Building Construction Quality and Why it Matters

In all of the topics we’ve blogged about here on the KORE Blog you may have noticed one recurring theme: quality. We’re big advocates in promoting high quality in all aspects of building, from the manufacturing of materials to the installation on site. It doesn’t just pertain to insulation either, healthy buildings require high quality materials and workmanship all around. All contractors on the job site have a duty to understand how their work affects the building as a whole. For example, a plumber installing a new heating system should know that breaking the continuity of insulation by installing pipes could cause the product to become less effective, damaging the overall health of the building.

If we want to avoid the crisis we had only a few years ago, the importance of high quality must be stressed by everyone involved in the industry. In this post we’ll take a look at the importance of high quality standards and what can be done to ensure we don’t end up where we first started.

Training, Training and More Training

Whether you’re new to the industry and just getting started or you’ve been working in construction for 30 years, everyone needs training and continuing education. For new employees, training should start at a company level. This includes:

  • Company induction – employees should learn about the company, it’s mission statement, company policies etc
  • Health & Safety training relating to the construction industry as a whole, company policies and H&S training related to the job requirements. Health & Safety courses should be conducted by a trained instructor of an accredited institution
  • A mix of on the job and off the job training, including classroom training provided by a third party when necessary

It’s important that everyone in the company, independent of seniority, understands the company mission statement, values, policies (including ISO) and regulations. Problems with quality may start before even reaching the job site if employees and contractors aren’t on the same page. Avoid problems in the future and ensure everyone within the company receives the same training as it relates to the company as a whole. You may consider retraining when an employee is promoted or moves to a different job title.

Both on-site and off-site training is essential for workers in the construction industry. While it may seem the most practical to send workers into the field to learn about their trade, they could end up missing out on important information that is mainly taught in a classroom setting. When you think about the construction industry in general, consider all the regulations everyone in the trade must follow, whether installing insulation, plumbing or electrical, to name a few.

Not only is it important to learn about the regulations specific to the trade, how they fit in with the rest of the industry always needs to be considered. For a healthy building to truly be healthy all elements must work together, installed properly and without damaging or degrading the performance of other building elements.

QualiBuild, a training programme established in 2013, is currently working with various government departments at making training and upskilling a requirement at a national level. The programme’s aim is to ensure high quality throughout the build process by all those involved. QualiBuild is currently offering a free Foundation Energy Skills programme broken down into 10 sections over the course of three days:

  1. Definitions and Terminology
  2. Energy Use in Buildings
  3. Regulations and Rules
  4. Buildings as a System
  5. Energy Principles
  6. Building Fabric & Air Tightness
  7. Thermal Bridging
  8. Heating Systems
  9. Ventilation and Condensation
  10. Low Energy Communication

The Foundation Energy Skills course is designed to upskill an industry where quality and efficiency play an important role. The programme has been designed to help increase communication between all those involved in the construction or retrofit of a building, and to instill that buildings must be designed as a system if they are to work correctly and efficiently. The programme will help those in the industry realise the importance of quality construction, and how training and continuing education is important no matter how long one has worked in the industry. The programme will also focus on training the trainer, ensuring the consistency of high quality courses offered throughout the country.

 

Building as a system

Building as a system ensures all elements work together without degrading performance

While the Foundation Energy Skills course is a great starting point, continuing education (CPDs) are just as important. Technology, building methods, best practice and regulations continue to change on an almost constant basis, meaning what was learned a year ago may no longer be relevant in its entirety. Courses should not be taken just to accumulate the hours or points, but rather to upskill, learn and adapt to changes. At the end of the day it’s about realising the importance of each building element and its role in the system, while focusing on quality and efficiency as a team rather than separate parts.

The Key to Quality

While training and education is important, so are the policies and procedures of each company and manufacturer throughout the supply chain. Problems that can affect the health of a building may not be related to the installation, but rather issues with the manufacturing of the product itself or poor planning and design. Quality control should be a priority throughout the supply chain, and defects should be identified and remedied or removed from production before ever reaching a client.

One way to manage quality is through certifications such as ISO 9001 Quality Management Systems. ISO 9001 is split into eight sections, each one contributing to the overall system. Once in place, the system is audited by a third party to ensure compliance before approving certification. The current document revision is 2008, although a new revision for 2015 is in the process of being implemented. The eight sections are:

  1. Scope – ensuring customer and regulatory compliance, compliance of its employees and the advancement of quality through continual improvement
  2. Normative Reference
  3. Terms and Definitions
  4. Quality Management System
  5. Management Responsibility
  6. Resource Management
  7. Product Realisation
  8. Measurement, Analysis and Improvement

Certified ISO 9001 companies must follow the guidelines of the standard, fulfill both internal company requirements and the requirements of its customers, adhere to both statutory and regulatory requirements, be responsible for the creation of documents and the storage of records. To summarise, certified companies aim for continual improvement in its quality management processes.

Construction companies may also seek other ISO certifications, such as ISO 14001 Environmental Management. Utilising ISO certified companies can help assure products meet quality standards and that processes are in place to identify problems while ensuring continual improvement both internally and externally. Manufacturers may have other certifications such as CE markings on products showing compliance with applicable EU Directives, and contractors may have NSAI (National Standards Authority of Ireland) Certification and hold memberships of industry associations like the National Insulation Association of Ireland (NIAI).

When choosing to do business with a construction contractor or company in Ireland see what certifications and memberships they hold. It could be a good indicator of the level of quality and service you’ll receive.

Managing Quality On Site

Training and education gives workers the foundation and skills needed to complete their job to a high standard, but this must be followed up on the job site. It’s one thing to attend a course for the credit, and another to take what was learned and put it into practice consistently. Its easy in any job (whether construction or office work) to get lazy and cut corners to save time or meet deadlines. However, this type of behaviour, especially within the construction industry, can lead to problems with the building at a later time. On-site quality assurance and quality control can help reduce these errors and identify the need for training or intervention.

Carrying out inspections before, during and afters works is one way to reduce errors and ensure compliance with company policies and construction regulations. Inspections can be carried out by team leads and team members assigned to quality control. Site surveys and risk assessments can help limit problems with quality as issues are identified ahead of time and solutions can be planned accordingly.

Certain projects may require third party inspections to meet Building Control Regulations, so it’s better to have thoroughly inspected all work more than once to avoid costly mistakes. Quality (and Health & Safety) audits should be carried out without prior notice by managers, whenever works are complete or at the end of each work day. Quality checks should not only guarantee the performance of the building element installed, but also ensure that it does not impact or affect the performance or other materials or products (where good training comes in handy – again!). A company’s organisational and management chart should clearly identify who is responsible for on-site quality checks, and all proper documentation according to the Quality Management System should be completed and stored properly.

While the quality of work that is installed but never inspected may be fine in some cases, it is not best practice to simply forego quality checks and inspections. Companies that don’t invest time into quality assurance may end up spending more time and money fixing problems that could have been avoided – and unhappy customers to boot.

Why Quality Matters

Quality matters for many of the reasons mentioned above, but most importantly for a structurally sound and healthy building that will last for many years without issue. Unhealthy buildings can negatively impact the health of its occupants (think mould as one example), and could potentially be a safety hazard if it’s not structurally sound, such as rot caused by damp or water ingress. A healthy building should meet all of the criteria below:

Air Quality: As a building envelope becomes more airtight focus needs to be put on indoor air quality. While a comfortable indoor environment is one of the end goals, occupants will not be able to enjoy it if the air is stale and polluted due to lack of proper ventilation and air changes. According to the National Institute of Health, “high performance ventilation strategies” typically reduce respiratory illnesses anywhere from 9 to 20%. Healthy indoor air also contributes to increased productivity among occupants ranging from 0.48 to 11 percent.

To confirm the quality of air in a building, third party testing should be considered to look for volatile organic compounds and airborne particulates entering the home. While important, air changes should be kept to a minimum; the Passive House requirement is 0.6, but you can aim higher (up to 1.5) as a starting point. Any mechanical ventilation should be well balanced and indoor air pressure should be consistent throughout the building. This ensures fresh, clean air enters the building and reaches the places where it’s meant, which may not be the case for homes with only exhaust ventilation systems.

Building Envelope: A home built to high quality standards will always have a high quality building envelope. This is the physical barrier between the indoor conditioned space and outdoor environment, and should always be planned, designed and constructed to provide optimal comfort for the occupants while at the same time reducing energy consumption. Even what may seem like the smallest of problems with a building’s envelope can cause a significant deterioration in performance. The building envelope should always be designed to respond to the local climate and as so, may vary from region to region. These elements include, but are not limited to:

  • Exterior walls
  • Floors/foundations
  • Roofs
  • Windows (including skylights and other openings)
  • Doors

In addition, the home’s thermal envelope should also be designed with only the highest quality in mind. The thermal envelope is designed to control heat flow. A well designed system will prevent heat from escaping during the colder months and prevent heat from entering the conditioned space during the warmer months. Thermal envelopes should be designed to control different forms of heat flow, including conduction, convection and radiation. While we won’t go into details about the different forms of heat flow in this post, it’s important to understand that a well designed and installed thermal envelope will address each by utilising suitable materials for its local environment.

The thermal envelope is comprised of different elements, including but not limited to:

  • Wall Insulation (including cavity wall insulation, external insulation, dry lining etc)
  • Floor insulation
  • Insulated foundation systems
  • Attic insulation
  • Roof insulation
  • Air and water vapour barriers
  • Windows
  • Doors
  • Weatherstripping (draught proofing)

High quality installation and attention to detail is required when installing components of the thermal envelope, as the system should work together to prevent common problems found in homes across Ireland and the United Kingdom. Emphasis must be placed on reducing or eliminating thermal bridging, thermal looping and air leakage. The system should be designed to limit the risk of internal and interstitial condensation which could lead to mould growth, rot and failure of thermal elements. Insulation should be designed to deliver the lowest U-values possible so as to reduce energy consumption and overall running costs.

Ensuring Quality in the Future

High quality buildings are designed and constructed when the entire process is thought of as a system rather than individual building elements. Education and training, both on and off site, helps to reduce errors, whether they are made during the design process or while the works are taking place. While your skill or trade may not encompass every element of a building, it’s important to understand what you do can affect the overall performance, both positively and negatively. Knowing best practice and attention to detail will reduce errors and ensure a sustainable and healthy building for decades to come.

Training and education never stops. Technology changes, industry best practices adapt and we as a whole learn to build healthier and more sustainable as we move toward zero carbon. Attend conferences and training sessions as often as possible, and ensure workers in the field do the same. A national training programme is a step in the right direction, but we must not stop there if we want to continue to evolve and advance.

Are you involved in the construction industry? What do you do to ensure a high level of quality in your work? Be sure to add to the list in the comments section below.

published:16 Sep 2015
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