Costco distribution centre

Repairs to commercial buildings – what to think about January 7th 2019, by Ian Lishman

The term ‘commercial building’ covers a huge variety of potential uses and applications. Sometimes properties are constructed to serve specific functions and do so for the whole of their useful life – especially the largest commercial and retail developments.

In smaller or older premises, different businesses come and go and, as different owners have their say in how a building is used, a property might undergo many changes of identity.

Different commercial building uses

The planning system in England is based on a series of four ‘use classes’, each of which is broken down into different and more specific building types/uses. Part A, for example, covers retail, financial and professional services, and food and drink-related establishments – from restaurants and cafes, to pubs and takeaways.

Uses in the other classes include offices; warehousing and storage; industrial; hotels and residential institutions; public spaces and non-domestic institutions; and leisure facilities. Domestic residential buildings may be controlled and rented out by a commercial entity. There is also a designation for buildings which do not fall into any one particular use class.

Where a change of use is desired, if the existing and proposed uses for a building fall within the same use class then it may not be necessary to obtain planning permission – yet the fit out requirements for a building in, say, class A2 (financial and professional services) are very different to one in class A5 (hot food takeaways).

The impact of different uses on a commercial building

All of which means that a building may be subjected to uses for which it was never designed. Even where a building’s use remains consistent, a lack of sympathetic treatment over time can have a knock-on effect further down the line. A lot depends on the age of a property too.

There is the physical matter of how renovation and conversion works are carried out; the types of materials used and the quality of workmanship in both new and existing, plus adapting plumbing, electrics and drainage.

There are structural matters to consider. Has the building fabric had to be altered in any way to accommodate different rooms and uses? How sympathetically have door and window openings been made or closed up? Were existing floors designed to bear the weight of commercial kitchen equipment or office furniture and filing cabinets?

Then there are the environmental aspects to consider. The internal temperature and humidity conditions of different buildings and uses vary from one to another. Were heating and ventilation systems installed and commissioned correctly? Have they been operated accordingly?

In a building not designed for it, high levels of humidity over a period years can have an unseen detrimental impact on the building fabric, storing up problems that building owners are unaware of.

When should commercial building repairs be carried out?

Owners of commercial property have certain obligations to the people who use their buildings. The nature of any issues should be quickly and thoroughly assessed, particularly in terms of risk to safety. Depending on the levels of risk, certain works will need to be done without delay, while others may be able to form part of routine maintenance.

In an ideal world, maintenance and repair works would be carried out while a property is vacant. Not only is it safer, but it usually means the work can be done more efficiently, saving both time and money.

Sometimes, the required work may be substantial enough that it can only be done when the building isn’t occupied. For large commercial and retail premises, if a closure is unavoidable then the works will need to be planned carefully to keep disruption to a minimum.

In other building types, not only is a period of vacancy far from guaranteed, it is also likely to have financial implications such as lost rental income. Working with tenants to ensure their understanding, then planning works around them as much as possible, will hopefully lead to a smoother outcome for all concerned.

When planning one type of work, it is worth taking a little extra time to consider what potential issues may be ‘headed off at the pass’. Preventative maintenance may feel like an extra cost, but it could result in a long-term saving, as well as happier tenants and building users, if it guards against something that could become a much bigger problem.

About FACE

As an experienced civil engineering partner to the commercial and retail sectors, FACE is used to working with large corporate clients and private commercial property owners alike. Health and safety is at the forefront of all projects, scheduling and delivering high quality extension, refurbishment and repair works to buildings with the minimum of disruption to businesses and building owners alike.