Building Surveying and Latest Technologies

Jeffrey Belk
Traditional tools have been upgraded and new ones developed to increase the efficiency of the building surveyor's role.

Building surveying has changed significantly since I first qualified, when my favourite technologies were a set of Rotring drawing pens and a damp-meter! Since then, the Rotring pens have been consigned to the recycling bin and the humble damp-meter has been developed to provide thermometer, dew-point and similar diagnostic functions, with a non-invasive search mode for sensitive initial investigations. 

Building surveying has changed significantly since I first qualified, when my favourite technologies were a set of Rotring drawing pens and a damp-meter!

These traditional tools have been upgraded and new ones developed to increase the efficiency of the building surveyor's role. For example, thermographic cameras permit a whole range of building performance issues and defects to be identified without destructive intervention. Thermographic surveys range from the confirmation of water ingress beneath flat roof coverings to heat loss at thermal bridges or the early warning of plant problems.

Remote control drones are subject to strict rules by the CAA but such devices can be useful to provide a visual or thermographic survey of tall or large buildings where traditional access is expensive, problematic or subject to health and safety risks.

One area of change over the next few years will be the way in which databases are used to create, manipulate and store comprehensive information at every stage of a building's life-cycle. Whilst some of us have been developing and using such systems for over 20 years, the current progress with Building Information Modelling (BIM)is providing this ancillary area of work with some real momentum. The holistic approach that takes into account all aspects of design, development and facilities management requires software tools that are still in the early stages of mass-market evolution. This information is going to be the life-blood of the building surveying profession, where mundane survey tasks such as recording construction details will be minimised and surveyors will be able to concentrate on providing the valuable part of the survey commission – the identification of problems and the provision of advice. BIM models are already being used to create, manipulate and store comprehensive information in every stage of a building’s life-cycle. An example is Birmingham City University’s Parkside building, where the BIM model is now being used as a facility management tool.

At Faithful+Gould, we currently have a suite of tablet applications that are already in use. Some of these will provide a portal to the key information in the databases. Having the relevant information served as you walk around a building or construction site would enhance both site inspection and construction.

But what use is the data if it is not readily and easily accessible when needed? I suspect an obvious change will be in the use of mobile technology, in the form of tablets or wearable technology. At Faithful+Gould, we currently have a suite of tablet applications that are already in use. Some of these will provide a portal to the key information in the databases. Having the relevant information served as you walk around a building or construction site would enhance both site inspection and construction. Imagine a surveyor having a virtual display in a pair of glasses that can provide an accurate view of what the architectural model contains. This could be linked with GPS (or its more accurate successor) so that relevant virtual construction details appear in their true position on site. This could even be configured to show the construction sequence. The use of built-in levels would allow the surveyor to have a visual indicator if something is plumb or level.

I also see such technology being linked to manufacturer’s and facility manager's data so that information is always current. When you look at an air-handling unit, you will have access to the full technical details of that unit. If the BIM model has been configured properly, you will also be able to access the installation, commissioning and maintenance data and service history, along with forthcoming maintenance schedules.

There is some concern, however, that as technology advances, everyone becomes an 'expert' and the advice given by a professional is de-valued. I believe the opposite to be true. In much the same way that you can access numerous websites to diagnose a suspected illness, it is the consultation with a doctor or other healthcare professional that will provide you with the diagnosis, prognosis and the relevant treatment. At the end of the day, when it comes to building assessment, it takes a chartered building surveyor (using appropriate technology) to provide the measured, professional and considered advice that is so valuable.