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The ABI’s Buildings Blueprint: Reducing flood and fire risk

The insurance industry pays out almost £13 million every day for homes and businesses which have suffered damage and loss, but it also contributes to efforts to reduce the chances of customers having to claim in the first place. Here are our top ten priorities for reducing the risks posed by flooding and fire.

On flooding…

Protect communities by spending more on building and maintaining flood defences. 
In 2015, the Government committed to £2.3 billion of investment in flood defences over a six year period. However spending on equally crucial flood defence maintenance fell by around 40% between 2010-11 and 2014-15. There needs to be a long-term Government commitment to increase both areas of funding to protect communities from the growing threat of flooding.

Protect homes and businesses by increasing the use of flood resilience measures within properties. 
Flood defences cannot protect every single property from flooding; individual property owners also need to do more to make their homes and businesses more flood resilient, and understand the benefits of being able to get their lives back to normal quicker next time it floods. This can involve using products to help keep water out of a building, or using materials which allow a property to be easily restored after a flood. Grants to support the installation of these measures and work on certifying products and those who install them need to continue. 

Prevent increased flood risk by including sustainable drainage systems in all new developments. 
Flooding isn’t only caused by rivers and the sea – an increasing amount of flooding problems are caused by excess surface water. Sustainable drainage methods include areas of grass and plants, permeable paving and other landscaping methods. These should be incorporated into all new developments to help absorb heavy rainfall and reduce flood risk, as well as improving water quality and benefiting local wildlife.

Increase understanding of flood risk by giving house hunters up-front information. 
Despite one in six homes in England and Wales estimated to be at risk of flooding, fewer than one in three people researched the flood risk of the property before buying their current home. The ABI recommends the introduction of a traffic-light style label on all property adverts, similar to energy ratings, to alert people to the need to consider flood risk at an early stage in the home-buying process.

Improve planning processes to ensure no inappropriate developments are built in high flood risk areas. 
Although there is a clear need for more affordable homes, it is short-sighted to build these in areas of high flood risk or where they may cause flooding problems for neighbouring properties. New developments should not go ahead against Environment Agency advice.

On fire...

Improve safety for firefighters and residents in high rises by reintroducing stricter rules for tall buildings. 
Rules which can be traced back to laws originally developed by Sir Christopher Wren in the wake of the Great Fire of London were repealed by Government in 2013. Known as sections 20 and 21 of the London Buildings (Amendment) Act 1939, many fire professionals suggest if these had remained in force, tower blocks over 30 metres in height would have had to go through more rigorous assessments for fire risk, and have a higher level of fire resistance for their external walls.

Reduce the risk to new build properties by guaranteeing the use of materials that don’t burn on the outside of tall buildings. 
While traditional construction methods used bricks and mortar and reinforced concrete, modern construction has introduced large amounts of combustible material in the form of structure, cladding and insulation. The fire safety element of building regulations, known as Approved Document B, refers to the need for ‘limited combustibility’ but, given the vagueness of this term, the rules should insist on non-combustible materials.

Protect refurbished properties by ensuring any changes either maintain or improve the level of fire protection. 
Buildings designed for higher levels of fire resilience can have these standards undermined during a refurbishment, for example external cladding added to improve energy efficiency can also increase fire risk. Rules should ensure a building’s ability to withstand fire is never weakened during a refurbishment.

Keep fire-safety rules for buildings up-to-date by regularly reviewing them so they keep pace with construction methods. 
Building methods were able to overtake fire safety rules because the regulations in Approved Document B hadn’t been reviewed in more than a decade. As well as an urgent review now, Government should establish a timetable for regular and comprehensive reviews in the future.

Introduce compulsory sprinklers for new schools, care homes and warehouses over 2000m2. 
There is abundant evidence - social, environmental, and economical - which highlights the importance of improving the fire protection for buildings which are vulnerable to fire, or which contain vulnerable members of society.  Sprinkler systems are not only proven to drastically improve the safety of individuals, they also reduce the amount of damage done to the contents and structure of a property, reducing the cost and enabling vital services to be back up and running following a fire as quickly as possible. The cost of installing sprinklers will be recouped in many cases thanks to savings made insuring the building.

And that's not all... 

Planners and builders should ensure new developments are built to withstand increasing windspeeds.
Severe storms result in claims costing billions of pounds. The likelihood of these claims increasing in the future is something the insurance industry, and society, need to start preparing for now. Planners and builders should be aware of the need for more wind-resistant construction in specific areas of the country if claims are to be kept to a minimum and residents spared the distress and expense of higher levels of wind damage.

With more water flowing around a property than ever before, installers of pipework and new appliances must ensure their installation is flawless to reduce the risk of major leaks.  
Leaks from waterworks inside the home are a major cause of damage and distress for homeowners, which can often be avoided by improving the quality and installation of products and pipes.