Here we go again…house building in crisis

 Housing-crisis-solution

9 April 2015

No new housing, “outlandish charges”, pyrite remediation & calls for a public inquiry into Newbridge fire

The following four press articles on lack of housing supply, current limited review into the building regulations, lack of progress for pyrite remediation and calls for a public inquiry into the Newbridge house fires are of note this week. The following snapshot of media coverage suggests we have some way to go before our construction industry gets past problems that have dogged the sector for the past number of years and onto a sustained path of revcovery. Click on each title to read original article:

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Hubert Fitzparticy, CIF: “”It will probably take another year before some western and northern parts of Dublin, as well as many parts of Cork and Limerick cities, reach the threshold that makes homes viable to build,” he says.

He is also keen to assert that because of this we must initially ensure development land is available in those areas where house building is actually financially viable.

“People forget that many key construction costs have risen. Outside of greater Dublin, second-hand house prices are currently running as low as 50pc of what it costs to build them.

…Of course, increased costs, including materials, have played a role but so too have upgraded building regulations that have improved the standard of new Irish housing immeasurably. But many forget that these improvements have also added to the overall cost of construction.

Another factor he talks about which has kept costs high, has been the tendency of Irish local authorities, particularly in Dublin, to stick with ‘pre-bust’ levels of levies for services.

“Of course these payments now exclude water services. But typically we are talking about €10,000 to €15,000 per unit rising as high as €60,000 to €70,000 in one location under the jurisdiction of Dun Laoghaire Rathdown.”

…Government research shows that out of permissions granted for 31,000 units, about 21,000 of them are for apartments.”

But we’ve a long way to go when 11,000 homes were constructed nationwide last year while it is estimated Dublin alone needs three times that.

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“Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly has ordered a review of the building regulations because of what he said were “outlandish charges” being sought for inspections required under the new system….Mr Kelly is considering allowing builders of one-off houses to “opt out” of the certification requirements.

Mr Kelly said the “cost burden”, particularly for those building their own homes, had become a cause for concern.

“A number of cases have been brought to my attention and my colleague Minister Coffey whereby consumers have been quoted outlandish charges for professional services in relation to residential construction projects.”

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“FIANNA FÁIL HAS hit out at the Government’s pyrite remediation scheme after new figures revealed work has been completed on only five homes.

The scheme – launched by former Environment Minister Phil Hogan in 2013 – began taking applications in February of last year.

It allows homeowners whose property has been affected by ‘pyrite heave’ – where the sub-standard building material has caused structural damage – to apply to have the problem repaired.

According to figures released to Fianna Fáil in a parliamentary question:

630 applications have been received.

485 were validated.

300 homes were approved for inclusion in the scheme.

A pilot scheme of works was carried out on five homes late last year, and work started on 20 houses last week, Junior Minister for Housing Paudie Coffey said.

Fianna Fáil Senator Darragh O’Brien described the progress as “completely unacceptable”, and called the scheme a mistake.”

(Note: see earlier BReg Blog post from February on this topic here:  ‘The Money Pit’ | 5 pyrite homes re-mediated at a cost of €2.2m.)

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“The fire that destroyed six homes in Millfield Manor, Newbridge, Co Kildare, spread unusually fast. Any investigation must be independent and thorough, writes Michael Clifford

THE photographs speak volumes. Two back-to-back chimney stacks were all that remained free-standing from a terrace of six hours following a fire in Newbridge, Co Kildare on Tuesday.

What happened to the walls?

Ordinarily, there is no way that the fire should have been capable of spreading so fast and, ultimately, completely destroying six homes. One explanation for the speed at which the fire spread has been the high winds at the time, but sources in the fire prevention business are very sceptical that winds could be the underlying cause.

Kildare County Council has launched an investigation into the incident. A key feature of that investigation will have to be the speed at which the fire spread. One possible explanation that will have to be examined is whether or not the walls separating the houses were built as per design.

One way or another, the investigation will have to determine how the walls could effectively have caught fire like paper. There may well be an explanation other than a fault in construction, and if one is uncovered it will provide fascinating and valuable material for fire engineers and architects.

Millfield Manor was competed in 2006 at the height of the building boom. It was built by a company called Barrack Construction, the main shareholder of which was a Kildare native by the name of Paddy Byrne.

The company was formed in April 2001 but, in common with many other construction companies, it did not survive the downturn and went into receivership in May 2012.

…New owners made a number of complaints about unfinished elements of the estate. In 2011, the estate appeared in a newspaper feature on the plight of residents in half-finished ghost estates.

This is process of self-certification has come under major scrutiny since the evacuation of Priory Hall in North Dublin over fire safety concerns in 2011.

In a similar vein, the Irish Examiner reported in February about the shortcomings in fire walls that were part of the Longboat Quay development in the Dublin docklands.

Longboat Quay was completed in 2004. The extent of the problems in that development are now the subject of a major survey, after which extensive remedial work is expected to take place.

Another development in Dublin where major fire safety deficiencies were found recently is the Prospect Hill complex in Tolka Valley in the north of the city. Remedial work is also underway there. Apartments were built there in 2004 and, like the developer in Longboat Quay, the Prospect Hill developer has since gone into receivership.

If any fire safety deficit were to be uncovered in the Newbridge probe, it would be incumbent on investigators to examine why a fire safety certificate was signed off on.

Resources in local authorities for fire safety are a major problem right across the State.”

1 thought on “Here we go again…house building in crisis

  1. Michael O'Neill

    The newspaper report hits the nail on the head.

    Where are the party walls between the houses?

    All party walls are gone, not just where there are chimneys, but also where hallways abutted.

    Where blockwork walls had been built up to the chimneys one would expect to see them still standing as the chimney have.

    Houses are supposed to be detailed to contain the fire between party walls, and the intersection at 1st floor and Attic level is supposed to be detailed so that when the floor and ceiling eventually collapse they do not pull down the party wall and spread the fire along the terrace.

    Previously, in terraced buildings the joists were often built into the party wall – the joist ends either butting together or passing by one another in the wall. The gaps between the joists would normally be filled with blocks or bricks. This interlocking structure could add to stability of a terrace in normal use, but could fatally undermine it in a fire emergency – when the joists burn through and collapse, their weight and momentum would tend to pull down the party walls.

    The growing concern in subsequent years with preventing disproportionate collapse in multi unit, multi-storey buildings was embodied in private terraced or semi-detached dwellings through creating independence in the structural elements and fire containment.

    The usual means of achieving this is to use separate hangers on each side of the party wall. These allow the joists to burn through and collapse, rotating around the edge of the hanger but leaving the wall standing maintaining the fire break and compartmentalizing the terrace.

    There are other two known sources of fire spread – the eaves boxing and the party wall separating the attics.

    The eaves boxing out is the hollow void between the front (or rear) wall and the traditional roof overhang. The fire resistance provided by the party wall must be continued out to the face, roof and soffit of the eaves boxing in line with the party wall or else fire can propagate along a terrace behind the boxing supporting the guttering.

    The party wall separating the attics requires to be taken up to the underside of the roof covering and special measures are required to prevent fire transfer through the battens and/or roofing felt from one attic to the other. The action of fire is such that this was the primary source of fire spread along older terraces and at one time resulted in party walls having to project above the roof covering to compartmentalize the terrace.

    In the present case the total absence of party walls after the fire and the alleged speed with which the fire propagated suggest other unknown facts may well have been at work even allowing for the wind factor.

    The progress of the fire as recorded in the second video https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=a2b5zULT7_c appears to show the fire propagating along the underside of the main roofs, not the eaves.

    As each subsequent attic is breached a collapse occurs and the party structures stand exposed for a while before succumbing to fire action. They appear to be constructed of studs with sheathing either side of them at attic level, with no sign of blockwork walling.

    The newspaper refers to the term “limited combustibility”. I think that should be the focus of any investigation. What was permitted to be used as a fire rated party wall in this terrace and how was this detailed to prevent fire spreading from attic to attic.

    Reply

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