The importance of investigating failures in building services

Pinhole corrosion of radiator (outside surface)
Pinhole corrosion of radiator (outside surface)

A study from the UCL(1) revealed that building failures may cost the UK construction industry £1bn to £2bn every year. This was a conservative estimate made in 2016, based on 1 to 2% of the total value of construction.

As of March 2020, the Office for National Statistics has estimated the total value of all UK construction works to be worth £12.7bn, 68% of which is for new buildings or the repair and maintenance of existing buildings. This would give an estimated cost of failure between £85m and £170m, of which building services would account for a high proportion.

(1) Razak, D S A, Mills, G and Roberts, A (2016) External Failure Cost in Construction Supply Chains. In: P W Chan and C J Neilson (Eds.)

Types of failures in building services

Bathtub curve regarding types of failures in buildings
Bathtub curve

The typical pattern of failure arising against time is shown by the well-known bathtub curve. The curve is divided into three segments: an infant mortality period, usually marked by a rapidly decreasing failure rate; a random failure period, where the failure rate continues at a

The first period is usually detected during the defects liability period after a project is handed over.

The second period would happen during the operation of a system, and failures may occur due to inappropriate operating conditions or maintenance regimes.

The third period is when the system is reaching the end of its life. Failure could be imminent and there should be little or no surprise in this happening.

Importance of investigating these failures

Showing house made of money i.e. there is cost in everything, so always investigate to prevent repetitive failures
There is cost in everything: Always investigate to prevent repetitive failures

There are various reasons why every unexpected failure should be investigated. Below are some of the key ones:

  • Insurance purposes. Insurers may require an independent evaluation of the failure and investigation of its possible cause to identify possible fraudulent or malicious intentions.
  • Cost savings. Too often, failed components are replaced without investigating the root cause. Without understanding the origin of a failure, it is not possible to prevent its re-occurrence. Repetitive failure and replacement of components could add significantly to the operating cost for a building or estate.
  • Health and safety. In May 2009, a lift at London’s Tower Bridge tourist attraction suffered a vital mechanism failure that sent it falling with 9 people in it, four of whom suffered bone fractures. The malfunction was caused by the failure of a counterweight mechanism. The accident investigation by the HSE revealed that there had been several previous component failures with the counterweight mechanism, and the components had been replaced without proper review, and with no investigation into why they were failing so early. Tower Bridge was ordered to pay a total cost of £100k, and the HSE concluded that, had there been a proper review into the counterweight mechanisms, the catastrophic failure of the lift could have been avoided.

BSRIA can help with building services investigations

BSRIA has been in the building services industry for over 60 years and has been involved in hundreds of investigations.

Our independence makes us the ideal partner to provide non-biased failure investigations. Our expertise and capability in testing various materials and components of building services to determine the likely cause of failure is unique. We are able to perform investigations on site, examinations in our labs and analysis in our offices.

Our professional approach is such that there is no failure too large or too small to investigate today because this can save lives and costs tomorrow.

Read more about BSRIA’s Failure Investigation service here

Author: Martin Ronceray, BSRIA Engineering Investigation Lead

The BSRIA investigation team can be contacted at

+44 (0) 1344 465578

Investigations@bsria.co.uk

%d bloggers like this: