Considerations for basement conversions
When additional space is required, it can often be worth exploring the opportunity of digging down to expand your premises with a basement conversion. It could also add significant value to your company’s property portfolio. Facilities managers looking to expand their properties are increasingly confined with limited available and developable land space, especially if their premises are within inner city areas. Basement conversions can be an attractive and far more cost-effective alternative to buying or building a new space, but they can also be massive projects to manage successfully.
Structural waterproofing is a critical part of any below ground build or conversion project and very often, it’s the difference between success and failure. The Chartered Institute of Building states that 75% of building failure is the result of water ingress – with failures leading to mould, corrosion or other moisture-related problems such as dry rot, and even serious structural problems.
We recently worked on a historically significant building in West Yorkshire, which was subject to a new build. The original contractor installed a Type A Barrier Protection System which had been incorrectly
installed, meaning it hadn’t successfully bonded with the new concrete walls, which meant the bonding failed. The entire site had to be re-excavated and the system installed again, but this time correctly. This led to an unforeseen cost which could have been mitigated if the project had been managed correctly in the first place. We were then awarded the contract and installed an effective solution.
Following correct building protocols should ensure that costs do not escalate out of control. The National House-Building Council (NHBC) consistently reviews its guidance and requirements around structural waterproofing. Although the NHBC standards do not have direct relevance to commercial builds, it is worth considering their recommendations as best practice. For example, Chapter 5.4 of its published standards makes it clear that any waterproofing project must include early input from a waterproofing design specialist and build on the recommendations of BS 8102;2009.
What you need to know about BS 8102;2009
BS 8102;2009 offers a guide to the different waterproofing options and combinations available. It specifies three grades of protection, based on building use. Some seepage and damp areas are tolerated in Grade 1 builds, such as car parking facilities or plant rooms. In Grade 2 builds, such as workshops or storage facilities, water penetration is not acceptable, but moisture vapour is tolerated. Finally, habitable spaces, which fall into Grade 3, must be a completely dry environment. Grade 3 not only includes offices and living spaces, but it can also relate to areas of storage – where easily damaged goods such as clothes and food are kept.
Get advice early
We always recommend getting a qualified Certified Surveyor in Structural Waterproofing (CSSW) involved in any new-build or conversion project. Not only is it the best way to minimise risk, but they will help you to lever down the costs of waterproofing – which can represent a significant proportion of the total build costs. Early structural waterproof planning will enable your surveyor to tailor the waterproofing design to your construction type, rather than having to tailor it around other committed build considerations.
Types of waterproofing
In any below ground space that falls into Grade 3 and/or high-risk environments, at least two different types of waterproofing systems should be used. This is not only practical advice, but is in-line with the NHBC’s standards. BS 8102 categorises the types of waterproofing systems as:
Type A: This provides a barrier against ground water and water ingress by surrounding the external walls, floor and roof with a waterproof material – literally creating a barrier between water and the structure. This can be applied either internally or on the building’s exterior.
Type B: Relies upon the design and materials incorporated into the external shell of the structure itself. Structures that provide Type B protection should be constructed of reinforced water-resistant concrete or structural steel.
Type C: Involves adequately disposing of water, either by gravity, or through a sump and pump to a suitable outlet. This must be designed with adequate access points for servicing and maintenance, with a one-way valve to prevent backflow.
Type C systems use a cavity allowing water to reach the drain, while being protected by an internal lining, with all joints and junctions correctly lapped and sealed. Each has its own benefits and pitfalls. For example, while Type C waterproofing will require ongoing maintenance, it is much easier to identify and fix any problems that might arise. However, they all share one common characteristic in that retro-fitting is extremely expensive, disruptive and difficult, if not impossible in some cases.
Given the complexity of waterproofing a building, a design specialist should always be involved as early as possible. While compliance with waterproofing standards can be expensive, getting the process wrong can lead to the building’s structural integrity being compromised and therefore it will cost you far more in repair and damages. If you are unsure of the approach to waterproofing then it’s always best to get in touch with the experts.