This is a guest post by Steve Broadhurst, Technical Services Manager at Jablite, looking at alternative ways of testing and certifying new building products.
At EcoBuild this year, Richard Lee, managing director at Jablite, was on a panel to discuss ‘Maximising Building Performance – could manufacturers do more?’
On the panel with Richard was Peter Caplehorne, accomplished architect and Technical Director of Scott Brownrigg.
Peter had some interesting things to say about the kinds of technical information he seeks from manufacturers and I hope he won’t mind me quoting him in this article. He said: “I want technical information from manufacturers verified, preferably by three independent sources of information.”
Clearly this has come about because of bad experiences which have eroded Peter’s trust in the reliability of manufacturer’s information. Although he was good enough to exclude Jablite from this accusation – it was obvious to everyone at this event that Peter Caplehorne is frustrated by the lack of clarity around technical information supplied about construction products.
Peter asked for information to be ‘accurate, up-to-date, concise’ and he emphasised that independent testing supports the designers and specifiers to make good choices and specify products that will work with the rest of the project.
As for the technical support offered by manufacturers, I was personally very pleased to hear Peter describe this as the ‘lifeblood’ of the process, especially when it comes to understanding how products are applied on site.
Peter expressed doubts about the Agrément certificates being an adequate test and he emphasised the need to test for the performance of products in use. For building product manufacturers, this raises a number of interesting questions.
If we spend three years and around £60,000 on BBA certification for a new product we are introducing to the market – is that money well spent?
How do specifiers view BBA certification? If we chose instead to spend that budget on putting our product onto real life projects, working with specifiers and contractors and independent monitoring agencies – would we get more useful information and more relevant test results for specifiers?
There would clearly be a huge risk in taking a step like this in isolation. A BBA certificate is the accepted currency by which a new product is tested and launched into the UK construction sector – but does it need to be?
British Standards, European Standards and European Technical Approvals for example set test criteria for products in certain applications. Independent test houses, including the BBA, assist manufacturers to achieve these laboratory tests.
These tests don’t always replicate real installation of products as you would expect to see on construction sites. Don’t get me wrong, there has to be adequate testing and a benchmark for all market entries – but shouldn’t they better reflect actual installations in the UK construction industry?
As a product developer, I’m continuously frustrated at the time it takes to fully lab test products independently before entering a market. Independent test houses usually specialise in certain fields, and the capacity available is so limited, that some tests can take months to undertake – that is, once you have located the appropriate lab with the expertise you need.
During the development of our inverted roof insulation portfolio, we faced exactly these challenges – it was a struggle finding a suitable laboratory and then we had to wait for time availability to test the products to meet the criteria laid out in ETAG 031 – all of which delayed the launch. Is there a better way?
Instead, as an example, how much more interesting would it be to have the opportunity to put insulation on a trial roof, to have independent monitoring, thermal imaging, visits from specifiers, reports from the building users? And to even cut out samples to test every month for a year?
If this is of interest to contractors, architects, engineers and specifiers in general – we at Jablite would love to work with you to set up projects on this basis.
What do you think? Would you be prepared to provide projects for us to work with you on pilots like this? Would you – a specifier – be prepared to take this kind of a risk?
The bottom line is that manufacturers can not take this step alone. We need to work with our peers in architecture practices and contractors to pull together plans for a new testing regime that gives you – our customers – the technical information you need.
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Steve Broadhurst is the Technical Services Manager at Jablite. You can find technical information for Jablite’s products here or follow them on Twitter.