Industry gearing up for new rules on facade checks

Building managers could be required to conduct regular full-scale visual and close-up inspections

Regular inspections of windows, cladding and other external building features are on the cards, as rules on how facades are maintained are being tightened after a series of mishaps.

Industry players told The Straits Times that they are now getting ready for a new legislative framework that will require full-scale visual inspections as well as close-up inspections of facades.

Visual inspections involve the use of binoculars or aerial drones from afar, while close-up inspections will require a qualified person to oversee inspection of facade issues.

The proposed rules were discussed at the Glasstech Asia and Fenestration Asia 2017 conferences held last week at Marina Bay Sands, and a course to certify "facade inspectors" - a class of qualified persons unheard of thus far in the industry - was recently started at the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) Academy.

Currently, there is no legal requirement for building managers to inspect their building's envelope for flaws, defects and wear - a situation the managers said led to cases of buildings that have facades in dire need of repair or replacement.

In recent months, there have been a string of cases where cladding or other exterior features failed or fell off buildings.

  • RECENT INCIDENTS INVOLVING FACADES

  • 2016: Cladding board falls at Circuit Road block
    A cladding board made of calcium silicate fell off at Block 51, Circuit Road. An investigation by the Marine Parade Town Council later found a "loose connection of screws" in some of the claddings on the building.

    2016: Plaster slab falls at Hougang block
    A plaster slab got dislodged at Block 449, Hougang Avenue 10 and crashed to the ground. The Ang Mo Kio Town Council found out that the slab fell as it had deteriorated due to exposure to weather over time.

    2016: Sunshade gets dislodged at Tampines block
    A concrete feature on the fourth floor of Block 201E, Tampines Street 23 got dislodged and landed on another sunshade below it. It was later found to have no reinforcement bars on one side. No one was hurt.

    2016: "Waterfall" at Cradels condo
    A blocked drain at the Balestier condo's infinity pool led to the build-up of water, ultimately shattering some glass panels on the pool's facade. This created a sudden cascade of water onto the carpark below.

    2017: Aluminium panels fall at Indus Road block
    Two aluminium panels fell off the exterior of Block 77, Indus Road and hit the ground.

    2017: Concrete falls at Trivelis condo playground
    A piece of concrete fell 40 storeys from the roof of Trivelis condominium, a Design, Build and Sell Scheme project in Clementi, landing on a playground.

When contacted, BCA confirmed it is reviewing the regulatory framework for the inspection of building facades to enhance public and building safety. It also acknowledged that it started a course in July to "raise knowledge and capability on facade inspection".

While the new legislation is yet to be announced, many building managers said they would welcome stricter regulation - too many owners and managers take short cuts because the rules hold owners liable only in the event of accidents, like when a panel falls on a passer-by.

Singapore Glass Association chairman Gan Geok Chua said nearly all recent cases of failing facades - falling glass panels or concrete features - could have been prevented had there been a proper inspection routine.

He added that some building managers or owners are desperate enough to take these risks because it costs money to frequently identify and resolve facade issues.

DP Architects technical director Mathieu Meur, who conducts the new BCA facade inspection course, agreed that the current practice leaves much to be desired: "The general attitude (today) is to wait for something to happen before calling in someone to inspect and fix the problem. The new regulations aim to correct this situation by making regular inspections of the facade compulsory."

Many warn, however, that inspections alone cannot be the silver bullet that fixes all facade problems. For example, in cases of fire performance of certain exterior cladding material, the only effective way to check them is through tests on samples taken from the building.

ST understands that the use of aluminium composite panels is being probed by the Singapore Civil Defence Force in the wake of a fire that killed a person at 30, Toh Guan Road earlier this year. The blaze reportedly spread across multiple floors via the building's external cladding.

Ultimately, industry experts said more people will need to be aware that a building's facade is not as sturdy as the building itself.

Said Singapore Safety Glass business development manager Gary Lee: "Facility managers don't even know there is a problem with the facade because they do not go check, but even if they do, they are not trained to identify issues when it is right in front of them... Buildings are supposed to last a long time... But facade material, even glass, can last for only a decade or so."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 29, 2017, with the headline 'Industry gearing up for new rules on facade checks'. Print Edition | Subscribe