures are legally sound and of good quality.

Fuss-free fit

For cash-strapped housing providers and private landlords, keeping labour costs down during a refurbishment can be challenging. The good news is that there are multiple options available to save time and avoid undue extra work when updating a bathroom. Careful product selection is key here. For example, if an electric shower is being replaced, choosing a unit with flexible water and electrical entry points means the existing pipework and electrical cable can be utilised (unless they also need to be upgraded).

Choosing a product that will fit over the footprint of the existing electric shower will ensure that the original fixing holes are covered over or reused – minimising redecoration work. Equally, when updating mixer options, it’s crucial to choose a shower that is simple to install. Although retrofits can be tricky in their own right, the right product can make part replacements a relatively quick and easy process. The central challenge is fitting a shower that matches the existing pipework, eliminating the need for adjustments and avoiding unnecessary retiling or redecorating. The answer to this lies with shower valves that allow flexibility of fit.

For example, Bristan’s range of maxi and mini mixer shower valves come with adjustable elbows and a variable centre selection from 110mm to 158mm (across the ranges), so they are easily adjusted to fit onto a bathroom’s existing pipework – thus saving time and hassle. These simple features mean that the valves are easy to install and ideal for both new or retrofit applications.

Multi-generational living

The way we live is changing, and this needs to be reflected in housing design and refurbishment. According to the Intergenerational Foundation think tank, over 500,000 households have at least three generations living under one roof, and that number is expected to rise to 556,000 by 2019 with a significant increase in the number of people aged 85 or over. When the time comes for bathroom refurbishment, specifiers need to look not only for what is needed from each product now, but also how it would perform in the years ahead. In response to this demand for sustainability, manufacturers are increasingly developing products that incorporate easy-to-use features into an attractively designed unit.

There are now showers available which are endorsed by BEAB Care and RNIB (Royal National Institute for the Blind), ensuring the safest possible experience for residents of all abilities. These models combine modern styling and ease of use features such as large, easy-to-move dials, raised markings and audible clicks when settings are adjusted, illuminated stop/start buttons, LED digital setting displays and contrasting back boxes – all designed to increase suitability for users of a wide range of abilities. What’s more, there are plenty of cleverly designed fittings that provide aid for vulnerable users without impacting on the rest of the family. A wall-mounted fold-up shower seat, for example, is practical and unobtrusive.

For safety, grab rails usually come into the picture, but by choosing versions that double up as stylish towel rails or over-basin shelves they become a bathroom accessory rather than assistive aid. Refurbishment projects are no simple undertaking, but specifying the right products can help reduce costs for both the housing provider and tenants. The bathroom is one of the most important areas of a home, and choosing sturdy, easy to use fittings, which can also save on bills is an easy winner for social housing managers.

Chris Tranter is specification product manager at Bristan.


This feature was published in the March 2017 issue of Housing Management & Maintenance magazine.
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