Could ‘quality hold points’ improve housebuilding?
Hold points can identify issues at an early stage
Introducing ‘quality hold points’ in the construction programme can improve both housebuilding outcomes, says Colin Barrett.
House building is often seen as an industry where new homes cost more, deliver less and are poorly constructed.
The combination of a skills shortage, ineffective quality assurance, inadequate site supervision and fragmented delivery process has meant quality becoming a casualty in the pursuit of speed, volume of delivery and cost-cutting.
One way to change this culture is through ‘quality hold points’; where critical stages are checked and verified by an independent quality inspector before further work can proceed.
Currently, quality inspection is too often reactive, rather than planned and proactive, and takes place after works have been carried out. Quality hold points throughout the life of a scheme – from concept design, detailed design and planning consent through to tender, construction and handover – can improve efficiency, reduce reworking and save time and costs.
For example, on a major residential development with several hundred affordable units, Rund was appointed as employer’s agent and clerk of works. We reviewed the proposed specification and drawings at the pre-construction stage.
This ‘quality check’ identified improvements in the design and specification proposed by the volume housebuilder which would comply with the social housing provider’s requirements. This early intervention identified and eliminated issues before they would have escalated on site.
On the same site, during construction, a Rund clerk of works noted that internal gas pipework did not meet the gas regulations for timber frame construction. The gas pipe was fitted in a timber stud that formed the external wall, but the pipe was not housed in a small void, nor vented, nor protected with mechanical measures to allow protection from screws or nails.
This quality and safety breach was communicated to Rund’s employer’s agent who, along with the gas pipe manufacturer’s technical department, obtained the correct installation requirements.
Despite the contractor disagreeing and proceeding to cover up the works, we insisted on further investigation and the opening up of the works. It was then recognised by the contractor that the works were incorrect, and all pipes were re-opened for inspection.
The required rectification work was scheduled and on completion, a gas installer checked for compliance. Had quality hold points been in place, the incorrect installations could have been identified earlier in the build.
Other common problems occur during the final finish, testing and commissioning prior to handover, when a client’s focus is on occupation and the contractor is withdrawing from the site. In this transitional stage, quality standards can lapse. But hold points allow this stage to be simplified through pre-established quality benchmarking.
The quality of consumer goods has improved markedly over the past 20 years, and house building should have the same aspiration. Quality hold points would be a step in the right direction.
Colin Barrett is the managing clerk of works at Rund Partnership