Dublin City Council

Belmayne Timber Frame Construction – Cometh An Inferno ?

2013-07-11:  Further to the Posts about the ongoing Fire Safety Fiasco at Priory Hall in Dublin, beginning on 2011-10-18 … and my recent reply to Ms. Saffron Willetts, dated 2013-06-09, which can be found at the top right-hand corner of this Page …

A house with a timber-framed party wall, whether the wall projects above the roof covering or not … in a terrace, or semi-detached … and constructed in 2004 (approaching the height of the Celtic Tiger frenzy in Ireland) ??   Not even torture in Guantánamo Bay (Cuba) would persuade me to buy … or rent !

One last word of caution … carefully examine any ‘Opinion on Compliance’ covering this property.

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On Sunday evening last, 7 July 2013, I received an e-mail notification from Mr. Del Tillyer about a Belmayne ‘Fire Safety’ Press Conference to be held in his home … 19 Churchwell Place, Belmayne, Dublin 13 … on Tuesday, 9 July 2013, at 11.00 hrs.  I was pleased to attend.

Belmayne, Dublin 13 - Fire Hazard (1)
Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2013-07-09. Click to enlarge.

Back in ye good olde days of the Celtic Tiger … the price paid for this 2 Storey Timber-Framed Dwelling Unit was a staggering € 530,000 !   However, following occupation of their new home, it was noticed by the family that there were BIG problems concerning nuisance sound transmission from neighbouring units.  And that’s when their long shabby saga of ‘Fire Safety at Belmayne’ began … or, more correctly, it should be called the tortuous saga of a ‘Serious Lack of Fire Safety at Belmayne’ !!

Belmayne, Dublin 13 - Fire Hazard (2)
Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2013-07-09. Click to enlarge.

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In order to satisfy the Legal Requirements of Part D: ‘Materials and Workmanship’, Second Schedule to the Irish Building Regulations … this form of construction was covered by an Irish Agrément Board Certificate …

Front Page of IAB Certificate No.04/0198 (rev.2007) - Kingspan Century Medium Rise Timber Frame Construction SystemKingspan Century Medium Rise Timber Frame Construction System – IAB Certificate No.04/0198 (rev.2007)

Click the Link Above to read and/or download PDF File (1.43 MB)

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Unfortunately … any connection between IAB Certificate 04/0198 and the bitter, cold reality of how 19 Churchwell Place was actually constructed … is, at best, extremely tenuous … as the following photographs clearly show …

Belmayne, Dublin 13 - Fire Hazard (3)
Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2013-07-09. Click to enlarge.
Belmayne, Dublin 13 - Fire Hazard (4)
Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2013-07-09. Click to enlarge.

[ It was difficult … but I resisted the temptation to add an elaborate caption to each image which would describe the original Shoddy, Careless, Incompetent Site Workmanship !   And please bear in mind that the opening-up shown was limited … more problems cannot be seen, or will only become apparent in the future, e.g. the inevitable settlement of low-density thermal insulation !! ]

Belmayne, Dublin 13 - Fire Hazard (5)
Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2013-07-09. Click to enlarge.
Belmayne, Dublin 13 - Fire Hazard (6)
Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2013-07-09. Click to enlarge.

[ This is the other unreported and completely hidden Irish National Debt … over 20 years of ‘Lite’ National Regulation of the Construction Sector and an Entirely Inadequate and Ineffective National System of Local Authority Building Control / Independent Site Technical Control have resulted in a New National Building Stock which will require an enormous amount of difficult and costly repairs during the next decades … which will have to be paid for by the citizen !   Those responsible … National Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ’s), Professional Institutes and Societies, Property Developers, Construction Product Manufacturers, and Politicians … have all quietly slipped away from the crime scene !! ]

Belmayne, Dublin 13 - Fire Hazard (7)
Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2013-07-09. Click to enlarge.
Belmayne, Dublin 13 - Fire Hazard (8)
Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2013-07-09. Click to enlarge.

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The Fire Consultant on this Project is Mr. Noel C. Manning.

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Explanatory Note:

In the event of a fire incident at this dwelling unit … why are the construction failures shown in the photographs above so risky, so hazardous, so dangerous for its occupants (more precisely – their health, safety and welfare) ??

Even within the Construction Sector, it is not well understood that the Fire Safety Objectives of Building Regulations, generally and not just in Ireland, are limited in scope to the protection of people who use and/or occupy buildings from fire (i.e. heat, smoke and flame).  These Fire Safety Objectives only ‘extend’ to the protection of property (i.e. the building fabric) … insofar as the protection of that property is relevant to the protection, including the safe evacuation, of people in the building.

The biggest original construction failure shown above is that there is an extensive warren of continuous, hidden cavities within the walls, floors, service duct and ceilings of the house … which facilitates the unseen spread of fire, including toxic smoke, very rapidly throughout the building and to adjoining dwelling units.  This type of insidious fire spread cannot be detected by smoke alarms located in the area of a staircase.

The serious ‘cavity’ failure is compounded by another serious construction failure … the weak and inadequate protection from fire (i.e. heat, smoke and flame) to the staircase itself … which is the only means of evacuation from the house for the occupants.

The limited Fire Safety Objectives of Building Regulations must be clearly distinguished from Project-Specific Fire Engineering Design Objectives which have a much wider scope.  For an elaboration of this issue … go to:  https://cjwalsh.ie/2012/12/sustainable-fire-engineering-for-all-sdis-professional-service/ 

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Quality of Irish Construction – Unacceptable ?

2009-02-12:   So … Anglo-Irish Bank has been caught – finally – playing with numbers and cooking the books.  And … because of inadequate (i.e. a complete lack of effective) control by the National Financial Regulator, this was regarded as a routine, ‘smart’ transaction by privileged individuals.  “What is the problem ?” … they ask … “no laws were being broken”.

 

Holding firmly onto those thoughts, let us briefly turn our attention to the Construction Sector … and the Energy Performance of Buildings …

 

A new Home Energy Savings (HES) Scheme was recently announced by Mr. Eamon Ryan T.D., Minister of Communications, Energy & Natural Resources … €100 million Insulation Scheme to Benefit 50,000 Homes – Programme Will Create 4,000 Jobs … according to an article in The Irish Times, on Monday 9th February 2009, by Mr. Harry McGee.

 

Reading the Department of Energy’s own Press Release for the Scheme Launch, dated 2009-02-08 … it is evident that public relations consultants, marketing gurus, senior academics (who should know better) and civil servants were involved in producing ‘paper’ numbers to justify and support the miserable grants being offered in the HES Scheme.  Numbers were even presented for ‘Typical Net BER Improvement’ ?!?

 

When the Scheme is eventually up and running, Thermal Insulation Contractors will be required to comply with a voluntary Energy Ireland (SEI) ‘Contractors Code of Practice & Standards and Specifications Guidelines’ (version 1, 2009-02-03) … and SEI may or may not carry out control inspections in order to monitor the quality of their work.  Does all this sound familiar ?

 

 

But … are these paper energy numbers ‘real’ ?   If he thinks so, Mr. Eamon Ryan is living in Alice’s Wonderland !

 

This is a photograph, taken back in 2000, of expanded polystyrene insulation which was badly installed in an external cavity wall … very badly installed !   When the Irish Construction Industry would later enter extreme ‘over-heat’ mode, the quality of typical construction would deteriorate sharply.

 

Colour Photograph of an External Cavity Wall, showing 'Floating' Thermal Insulation (and, in the background, an Inclined Steel Wall Tie which will later facilitate water ingress). Click to enlarge. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2000-01-19.
Colour Photograph of an External Cavity Wall, showing ‘Floating’ Thermal Insulation (and, in the background, an Inclined Steel Wall Tie which will later facilitate water ingress). Click to enlarge. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2000-01-19.

Who can know what is happening inside that cavity when it is all finished and covered up from view ?   Nobody.  Unless, that is, you manage to take an Infra-Red Thermal Image during the next winter heating season – which is far too late to remedy the problem.

 

This is an example of an Infra-Red Thermal Image, taken back in 1998 …

 

Colour Image, with explanatory Text and Horizontal Temperature Bar below, showing the 'Real' Energy Performance of a Building. Click to enlarge. Project Architect: CJ Walsh. Image taken by sub-contractor in 1998.
Colour Image, with explanatory Text and Horizontal Temperature Bar below, showing the ‘Real’ Energy Performance of a Building. Click to enlarge. Project Architect: CJ Walsh. Image taken by sub-contractor in 1998.

 

 

Explaining the Current Context in Ireland …

 

It was 10 Years after the Dublin Stardust Fire Tragedy (February 1981) … before the first legal, National Building Regulations were introduced (December 1991); they became operational during the following summer of 1992.  Around the same time, Building Control Authorities were being established in every Local Authority.

 

Prior to this, legal Building Bye-Laws were operated in just a small number of our major urban centres.

 

Dublin Corporation’s Bye-Laws with respect to the Construction of Buildings, adopted by Dublin City Council on 27th June 1949, were an interesting mix of functional, performance and prescriptive requirements.  An Application, containing detailed construction information, for Building Bye-Law Approval had to be made for every construction project … and I mean ‘every’ project … prior to any construction commencing.  And, ‘every’ project was inspected at the foundation and drainage stages of construction … no exceptions.  The more complex projects were inspected as they progressed further, with special attention being paid, for example, to fire safety related construction.  I know, first-hand, that the surveyors and inspectors in Dublin Corporation’s (as it was then called) Building Control Section had built up a considerable wealth of knowledge and understanding about construction conditions and practices right around the city and suburbs.

 

Anyway … after the introduction of the National Building Regulations, an unwritten national policy was put into action … having as an aim the winding down, and general ‘castration’, of the large, well-established Building Control Sections in Dublin City and County, and Cork.  Meanwhile … in the rush to establish the new Building Control Authorities throughout the rest of the country, it was common to hear of Road Engineers being transferred into the new Control Authorities … usually having little or no experience in dealing with the construction of buildings.

 

Site Inspections under our current system of National Building Regulations are random.  Inspection Statistics produced by the Department of the Environment, Heritage & Local Government (DEHLG) are not reliable.  Building Control Authorities are, purposefully, not sufficiently resourced to be ‘effective’.

 

Commencement Notices, under the National Building Control Regulations, do not have to be accompanied by detailed construction information when being submitted to a Building Control Authority.

 

Fire Safety Certificates, under the National Building Control Regulations, do not involve any Site Inspections – at any stage – by Fire Authorities.

 

 

 

Some Conclusions …

 

The above is a rather long, but simplified, explanation as to why a large number of privileged property developers and shoddy building contractors have been allowed to flourish on Irish Construction Sites without ever understanding the concept of ‘effective’ technical control.  When they do eventually meet this concept, head-on, the level of their resentment can be without limit.

 

Before the recent property crash, did you ever try to present a builder with a Snag List on a new house ?

 

This will also put SEI’s 70% rate of non-compliance into an understandable context.  See my earlier Post, dated 2008-12-12.

 

With regard to BER Certificates … BER Assessors without any sort of architectural background are not competent to assess the construction of existing buildings … and those BER Assessors with an architectural background cannot possibly evaluate, with reliability, the construction of existing buildings without the use, for example, of Infra-Red Thermography and Air Seepage Testing.

 

BER Assessment of Historical Buildings is unsuitable, and not appropriate.

 

An Energy Survey of a Building is an entirely different concept to a BER Assessment.  See our Technical Guidance Note No.95/101(a).

 

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