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22 Apr 2021 < Back

The challenge of commercial waterproofing projects

Shortage of space and rising land values means that increasingly, people are looking to utilise underground areas to maximise the footprint of a property, whilst protecting amenity space or increasing the number of plots. This is true for homeowners as well as larger commercial projects where protecting amenity space and/or increasing the number of plots becomes a significant factor.

However, this does not come without significant obstacles, perhaps the biggest of which is ensuring unwanted ground water is kept out. This isn’t always easy to achieve and all too often we see the results of specialist works carried out by contractors who do not truly understand the nature of the works they are undertaking.

The challenge with commercial waterproofing projects

Waterproofing is often tied into large commercial projects which, perhaps in an attempt to keep costs down, is often attempted by those who have little, or no experience of these specialist works. Inevitably it goes wrong.

The cost and practicalities of remediation when waterproofing in underground structures fails are extremely expensive and hugely time consuming. We all understand the pressures of ensuring a project is delivered on budget, but there really is no substitute to getting it right first time. And there are things you can do to meet the challenges faced on commercial waterproofing projects…

A positive impact on basement claims

Issues with unwanted ground water were once commonplace in the homebuilders’ market and basements were one of the biggest areas of loss for warranty providers such as National House Builders Council (NHBC) and MD Insurance. Looking in closer detail, between 2005 and 2012, NHBC had 900 basement claims worth £20.5m and both identified that steps needed to be taken to address the matter.

Firstly they both adopted the requirement for below ground waterproofing aspects of any job, to be designed by someone that holds the Certificated Surveyor in Structural Waterproofing (CSSW) qualification.

Secondly, they brought their technical standards in line with the design philosophy set out in BS 8102:2009 Code of Practice for Protection of Below Ground Structures against Water from the Ground. This document is the cornerstone of the below ground waterproofing sector and the CSSW qualification allows the holder to demonstrate that they have understood the fundamentals of this document.

The results spoke for themselves and in 2018 both NHBC and MD Insurance acknowledged the positive impact of working closely with qualified specialists such as PCA members.

Perhaps this change has come about as we are dealing with people’s homes and there is very much an emotional tie here, compared to commercial projects, which has led to homebuilders/owners to up their game?

Continuing to see waterproofing failures

Unfortunately, these standards have not been universally adopted and we continue to see too many waterproofing failures. Many of these are non-domestic and commercial projects where the critical aspects of the job have been tendered out to the cheapest, but not necessarily the most specialist contractor, who has failed to grasp the complexities of keeping water out of an underground structure.

This is all very familiar and echoes the ‘great rush to the bottom‘ which Dame Judith Hackett described in her review of the building regulations. Unfortunately and all too often, we see quality being compromised for profit.

A robust and proven qualification

The CSSW qualification is a robust and nationally recognised professional qualification. By adopting these qualification and standard requirements, NHBC and MD Insurance noticed a dramatic reduction in insurance claims within a very short space of time. Claims are now almost non-existent whereas before collaborating with PCA members, it had been considered one of their most problematic and costly areas!

The question remains as to why Tier 1 developers are not adopting these standards and continue to use groundworkers instead of qualified specialists…?

Construction professionals – why risk it?

So, why take the risk and use contractors that you cannot be sure are suitably skilled and experienced in underground waterproofing?

Members of the PCA who specialise in structural waterproofing are proficient in a number of techniques that can be utilised to prevent water ingress in new and existing underground ground structures. Technical expertise has always been one of the core values of the Association and it is expected that members who trade in this sector, must be able to demonstrate their competence by obtaining the Certificated Surveyor in Structural Waterproofing (CSSW) qualification.

The PCA’s nationwide list of contractor members are carefully vetted before being awarded membership and are then subjected to rigorous ongoing auditing procedures once admitted to the Association. This will give you further piece of mind when choosing the right contractor for your next waterproofing project.

Getting the waterproofing stage wrong will have a direct and very costly impact on the rest of the project, and we urge more developers to consider taking less risk with the contractors they appoint on their waterproofing projects. Take the time to appoint the right contractor, the qualified specialist who has the technical expertise to get it right first time and avoid those colossal expenses.

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