Historically, the construction industry’s National Schedule of Rates always allowed for scaffolding to be charged as an additional cost on all public sector works, such as the installation of new and replacement windows and doors.
Main contractors and specialist commercial installation companies such as ours understood this and, for many years, routinely priced jobs accordingly. However, the 6.1 version of the Rates introduced in May 2011 and the latest 6.2 version introduced in August this year now require that the access cost element is included within the costs of direct window replacement.
This is a very significant amendment potentially adding many thousands of pounds to the cost of some projects, but one which I think has so far been largely overlooked by some sections of the industry. It requires contractors to alter their costing models and, I would argue, to find cost effective alternatives to scaffolding wherever possible in order to maintain their margins.
In fact, we have already been contacted by several main contractors who have been caught out by the change. It has become apparent that they have quoted on window replacement projects with the access cost element still calculated separately, and they are now looking for ways that we can help them reduce those costs so that they are not financially penalised. With very little publicity about the change, I am concerned that other contractors will be caught out as well on future projects which they are costing at the moment.
Moving forward, the requirement to incorporate access costs on every job will, I believe, have to lead to a shift in mindset across the public sector so that scaffolding is no longer the default solution for window replacement and other options are considered which are potentially more economical.
Of course, there are plenty of alternatives to scaffolding already out there. We often see cherry pickers and scaffolding towers in use but, as most window installers will report, these both have certain limitations and they are typically not any cheaper than conventional scaffolding.
Cherry pickers, for example, offer excellent manoeuvrability but are a relatively expensive and typically short term solution, while scaffolding towers have very limited manoeuvrability, and are also time consuming to erect and dismantle.
Since we became aware of the changes to the National Schedule of Rates and since we were contacted by customers asking for help, The Window Company (Contracts) has been reviewing all of the options available for window replacement and we have tested out the main alternatives on site so that we can make the best recommendations.
As well as cherry pickers and scaffolding towers, we have looked at an internal restraint system and mobile roofline platforms which work up to second floor height.
We judged that the internal system had lots of potential because it eliminates the need for external access altogether and requires that all of the window fitting is carried out from inside, but that it is impractical for the vast majority of housing installations because of the amount of space which it takes up internally.
Of course, there will always be multi-storey projects in schools, offices and public buildings where space is not an issue and where it could be used quite successfully.
For social housing projects up to two floors above ground though, our recommendation to customers is for us to use mobile roof platforms which we have demonstrated can be assembled on site in around 30 minutes.
The Easi-Dec system which we have selected can be used to create a continuous fully-guarded platform at first or second floor height for around a third of the cost of conventional scaffolding. It saves huge amounts of time in assembly as well and, because it is lightweight and relatively compact, it can be quickly and easily moved between locations.
In fact, we are so convinced of the benefits of the system and the fact that it solves a very real problem for our customers that we have invested more than £30,000 in four full Easi-Dec platforms specifically for use on social housing projects where scaffolding costs have been excluded.
We are also offering it as an option on all of our window installations up to second floor height in the future and are training our teams of installers to erect and use the platforms. This will have add on benefits for our customers in terms of overall efficiency of course because it means that our installations teams will be able to erect the system themselves rather than having to wait for scaffolding teams to arrive on site.
I recognise that there will always be an ongoing requirement for scaffolding on projects above three storeys and clients and contractors still need to make themselves aware of the need to take those costs into account when preparing quotes.
However, as we have demonstrated, there are viable and cost effective alternatives below that height which have benefits beyond just their cost and which we believe can become mainstream options for customers.