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Why remedial repairs should be considered first before decarbonisation projects

Helping UK families to reduce their energy bills, and ensuring that housing is greener, healthier and more comfortable to live in, are key commitments of the Government’s Net Zero Strategy.

But we have a long way to go. With more than 60% of homes in England currently rated EPC band D and below, and rented social housing accounting for 20% of UK building emissions, local authorities and social housing landlords face a huge challenge in meeting targets for reducing energy consumption and carbon emissions. Additional funding was made available in 2023 for wave two of the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund (SHDF) and the Home Upgrade Grant (HUG), which together make a further £1.4bn available for energy-saving and efficiency upgrades, including window replacement and external insulation, across the country’s existing housing stock. With a total value of £160m, SDHF wave one saw more than 20,000 properties upgraded and realised collective carbon savings equivalent to the removal of 6,000 cars from UK roads. Wave two funding promises an even greater positive impact.

As a recognised industry leader in state-of-the-art, non-disruptive superstructural and masonry repair solutions, our team are uniquely qualified to advise landlords and retrofit teams on the most sustainable, cost-effective and energy-efficient solutions for structural challenges, such as failed wall ties, lintels and masonry arches, cracking, damaged or weakened window openings and insufficient load-bearing capacity of the structure, ahead of energy efficient upgrades.

Rendered insulation panels create challenges

Whilst, rendered insulation panels are a popular, cost-effective and unobtrusive choice for improving thermal performance in properties with solid walls or narrow cavities, in older buildings, remedial work is often necessary to increase the load-bearing capacity of the structure, prior to installation.

Leviat’s range of Helifix remedial tying systems have been designed to provide exceptional strength and longevity across a variety of complex stabilising applications. Helifix DryFix, for example, enables the securing of multi-layer masonry and the pinning of delicate masonry features without the use of resin, grout or mechanical expansion; whilst corrosion-resistant stainless steel Helifix RetroTies and Helifix ResiTies provide cavity tie solutions suitable for all common building materials, where resin bonds are required at one or both ends of the tie, respectively. For damaged masonry in heavy duty, high-load applications Helifix SockFix grouted sock and bar anchor also offer unparalleled tensile and bending support, preventing the need for expensive demolition and rebuilding.

Stabilising window openings

For housing where lintels are weak, failed or absent altogether, the Helifix Helibeam system offers a cost-effective structural solution for the installation of new energy-efficient double- or triple-glazed windows. Using pairs of Helibar helical stainless steel reinforcing bars, Helibeam creates deep masonry beams, supporting vertical loadings in combination with the existing masonry, without the need for additional repairs or the installation of new concrete lintels. They can either serve as temporary supports for the removal of old windows or as a permanent solution for the installation of new.

Importantly, they enable retrofit teams to approach repairs from the building exterior, ensuring minimal impact on tenants.

Taking the load

A typical example of pre-insulation structural reinforcement can be found at a local housing project in Southeast London, where, as part of an extensive retrofit project aimed at improving energy performance and reducing carbon emissions, three 1960s multistorey residential buildings required reinforcement to ensure they were capable of supporting the combined load of new high-performance ceramic external panels and an associated aluminium strapping system which was used to make the building structurally sound and support overhanging brickwork during the removal of historic cladding.

Our team was able to provide a reinforcement package utilising Helifix products which addressed both the additional load requirement for the new high performance façades and extensive failure of historic wall ties. The project installers utilised some 8,000 M8 and M10 Helifix SockFix anchors, tension proof-loaded in excess of 12Kn, to connect angle brackets to the concrete core of each building, and more than 22,000 Helifix DryFix and Helifix ResiTie remedial wall ties to reinforce each building prior to the installation of ceramic external panels. This provided a robust,  sustainable and future-proof result, with minimal disruption to residents, who remained in situ throughout the project lifetime.

Increasing environmental performance

A similar solution was provided for a local housing project in Bedfordshire, involving a 70-year old three-block 55 home residence with very poor environmental performance. This presented a significant challenge to local authorities and necessitated a multi-million pound programme of remedial works, including the installation of a host of new thermal efficiency upgrades, including new high performance windows, insulation and external building fabric.

Originally built of hollow inner concrete blocks pinned to the concrete frame, with a brick external face, extensive upgrade was required to ensure that the structure was able to support the new cladding and insulation.

Faced, again, with extensive wall tie failure and hollow block leaves, the team were able to provide a cost-effective solution to stabilise and upgrade the existing walls using high-performance Helifix CemenTie wall ties, installed on site by a specialist external refurbishment contractor, and inflated into the chamber of the building’s hollow blockwork to deliver tension capacity.

Correcting historical mistakes

In Essex, the cladding contractor on another local housing project required a full assessment of the structure prior to fixing heavy external insulation panels, which would increase the load on the structure by a further 25Kn/m2. They contacted us and specifically requested an investigation of the original wall ties, which proved to be incorrectly fitted into the mortar joint and, as a consequence, had become loose and moveable by hand.

We were able to suggest a cost-effective solution using 12,000 Helifix RetroTies, which enabled the project to progress quickly with minimal disturbance to residents.

Hayley Palmer, Senior Technical Manager said, “With sustainability at the core of the our ethos, we have been able to develop a market leading range of retrofit products which provide a sustainable ‘fabric first’ solution for all types of existing buildings.”

“These products are already helping local authorities and social landlords across the UK to take early advantage of the Government’s support package, improve their carbon footprint, and provide more comfortable and energy efficient accommodation for their residents.”