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Building Services – The Soul of Buildings
  • Mar 15, 2023
  • Latest Journal

By: Rose CampbellForensic and Expert Services Manager, CEERISK Consulting Limited, UK

Buildings require special services such as mechanical, electrical, and public health (MEPH) systems to bring it alive. These comprise of lighting, telecommunications, heating, ventilation, building and energy management, smoke ventilation, sprinkler, fire alarm, hot water, cold water, soil and rainwater systems to name a few.

The extent of Building Services is measured based on the percentage of the construction cost.  For example,  building services in hotels are 30-40% of the cost while in nuclear plants, this figure rises to 60-70% of the overall cost. Building services in hospitals account for 40-50% of the construction budget.

Costs are related to the specialised needs of each type of building with NHS, for example, involving complex requirements stemming from their specialised occupancy and human activities within. One operating theatre requires specialist lighting, comprehensive heating/cooling and sophisticated ventilation system to prevent bacteria growth and infections on top of the standby power supplies, medical gases and comprehensive audio-visual systems.

While all buildings require reliable power supply to operate, some, like hospitals, have critical power needs, which must be met through presence of redundant supplies and standby generators. To ensure that the essential power supply generator and UPS systems function as intended allowing the occupants to carry on working tests simulating “black building” scenarios to mimics a total power failure are carried out and overseen by building service engineers

Some industrial plants require specialised ventilation systems to operate properly. Pharmaceutical and electronic fabrication plants must meet strict cleanliness levels in addition to highly critical ambient temperatures. Therefore, HVAC systems are design to provide the required environment for these plants to operate.  

Building Service Expert Instruction
With the critical requirements of different buildings, comes the potential of failures that impact operations causing damage to contents and equipment and costly interruption of services. These failures and damages give rise to complex legal disputes involving technical interpretation of contract clauses as well as detailed analysis of incident circumstances.

Here are few examples to consider.
Interruption of Services

CEERISK experts have investigated situation where a hospital has claimed for failure of critical infrastructure that powers essential services including ventilators and other life support machinery.

After attending site, as well as interviewing witnesses and studying commissioning reports, it was determined that the hospital modified the main distribution switchgear in a way that created a weak link such that a when a single fuse blew, the entire supply was interrupted.

This resulted in a dispute between a hospital and designer of the electrical system regarding the latter’s responsibility to provide redundant connection to the hospital..

Even in situations where continuous access to a power supply is not necessary, failure of disruption of power supply, results in costly business interruption. This can become a contractual matter involving the responsibility the electric utility and its obligation to maintain  continuous and reliable power.

Construction Latent Defects
The variety of situations where electrical building services have failed are broad, ranging from defective electrical services installed in buildings by contactors, to defective electrical equipment provided by a manufacturer.

It is not always evident whether defects occurred during the construction phase, manufacturing of parts, or if it is the result of poor maintenance and abnormal operations of the building.  Typically, to determine the root cause and establish liability of the responsible party, detailed forensic investigations are required. These can involve different destructive and non-destructive tests that can in some cases be both costly and time consuming.

Consequential Damage
In some cases, small failures of building systems lead to costly consequential damage to contents.  In one case dealt with by one of our experts in the USA, failure of a pump in the HVAC system (costing $100 to repair) at a pharmaceutical plant caused temperature variations that led to the spoliation of over $12M worth of products.

A similar scenario at a pharmaceutical plant in Belgium, where failure of a switch in an HVAC evaporator failed and caused damage to over $10M worth of products.  In that instance, the wiring of the temperature alarm system was incorrect which prevented technical teams from being informed of the incident.  

An earthing connection failure at a chip fabrication plant in Idaho, USA led to power quality anomalies causing damage to several very critical pieces of equipment and interruption of services.  CEERISK experts investigating the incident, determined that the installation defect caused the loss.

Instructing Building Services Experts
During the design and construction process, Building Services Engineers work alongside clients, architects, fire officers and building inspectors through the design, construction, testing and commissioning process to ensure that buildings are safe to be occupied by the public and comfortable to live in.

In the event of a failure in any of the systems, Building Service Engineers possess a close knowledge of the expectations of each system as they relate to the overall operation of the building. Because the problems that arise within Building Services can be specifically technically orientated, appointing Building Services Expert early can quickly highlight and solve problems, saving time and money.

“Whenever investigating a defect or failure of building services, it is more likely that the root cause involves multiple contributing factors that should be investigated by the expert,” says Mamoon Alyah, MD of CEERISK. “The building services expert should have a broad experience and be able to evaluate multiple systems.”

Issues related to root cause or other technical disputes require the appointment of a competent building services engineer to look into them, investigate root cause, sort through issues brough up by different parties and provide a detailed, clear and concise expert report to assist the court.

Simon Burrows, one of CEERISK’s experts, observed that, “litigation typically centres around contracts, whereas the root cause is usually something technical.”

“The Building Regulations state that Building Services Engineers must be brought in early to a building design programme to ensure buildings are energy efficient, sustainable and safe to occupy,” Simon says.  “I think that an expert should be appointed to a help with ADR providing assistance to mediate and solve a problem, obviating the need to enter into litigation.”

In the experience of multiple CEERISK experts who have worked closely with different parties on legal disputes, it is in everyone’s interest to consult the expert early in the process when it looks like there is a technical dimension to the dispute.

CEERISK Consulting is a global engineering firm that specialise in provide expert services to solicitors and corporations in matters involving engineering disputes. Headquartered in London, the firm has worked with leading legal firms in the UK, USA, Singapore and the Middle East. More information is available at