Commercial property - facade improvements can add value

While the location of a commercial property is always of key importance, the appearance of the building plays a significant role in attracting and retaining tenants due to the perceived desirability of the venue, says Rudolf Nieman, managing director of JHI Project Management – a member of the Excellerate Property Services group.  

Says Nieman: “A common occurrence is that a perfectly commercially viable building may develop vacancies because of problems created by a defunct façade or a façade that does not possess what is seen as a ‘timeless design’. For example, buildings in an office park with a particular theme may become dated over time as architectural trends change.”

He says factors relating to facades which may impact negatively on the desirability of a commercial property include:

  • Old fashioned appearance
  • The building does not keep abreast with ‘green requirements’
  • The exterior of the building does not complement or keep pace with modern interiors which are constantly upgraded/modernised via the ‘tenant installation’ allowance, as tenants move in and out of buildings.
  • Cracks, leaks and safety issues related to the facade of the building.

Nieman says this disparity is especially noticeable in areas where new buildings are being constructed and defunct facades of existing and older buildings are highlighted in stark contrast to the more modern structures.

JHI Project Management and ARC Architects have embarked on detailed analyses of various methods of cladding dated facades of existing buildings. Pierre van Driel, senior partner at ARC, says that masonry facade refurbishment through cladding can be achieved using a variety of materials ranging from ceramic extruded profiles and large format porcelain sheets to composite recycled plastic and aluminium panels - or even concrete.

“Each material provides its own U-value – which is the measurement of the material’s insulation capabilities. Depending on the fixing detail, when utilising a sub-frame system when cladding an existing building an air barrier is formed between the old facade and the new material. This lowers the heat gain through the facade fabric, which in turn raises the insulation properties of the facade. This reduces the load on the HVAC (heating, ventilation and air-conditioning) plant to regulate temperatures within the building. These air barriers may also be ventilated, thereby advancing the insulation further,” says van Driel.

He says many of these systems can be pre-manufactured in modules off-site and installed at a fraction of the time a conventional type facade would take to be erected. “Sealing the building is always on the programme's critical path. Besides the time gain, it reduces any disruption or inconvenience to tenants. This is crucial when renovating as there are probably user tenants who are at work behind the existing facade. And should a panel be damaged, it can simply be replaced without a string of mixed discipline contractors being required. Some of these systems claim to be 'self cleaning' but these treatments tend to be more effective in higher rainfall areas.”
Nieman says some suppliers provide CAD (computer aided design) detailing services in-house and included in their rates, as achieving neat jointing and corners and low wastage can be tricky. “Facade cladding may also provide a solution to high level moisture ingress, and to be doubly sure one can prepare or spray seal the deteriorating existing masonry prior to cladding. Some older buildings may have experienced consolidation settlement cracks in their infancy, which have been visible ever since, however cladding conceals these. Expansion movement in long runs may be reduced by insulating the wall and any cracks can be monitored further from the inside. Some of the lighter weight systems can even be installed using patented heavy duty Velcro strips. Regardless which system is used, it's advisable that a facade engineer is approached first to confirm height and specific wind loads prior to detail selection for obvious reasons of safety.

“Besides increasing the performance of the existing building and reducing effective time on site, cladding an outdated building can ‘transport’ it from the previous century and bring it up to date with current trends. Many new buildings exhibit these systems because they make sense and are the way environmentally conscious developers are moving. Naturally, the initial outlay is offset with the savings achieved in consumption and maintenance bills in the longer term,” he says.

A proper design and execution of a new facade can contribute greatly to reposition an existing building and add value to this asset. JHI Properties has experienced a marked increase in achievable rentals because of the redesign of the facades of properties – more specifically in regard to office blocks.

Commenting generally on trends, Nieman says increasingly, landlords, asset managers and tenants are embarking on a holistic property portfolio greening strategy in order to reap the full financial benefits relating to all aspects which impact on the environment. These include categories such as water management, recycling of materials, materials used when refurbishing a building, active awareness management, among others.  More and more these role players are looking to their property managers to provide them with a one-stop solution involving not only energy management, but also action plans in regard to other categories which have an impact on the environment.

In response to the rapidly growing need JHI has formulated a comprehensive but simple ‘green strategy’ involving 18 categories which impact on the environment. Says Nieman: “The practical aspect of this strategy culminates in an electronic and user-friendly initiatives chart which enables the user to find action steps linked to a specific category. Furthermore, to assist with the applicable intervention, each action step can be evaluated in terms of expertise required, costs involved and benefits to the landlord, the occupier of the space, and the environment. In addition, the initiatives chart can either be used to assess an individual building or a portfolio of properties.”

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