In the middle ages when winters were severe, construction work stopped between November and March because it was impossible to work. Today, we assume we can carry on through, but what are the risks to the finished work, the programme and the people? FIS technical director Joe Cilia talks to members across the FIS community.
Should you start the fit-out before the building is watertight?
“Commencing works ahead of a building being watertight is a lottery,” commented Alex Double, a drylining and fire consultant.
What do British Standards say?
British Standard 8212: 1995 Code of Practice for Drylining and Partitions using Gypsum Plasterboard states, “It is essential that areas to be drylined or partitioned are watertight, weatherproof and dry. This is of particular importance as drylining materials are vulnerable to wet or high-humidity conditions.”
Does water ingress have an impact on fit-out?
“When it rains, fungal spores in the air are deposited on surfaces where there is contact, which may lead to mould growth on finished plasterboard months after completion,” said Mathew Sexton, head of advocacy and standardisation at British Gypsum. “The trick is to keep the walls dry to avoid this happening.”
Andrew Richardson of Fermacell commented: “Water ingress can make it necessary to replace damaged boards or system components, meaning revisits to already completed areas with big impacts on programme and costs. This can lead to disputes.” On this topic, Mr Double added: “Remember, there are no fire tests for water-damaged partitions.”
So, who pays when water damages the fit-out?
Mr Double commented: “That depends. In our experience, this will be the loss adjusters if it is due to building defects, poor design or damage caused by leaking services. And it can depend on the contract – for example, if a main contractor brings the fit-out programme forward before the building is weathertight.”
What about lighting in the darker winter months?
“The main contractors will generally provide safety lighting as required under CDM,” said Mr Sexton, adding, “But remember, there may be a need for task lighting specific to your work as well!”
Mr Double added: “Suitable and adequate lighting is vitally important when attempting to achieve the required level of finish. Requirements for artificial lighting are noted in the BS 8212, 8000 and the plastering standards BS EN 13914-2:2016.”
Can dehumidification speed up the curing time?
“There are times when we would recommend their use, such as in preparation for the installation of drylining where there is insufficient time to allow the building to naturally dry,” explained Mr Sexton. “However, where dehumidification is used during the installation, the level needs to be such as to not to adversely affect the set and drying phases of the jointing, plaster or skim.”
What specific safety considerations are required in winter?
David Cant of health and safety consultants Veritas said: “In cold weather, specialist PPE may be required, which should be appropriate for the task. Remember, there may be times when operatives are standing in the cold for long periods, so ensure they have adequate equipment to hand.
“Be aware that surfaces could be icy and slippery, so taking extra care entering site and moving equipment and materials is imperative. You should also monitor and record weather changes and look at what controls are in place to manage and respond to the changes.”
How about storing and moving materials on-site?
Gavin Palmer of specialist fit-out contractor Astins said: “Moving materials and even getting to site can all be weather dependant, and high winds can put a stop to carting where cranes and hoists are used.”
He advised: “Contractors should always ensure that materials are stored in a flat, dry space – boards are prone to taking on undulations, which may manifest themselves in the finished work. Water-resistant boards are designed to resist water in their installed state, but they can absorb water if left lying flat in the rain for prolonged periods.”
Mr Double added a final point on preserving the quality of plasterboard. He said: “It is common for main contractors to instruct that plasterboards are raised off the slab so if there is any standing water, it does not soak into the boards.”
It seems that winter more than any other season comes with its own challenges, but remember that winter doesn’t have a monopoly on wet weather – many of the points raised here are just as valid when working in summer.
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