Why isn’t BIM the Norm in the Housing Sector?

Building Information Modelling has been a key component of residential and commercial schemes for a number of years and can offer real rewards to clients when it comes to managing budgets and reducing problems onsite. However, It’s still a relative rarity in the social housing sector despite its many benefits. Today we’re asking the question – why?

We consider ourselves an architectural practice with a duty to promote the benefits of using BIM to our clients. Not for our own benefit we must add, BIM is the part of a scheme that lives beyond the design of a building and done correctly, should offer many advantages in terms of cost-management, design and ongoing maintenance to a client.

The benefits of BIM on design and construction have been extolled online by many an architect and property professional so we won’t bang the drum too loudly on the many advantages to 3D modelling. However, what we are interested in is despite the countless benefits to the housing sector in developing projects using the BIM approach – we so often find ourselves asking, why don’t more housing associations embrace the use of BIM in residential developments?

Let’s first look at the benefits of BIM to social housing specifically. To some, BIM is just a 3D model of a building or scheme but to those in the know it is so much more than taking 2D plans from paper to make a digital model. There are clear advantages in having a 3D model during the pre-construction phase of any building project. The information-rich 3D format helps iron out problems or agree changes between all parties before a spade has even entered into the ground, saving both time and money in the initial phases of a scheme. Additionally, the team-led approach of a 3D model supports easy access to data from all sides of a project making it easy to see all facets of the final scheme in as much detail as possible.

The main advantage of BIM is not the 3D model itself, but how this information and the format in which it is recorded supports the building beyond construction. The asset model offers the building owner or property management team a goldmine of information to create long-term maintenance plans or manage budgets in an effective and extremely detailed manner. Warranty details, ceiling heights, supplier details, paint finishes – every part of a building can be recorded and easily understood.

More importantly, every aspect of a building can be accurately managed from a cost point of view to reduce problems in the long-term. Materials, fittings and fixtures are budgeted to the exact amount and wastage can be minimized in advance. Essentially, the 3D model reduces the potential for human error – flagging up potential design concerns before they create a costly problem or delay for the construction team.

A recent foray by Nottingham City Homes (NCH) to incorporate BIM into a residential scheme created a 5% cost saving per unit when compared with a similar scheme built using more traditional methods. A huge saving when applied across a large-scale residential development and enough to make BIM an essential part of the future of NCH for further building projects.

In the social housing sector, when budgets are tight and property maintenance costs need to be factored into the building management plan from day one of handover – the asset model derived from BIM is of huge benefit to any housing association or management company.

Aside from the construction-phase benefits, the information-rich 3D model offers detail on every facet of a building project from the type of carpets to the make, model and finish of door handles. Windows need replacing? Heating system upgraded? The asset model has the data to give information on the fit and fabric of the building to create an effective maintenance programme and budgetary plan. Knowledge is power after all and with tight budgets comes difficult decisions. Having the data to make those decisions in advance is a key feature of effective BIM in practice.

So where does this sit with housing associations? We as a firm encourage the use of BIM by our clients. We’ve seen BIM work well in practice because we are working with housing associations already using BIM and it’s helping create more cost effective, smooth-running schemes. Most recently, we worked with Your Homes Newcastle (YHN) to deliver two BIM-compliant schemes.  Two new apartment blocks on Banbury Road in Kenton and Dewley House in Throckley were handed over to the Newcastle-based social landlord having been designed and delivered in a BIM environment for their main contractor, Keepmoat.

YHN have been developing their capability in BIM since 2016, and have a project team whose role is to develop and embed BIM practice.

“We became aware of the potential of BIM partly because of forward-thinking members of our supply chain such as the team at Blake Hopkinson”, comments Tom Jarman, chair of the YHN BIM Management Group. “We can see real potential in two areas, namely the ability to achieve a smooth, safe construction programme that runs on time and to cost, and a real advantage in terms of operational cost-effectiveness.  We are absolutely focussed on the ‘I’ in BIM.  We manage nearly 28,000 homes, and accurate, structured, accessible information is critical to effective day-to-day management and our ability to make the right investment decisions.

“There is little low-hanging fruit left; the operational stage of an asset is where the opportunity is.”

The team at Blake Hopkinson work hard to engage their clients in BIM, and Tom praises the pro-active approach taken by the team.  BIM is a collaborative process, but Tom also believes it is dependent on being an informed client and working with pro-active suppliers is vital.  “BIM isn’t really a technical issue or challenge for us as an end-user”, he continued.  “It is a cultural challenge in terms of how to manage and value information, so you need to develop your capability with people who get this and can support your learning”.

Reflecting on why there has been relatively low take-up and engagement of BIM within the housing association sector, Tom commented:  “I’m honestly not sure why as I can see how it offers clients value.  One barrier might be that the sector tends to procure to minimum regulatory standards at lowest capital cost, and BIM fits uneasily with this approach, but I think the most significant barrier is that you do have to be an active, informed client to benefit from BIM.  I know a number of organisations that have approached BIM passively and been disappointed with the outcome therefore they have written off BIM as having no value.  To approach BIM as a passive client is an easy way to get the wrong answers.”

With housing associations often managing as well as constructing residential schemes, BIM is a valuable tool in the process to harness the power of building data to support the long-term needs of the client. A 3D model is nice to look at but the ability to influence everything form cost-planning to maintenance to enhancing design and even troubleshooting construction issues does beg the question why every housing association up and down the country is not currently harnessing the power of BIM as a valuable part of any residential development programme.

Here at Blake Hopkinson we certainly know the power of BIM and are happy to be the guiding force in educating clients on how BIM can enhance construction and design in any sector. For examples of how BIM has influenced our current portfolio please see examples of previous schemes or give us a call on 0191 257 0022.