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Meeting the carbon plan

At a glance

  • With pressure on construction and real estate sectors to improve energy performance, the use of some materials and technologies in achieving this may inadvertently be ramping up risks
  • Some modern methods of construction can increase fire or storm risks
  • Zurich has a wealth of expertise and insight that can be tapped into, which can be used to help and understand the challenges

It may be half a lifetime away, but the sheer scale of the undertaking required by the developers and owners of properties to use energy more efficiently in the future means considerable improvements are still needed to achieve these ambitious targets.

Although the UK government is committed, as part of a concerted global effort, to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% from 1990 levels by 2050, there are also other legislative targets along the way that must first be met, not least the Energy Act 2011, which is set to come into force from 2018.

Solar panel concerns

The UK is switching on to the use of solar power in a bid to meet global energy targets. Solar power-generating capacity has gone from practically zero at the start of this decade to around 4.7 gigawatts today and the UK government is targeting 20GW capacity by 2020.

Solar panels are being attached to many buildings – both new and old – and despite the obvious benefits, there are insurance risks to consider.

The fixing of the panels can potentially create load-bearing issues when fitted retrospectively to buildings, while storms can dislodge or remove panels from a roof if they not securely fixed. Fire risks can also be posed by solar installations, if not installed correctly.

“If a solar panel were to fall off a roof, not only does this present a liability issue and safety concern for those in and around the building, there could be damage to the fabric of the building, which could lead to water damage if not repaired swiftly,” says Stuart Blackie, Property Team Leader at Zurich Risk Engineering.

“These are lots of small issues, but they all need to be taken into account.”

“It is an increasing challenge,” says Stuart Blackie, Property Team Leader at Zurich Risk Engineering. “Many ‘easy wins’ around energy performance, such as provision of increased loft insulation,have already been done and the more challenging solutions remain – such as greater use of technology and more innovative materials to provide increased energy performance.”

Increasing use of modern methods of construction (MMC) as well as innovative construction products and materials for both new builds and refurbishment projects can help to meet looming legislative targets, but some of these new materials or methods may not be fully tested or approved – and could significantly alter the risk profile of a building from a property protection perspective. Energy-related upgrades also need to take into account lifecycle and ongoing maintenance requirements.

“We collectively need to bring about greater joined-up thinking and an appreciation of the issues,” says Stuart. “Use of these materials may improve energy ratings, especially to meet Energy Act requirements, but it could also be impacting upon fire and storm related risks.”

A case in point happened last October, when parts of Ipswich town centre were closed off after exterior polystyrene cladding panels – a system used for insulation – on the upper floors of The Mill apartments, which overlook the marina, were ripped off during the violent St Jude Day storms that battered much of southern England.

“It is important to speak to an insurer first to see if what is being proposed is acceptable and, if not, to discuss what other measures could be considered,” says Stuart.

Expertise dealing with MMCs

Through its market-leading approach to gaining insight around these emerging technologies, Zurich has a team of specialists, as well as a solid bank of claims knowledge and insight, that can guide developers, investors in property and landlords when it comes to dealing with the risks around MMC.

“We have a good awareness of the issues and are well placed to support design teams when considering any form of new technology, product or untested system,” says Stuart. “We’d far rather invest time up front with a design team to understand the risks fully than to be presenting less desirable terms once the building is complete.”

We collectively need to bring about greater joined-up thinking and an appreciation of the issues. Use of these materials may improve energy ratings, especially to meet Energy Act requirements, but it could also be impacting upon fire and storm related risks

Stuart Blackie, Property Team Leader at Zurich Risk Engineering

One of Zurich’s customers recently asked the insurer to run a workshop for its design managers after discovering that some properties in its portfolio were attracting higher insurance premiums, mainly due to the prevalence of combustible materials, such as polystyrene.

“We worked through all of the challenges faced and the workshop has definitely made the design managers appreciate our perspective and has provided our risk specialists with a greater insight as to the challenges our customers face on a day-to-day, contract-to-contract basis,” says Stuart.

“At the end of the day, we can only influence and offer our guidance and even if someone isn’t going to change the technology or materials they are using, at least there is a greater appreciation, for example if a certain material may bring about increased terms.”

Stuart adds: “We want to help and understand the challenges, and ensure that we can continue to provide insurance cover for these changing risks. Modern methods of construction are not all about increased risks and there are some truly inspirational technologies out there that are being used and from a risk perspective are both acceptable and welcomed.”

Image © Getty

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