Time Life Costings

Published: 10th October 2007

Permadoor The social housing sector has recognised that to deliver refurbishment programmes both effectively and efficiently it pays to bring all those concerned on board at the very beginning. For project mangers, maintenance managers and contractors to sit down with residents, social housing providers, suppliers and fitters and to thoroughly plan refurbishment programmes so that the costs of purchase, installation and maintenance are fully understood. This approach and understanding is critical. It means that choices are based on sound advice and decisions made not just on immediate but on lifetime costs. And it is delivering results, new bathrooms, kitchens, doors and windows are being replaced that are suited to purpose, that are durable, that deliver high performance and that are lower maintenance and over their lifetime lower cost, as a consequence.

However this tried and tested formula frequently isn’t being carried through to new build projects, the reason being development managers are under constant pressure to deliver the maximum number of housing units for a given cost. Through the ‘design and build’ programme the main contractor will squeeze out as many units as possible to satisfy these criteria and component quality is frequently the price that is paid. Clearly some of the components used will not have the anticipated life expectancy meaning that they will require more maintenance or even replacement after a comparatively short period of time.

This can have serious implications. Doors for example must be immensely durable, however because developers may feel obliged because of budget constraints to install lower cost products, for example softwood or steel, necessitating many RSLS, ALMOs and local authorities to replace doors in as little as two years after installation. This clearly doesn’t meet or embody targets for Best Value, efficiency or Decent Homes. The approach makes even less sense when the price difference is relatively small. A GRP door will not warp, twist or rot, will require minimal maintenance over its life time and is thermally efficient. A timber door is likely to rot, twist and warp, is less thermally efficient and without doubt will need to be painted and maintained. The lifetime costs equation is simple: it’s initial cost, plus maintenance divided by the number of years service. A GRP door from Permadoor has a lifespan of 30 to 35 years costing around £10 per year. By contrast most timber doors will struggle beyond 10 to 15 years at an estimated cost of £20 a year which does not include the cost of dispatching maintenance crews to repair it every couple of years.

There is evidence however that the longer term view is being taken by certain social housing providers who are bringing together all interested parties to deliver these savings but there is still a long way to go. The government is encouraging the social housing sector to pursue this route through changes to the way that it funds the social housing sector. This includes the move towards a ‘per property’ allowance guaranteed year on year through the Major Repairs Allowance and the Major Repairs Reserve, which gives housing authorities the option to carry funding over beyond the financial year. Refurbishment projects already benefit from this approach and the Decent Homes programme is being used to put right many of the mistakes of the past. Partnering is being used to this end, to identify and design out problems by using more appropriate materials so that new windows and doors, kitchens and bathrooms, last longer and their lifetime costs are lower. This approach must now be extended to new build programmes in order that expensive remedial work can be avoided, at a time when revenue budgets will not sustain them.

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