The Benefits of Standardisation in Construction

There are many ways architects, designers, manufacturers and builders can save money during any phase of construction. Standardisation has a major role to play in reducing costs throughout construction, from design to finished product.  Reducing the variations of design elements saves time and cost in five major ways.

  1. It reduces design labour costs. Having a limited number of options reduces time in design, labour and materials as opposed to offering specially designed unique elements for every different building.
  2. It improves production efficiency. Minimising variations of design means fewer changeovers in production, equipment, personnel and design time.
  3. There is less risk of quality issues. When production of a component becomes a learnt process through repetition less mistakes occur.
  4. There is less material waste. It is possible to use material in the most efficient way to reduce wastage. For example, selecting component sizes with the use of CAD design and CNC machinery which make best use of raw materials.
  5. It reduces transport and storage. If standard items can be stacked efficiently, less space is needed for storage and fewer lorries are needed to deliver them.

Opportunities for standardisation in the construction of balconies

There are certain specific areas in balcony design where savings can also be made, by standardising construction.

Downpipes and gutters for drainage must be non-combustible which makes them a costly element to high-rise design. You also need deeper balconies to accommodate them and double soffits to hide connections to pipes. They also require ongoing maintenance.

I find that designing and installing controlled, free-draining soffits sloped towards the edge of balconies works well while saving time and money. This design has the additional advantage of stopping water from landing on a balcony below.

Another area that can have higher cost implications is the design of the interfaces. If cladding of a façade steps out and requires decking to be notched, then a balcony must be designed to accommodate that. It’s important to keep extract vents separate from balconies and position rainwater pipes outside of balcony stacks for the same reason. Building these into the design consistently saves time and money on variation.

Colours on balconies can add variety to a scheme but avoiding a wide mix of colours saves an enormous amount of cost. Sapphire keeps the change in colour consistent with the change of balustrade or footprint size, so a particular size would have the same colour throughout.

Variety is the spice of life: Standardisation in construction without compromise

All of this is not to say designers must stick to just a few schemes and avoid choice and variation in order to allow for standardisation in balcony construction. If variation is needed there are many solutions.

For example, rectangular shaped balconies are the most cost effective. However, if different shapes are required, then the number of balcony footprints can be limited to save on design time and transport to the site.

Thinking ahead to construction can make a big difference. If an extract vent needs to be fitted, it may mean a balcony goes to site not fully finished to allow for this. Decking would need to be fitted after the balcony is in place which adds to the costs.

In simple terms, the less interface with other parts of the building, the more cost, design and time savings there are.

Solutions to structurally challenging designs

Balconies that are captive behind columns of cladding require either infill sections or modular columns. These can be accommodated if there are no notches. The balcony can then slide into place with a hinged section or a non-structural, aesthetic clad column, fitted after the balcony is installed.

Another challenging design is a large balcony overhang past a building. This can pose a deflection risk and require additional or specially designed anchors. Corner balconies are similarly difficult to fit in the usual Glide-On™ way, so the design would have to come in two sections with a diagonal arm set in the corner of the façade for rigidity.

Small changes add up to big savings on high-rise buildings

Where there is a preference for a particular design of balcony, some simple changes to the way they are designed and installed can make a big difference to the cost. This all adds up when many balconies are installed on one high-rise building.

Selecting a balcony projection that uses the whole deck board and avoids any cutting of boards is one simple idea which avoids a lot of waste. Similarly, selecting the balcony width to work with a standard 400mm cassette avoids the need for specially designed soffit trays, rafters and framework. Limiting balcony projections to less than 1.8m from the façade line avoids the need for special bracketry – another simple design decision with significant savings.

This ‘all-encompassing thinking’ can work in your favour too. Having a single balcony size on a project may seem ideal from a manufacturing perspective, however, this can make for very inefficient logistics. If there are a number of balcony sizes on a job (3-5 ideally) this allows balconies to be nested inside of each other for transport thus reducing cost but also minimising lorry movements in and out of site and carbon emissions. Plus, it becomes a sales feature for the client that you are offering variety in the design.

Are savings really savings?

The offer of different materials and designs is very appealing to designers and architects. They can create a building which is both unique and attractive plus they often promise a lower cost. But more variation means more anchors and other built-in elements, increased interface with the different materials, slower installation and longer crane hire times. The saving offered in cheaper materials can lead to spiralling costs elsewhere.

Using cheaper off-the-shelf anchors which are not integral to the balcony means a reduction in rigidity and more bounce as well as higher costs elsewhere. It involves concrete frame contractors and thermal anchors with each stub fixed to the anchor. Add in the cost of waterproofing and fire-proofing and you are looking at costs of around £475 per anchor. Multiply that by all balconies on a high-rise building and consider whether the ‘more expensive’ integral anchor might be a better decision after all.

With a finished factory-fitted balcony there are fewer brackets, which in turn means fewer holes in your façade and less cost to create the fittings. They can be fitted faster than other balconies too, saving crane and other onsite finishing costs and allowing other contractors, such as landscaping, to start their job earlier.

It is critical to involve a balcony company as early as possible to assist in structural design to minimise avoidable costs. They can help make decisions early on what system to use to avoid reworking designs and the consequent effects of your decision on other trades on the project.

This article is based on an interview with Luke Haughton, MD at Sapphire at the Resibuild event MMC: The Thrust Behind Construction.

Luke has been with Sapphire since 2006 and uses his wealth of experience in the sector to build strong and lasting relationships with the UK’s top house builders and developers.