May 01, 2017 Last Updated 10:20 AM, Apr 28, 2017

Cutting the cost of maintenance

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Harjit Sandhu, Domestic Sector Manager at British Gypsum, explains why social housing providers need to focus on extending the maintenance cycles of their properties to cut costs and minimise disturbance to tenants.

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Registered Providers (RPs) already have to deal with limited finances to keep their portfolios in a decent state of repair, as a result of cuts to Government funding for the social housing sector. Now, with the commitment by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the recent Autumn Statement to further restrain public spending to cut the deficit, it is even less likely that RPs will see their building and maintenance budgets return to pre-recession levels any time soon.

At the same time as having less money to carry out work with, RPs are struggling with an increase in the cost of maintenance. According to the 2014 Annual Review of Social Housing by accountants, Beever and Struthers, the total revenue spent on repairs and maintenance across the 100 largest RPs in 2013 was £2.364b – an average spend of £1200 per home. This was an increase of 2.2% on 2012, driven by a significant rise in the cost of raw materials and labour. All of this presents a challenge to a growing number of RPs to ensure they carry out regular maintenance programmes across their entire property portfolio.

Despite the cost, regular maintenance of the entire property portfolio is vital both to ensure compliance with the Regulatory Framework for Social Housing in England, which came into force in 2012, and to ensure the well-being of tenants.

The importance of maintenance

There are well-established links between housing quality and health, with residents in poorly maintained properties more likely to suffer from mental illnesses, like anxiety or stress, as well as physical complaints, such as respiratory conditions.

The state of repair of social housing can also have an impact on crime and anti-social behaviour in the local community. According to the “Broken Windows Theory” proposed by sociologists James Wilson and George Kelling in 1982, a poorly maintained building can attract damage from vandals, which in turn can lead to further harm. Keeping properties in good condition, on the other hand, can encourage residents to take greater care of their homes, helping to discourage vandalism.

Moreover, there is a major financial incentive to RPs to ensure that all of their property portfolio is adequately and regularly maintained. Not only can it help lower the cost of future repairs and renovation work, it can maximise the useable life of the house as well.

Balancing cost and maintenance

In order to carry out essential maintenance without stretching their budgets, many RPs may consider choosing lower cost construction materials in their properties. While this might cut initial costs, this can have the effect of increasing expenditure in the long term, as these products may need to be replaced more often, resulting in additional work further down the line.

As such, in order to reduce future repair requirements and minimise maintenance needs for social housing stock, it makes good economic sense that RPs specify construction solutions, such as plaster or drylining systems, that offer improved durability. This can cut the long-term costs of keeping homes in good repair and help minimise disruption to residents at the same time.

Durable solutions

There are many ways that RPs can enhance the durability of their property interiors to ensure they stay looking fresh for a long as possible.

For example, drylining systems featuring plasterboard solutions that offer high impact resistance, such as Gyproc DuraLine from British Gypsum, can be specified by RPs for use in social housing. Such solutions can offer additional protection, compared with standard products, to wall surfaces from the daily wear and tear common in busy family homes, or even in the communal areas of an apartment block. Moreover, such systems are easy for installers to fit, reducing project times, which can help lower costs for RPs and reduce the impact on residents.

RPs can further streamline renovation work through the use of robust gypsum plaster solutions. There are plasters available now that are specially formulated for re-skimming over a wide range of wall backgrounds without the need for time-consuming pre-treatment, or the need for particular products for each surface. This means that installers can create a smooth, high-quality and, above all, hardwearing finish that is ready for decorating with less preparation work, minimising short-term disruption to building occupants and reducing maintenance requirements down the line.

In addition, in kitchens and bathrooms long-term contact with water or moisture means that wall surfaces are at risk of premature ageing or mould formation, the spores of which can cause respiratory problems in residents. By using drylining systems that feature plasterboards specially designed to offer high moisture resistance, RPs can ensure that the interiors of traditionally damp rooms are protected from water damage. Not only can this cut maintenance requirements for RPs, it can also safeguard residents’ health and well-being.

Counting the cost

In order to comply with stringent regulatory requirements and uphold residents’ well-being, it is important that RPs find construction solutions that enable them to strike a balance between initial cost and long-term value for money.

The use of durable materials, such as plaster and plasterboard can go a long way towards achieving this goal, by enabling RPs to reduce the amount of time they need to spend keeping their portfolio in a good state of repair. This ultimately can help them streamline expenditure while ensuring they provide high quality homes to the residents they support.

To make sure they select the most appropriate solutions for the needs of their housing stock, RPs should talk to specialists in construction materials. This will enable them to balance project costs with finished performance.

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