This blog will look at the challenges of access to high-rise facades for maintenance and how Facilities Management input at the design stage could improve our ability to keep buildings looking and performing at their best.
Facade maintenance is more than just cleaning
Facade maintenance goes far beyond cleaning. As buildings age, they need more care and attention and new buildings need to be designed with maintenance in mind:
The items pictured are just a few of the typical maintenance requirements that need to be dealt with and are common to the majority of facade systems. Tasked with getting the varied and complex facade maintenance work completed… the Facilities Manager.
Maintenance will be easy – there’ll be a BMU…
For a Facilities Manager, the Building Maintenance Unit (BMU) on their building is a blessing and a curse. The BMU is a great tool for getting work on the facade completed but keeping it operational comes at a huge financial cost.
You typically wouldn’t expect to do large packages of maintenance work, such as gasket replacement, in the first 10 years of the buildings life. That means by the time you really need to get some good use out of that BMU, its 10+ years old and probably needs an expensive dose of TLC as well.
The roofs of so many high-rises have become home to decommissioned BMUs because it is simply too expensive to keep them running. If a building is currently being designed with a BMU, the odds of that BMU still being used in 30 years time are pretty low. Facilities Managers have a limited number of dollars to keep their buildings in order and the sad truth is that the BMU consumes a huge chunk of money, year after year, even when it is only used now and then.
What about abseiling?
Abseiling has become an essential part of high-rise building maintenance but it is not the all encompassing solution to access that you may think. Whilst some repairs and maintenance work can be completed by specialist abseil contractors, larger maintenance works, where heavy materials and equipment are required, will often need an alternative solution such as a swinging stage, scaffolds etc.
There is also a lot more could be done to make abseiling easier and safer if designed to be a part of the building rather than an after thought.
This picture shows abseil rigging down what is basically a very steep ramp, on the roof of a building where the BMU has been decommissioned. Getting over the edge required a very tentative and slow walk down the ramp, clambering up a pretty high parapet, straddling a wide flashing and trying desperately to not slide down the parapet like a child on a banister. The challenges continue on the other side of the parapet where you have to make sure the items connecting you to your ropes don’t crack the glass as you make your way over the side. This was all set-up for an inspection so imagine the added complications of getting materials over the side to undertake repairs. It shouldn’t be this hard.
Maintenance and repairs on high-rise facades is not something that can be avoided so it needs to be designed with a long-term outlook.
Questions need to be asked at the design stage to make sure long-term maintenance can be completed effectively and safely – What maintenance work will be required? Will the BMU still be serviceable in 10, 20 years time? What are the alternatives to BMU’s? How can we make abseil access safer?
Facilities Managers have to work with Consultants and Contractors continuously to figure out how to inspect and maintain their building and because they understand the issues and have to listen to our grumbles about access (nobody likes BMU’s), Facilities Managers are best placed to help answer the questions above… and it’s far easier to figure out answers to those questions while the building is still on the proverbial drawing board.
by Victoria Richardson