The Science of Building

  • Building Design Expert
  • 6 years ago

So what do we mean when we talk about the “Science of Building”? To do with rockets? No. Domestic science? Not really. It’s more a boiled pot of school boy physics, garnished with a sprig of geography. Fairly basic stuff, but the minimum you will need if you want to start to comprehend how to manipulate Building Regulations Part L to your advantage. Don’t worry I’m not going to bang on about part L. Not this time anyway.

Okay, lets get on. How do we use science in building then? And who uses it?

I’m not going to touch upon the obvious that involves structural engineers, mechanical engineers etc. etc. The science I’m referring to is more subtle, or should I say less obvious. Architectural Technologists, Architects, Building Engineers, in fact any building design professional for example, will carefully position a vapour barrier in a wall or roof construction. That is of course in relation to the insulation. the structural supporting frame, the internal finishes; oh and not to forget breather membranes. Why do we need breather membranes then?

The last one was of course a rhetorical question. I would hope that anyone earning money from producing detail design drawings knows where we locate all these differing materials, and most importantly Why!

It is the ‘Why’ that poses the biggest problems – particularly on site. A Building Design Expert will position the insulation on his/her drawing. Lets say for example its identified as going between timber studs and then on the outside of the frame, then covered by a breather membrane.
The tradesman doing the work just happens to be working on the internal side of the wall, and it’s a lot easier to put that insulation designated for the external side of the frame – to the inside. Well it is, isn’t it? Its a long walk round otherwise. What does it matter what side it’s on, as long as its there? and that breather membrane stuff – we’ve run out down here, and they were having to order some more in anyway. I don’t see why we need it do you?

True life stories I’m afraid. Whilst this is a broad brush, it doesn’t cover everyone on a building site. I must say that before the boys are sent around. But it is more common than we might think or hope.

The guys (and some times gals) at the sharp end can be very good at mechanically replicating what is on the design drawings, but without understanding why, and that is the crux of the whole problem. Because the minute someone takes it upon themselves to alter what’s on the drawing, we have started down the rocky road named – “No appreciation of the consequences”.

The Building Designer understands the Science of Building, but we are often hard pressed to find a similar level of understanding on site.

How can this change?

The industry needs to address training and qualification levels, for building contractors. The larger sites are probably the least in need, as the larger contractors (not all) but probably most, have reasonably rigorous training regimes. Although there is a major problem for those contractors that use the same sub-contract labour companies that provide brickies, joiners, concreting gangs and the rest, because the level of training often lies with the subbie, or worse the individual trades-person. They won’t be getting any more training, because they learned it all thirty years ago!! More at risk are the medium to small, and indeed the one man band builders out there. Not only do they suffer the previous sub-contractor risks, but in house training on all but the necessary legal essentials is often shy of the mark. There are exceptions, but not too many.

The truth is that due to ever more complex legislation, building is getting ever more complicated. Not a hard deduction is it? We therefore need even more in depth supervision on our building sites. Building contractors need to become more professional. Enforce membership of professional trade associations. The Federation of Master Builders might be a good starting point for small and medium sized contractors, but membership must be mandatory if you intend to build for a living. The industry needs some teeth to bite dissenters and to control and police its membership. But it needs membership before any of that can happen.

Many small building contractors and trades people will be mortified, I’m sure, at the accusation that they carry out a less than adequate, and often less than an acceptable job, because they do not fully understand what they doing, because they do not understand why they are doing it. It is all boils down to the Science of Building.

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