Should you retrofit or replace your façade access strategy?

How to decide the best option for your building

How to decide the best option for your building

Should you retrofit or replace your façade access strategy?

Mohamed Merchant, Associate Director Facade Access, TÜV SÜD Dunbar Boardman


Is your old building maintenance unit inefficient or too expensive to repair? Is your building façade’s access strategy in need of an upgrade? Has the building undergone major renovations or alterations? If so, this article highlights how to decide whether it’s best to retrofit or replace existing façade access system(s).

Why is your building’s façade access system important?

Façade access equipment is an engineered system designed to meet the specific requirements of the building on which it’s placed to allow works at height to be conducted in safety. The system, together with its associated supports, will have been interfaced into the building fabric to deliver maintenance personnel and material at height. It will also enable direct hands-on access to the exterior or interior of the building for:

  • Cleaning, planned routine inspection, conditional façade survey and maintenance
  • Delivery of façade panels (replacement)
  • Service repairs & replacement of items including atrium lighting, signage, aircraft warning lights, ceiling mounted ducts, piping, louvers, fins, brise-soleil, CCTV & AV systems and internal lift shafts

When would you need to revisit your façade access strategy?

Façade cleaning strategies are customised to cater for a building maintenance and cleaning cycle with an average lifespan in the region of 25 years making it a long-term capital investment. To reap the dividends in terms of whole-life costs, it is vital that the strategy is:

  • Operationally efficient: Maximising cleaning time with minimal time to set-up
  • Reliable: easily maintained with a minimum of downtime
  • Safe (with preferably no residual risks)

Façade access systems may no longer be as effective due to changes and evolution of the roofscape such as new plant or services which alter the system operational envelope. This may have a negative effect on reaching critical locations by creating tight or hard to reach corners, increasing overall cleaning times and affecting façade warranties. In certain situations, building management are expected to deliver a clean façade using limited resources. For example, it could require additional abseil access equipment to be rigged to unverified building structures to reach otherwise unserved areas of the building which could have serious implications due to non-compliance with Health and Safety Regulations.

Furthermore, unplanned events which increase utilisation also need to be considered. For example, in the event of:

  • Large number of defective façade panels replaced at short intervals
  • Prolonged façade rectification works
  • High usage time to maintain add-on façade features (façade lightings, green wall, etc.)

In these cases, the façade access systems will tend to be over utilised resulting in early wearing system components well before the end of system service life.

Should you retrofit or replace your façade access system?

A well-maintained façade access system, from a competent manufacturer, which is used regularly will continue to provide service indefinitely if quarterly maintenance and LG3 periodic examinations are carried out at appropriate intervals.

Where machines are unused for long periods, in the elements, the equipment will deteriorate creating issues with motors, gearboxes and electrical systems. The question of whether a retrofitting or replacement will be the suitable solution will depend on the condition of the system.

Retrofit and refurbishment of a façade access system

Retrofitting of façade access equipment is the replacement of essential but perishable components. These could include motors and gearboxes, switches and electrical wiring, and control panels. These components will deteriorate over time and more quickly with lack of use. Retrofitting is also useful to increase the reach or lifting capacity of the system, to allow the addition of glass replacement.Replace or retrofit facade access side view of CIS building

These options need to be considered carefully. For example, prior to 1999 it was quite common for roof machines to operate in uplift, where the overturning moment of the cradle was resisted by the mass of the roof. This relied on securely tying the track and plinths into the roof slab. These machines were much lighter than post-1999 machines as they were not generally counterweighted. As a result, the roof structure supporting these machines was lighter than those for counterweighted roof machines. In this instance, maintaining or retrofitting the existing machine may be the only option as a new machine will could be too heavy for the structure.

Benefits of retrofit and refurbishment

  • Cost-effective solution as retrofitting systems or components is less expensive than the design and installation of a new façade access system
  • Extending operational life by restoring the condition
  • Performance improvements through hydraulic, structural and mechanical overhauls to increase efficiency
  • Up-to-date safety features to align with local and industry safety regulations
  • Reduced downtime through improved reliability and modern technology

Replacement of a façade access system

Replacing the system can allow for additional features to be added, additional reach, and glass replacement. Where these add weight to the working end of the machine jib, this will raise the loads transmitted into the structure. A structural engineer will need to assess if the building can withstand the forces from the additional loading. The layout of the roof track can be altered but this will also require careful consideration as often the plinths supporting the tracks are aligned with column and beam positions in the structure.

Cranage for the replacement will also be a consideration. Most roof machines are installed as part of the original construction of the building with the tower crane being used to lift them to the roof in sections. Cranage can be arranged in most instances with road closures and out of hours lifts in busy central locations. The overall cost and feasibility can influence the decision whether to look at an alternative solution.
For example, you may have a building with an uplift machine which is no longer serviceable and cannot be returned to service. If the building structure is unable to support the loads applied by a new machine, abseiling could be a viable alternative.

When making a holistic decision to replace or retrofit a façade access system, it should also encompass commercial evaluation, i.e. capital investment and associated payback. With first installation at construction stage, the main contractor procures façade access systems largely on the basis of cost. This differs during replacement or retrofitting stages as building owner/stakeholder(s) are directly involved. They will expect the system to perform with minimal deterioration, breakdowns and repairs during operational life.

Benefits of replacing

Is your old building maintenance unit (BMU) inefficient or too expensive to repair? Has the building undergone major renovations or alterations? If so, a replacement BMU designed specifically for your building’s needs is the ideal solution.

The benefits of a replacement BMU are:

  • Bespoke design and installation to fit the specific facade access requirements of the building ensuring compliance with updated building regulations
  • Latest safety features which comply with local and industry safety regulations
  • Easier servicing due to more modern design and technology
  • Opportunity to add innovative features such as options for glass handling and replacement, greater cradle capacity, capability to assist with future building upgrades, and improved capacity to handle materials

Why choose TÜV SÜD Dunbar Boardman?

The decision to retrofit or replace must be weighed up against system usage and its efficiency, and costs prior to finalisation.

Our Façade Access team offers you technical expertise that suits your current requirements for the building based on our wide global experience in sectors such as retail, commercial, leisure, healthcare, education, industrial and residential. With a real practical understanding of the built environment, our advice is always focused on delivering to your project objectives. Contact our team today to find out how we can add value to your project.

Mohamed Merchant // Associate Director // TÜV SÜD

Mohamed Merchant is an Associate Director at TÜV SÜD Dunbar Boardman, Europe’s leading elevator, escalator and access consultancy. Operating throughout Europe, the Middle East and India, TÜV SÜD Dunbar Boardman is part of TÜV SÜD, one of the world’s leading technical service providers, which has more than 24,000 employees located across over 1,000 locations.

Mohamed has 20 years’ experience in mechanical engineering, including 17 years in the façade access industry. During this time, he has designed and delivered façade access strategies and systems for major developments within the UK, Europe and Middle East, including high rise residential and commercial office developments, retail centres, refurbishment projects, hotels, hospitals and historic buildings.




Seaforth Land appointed TÜV SÜD Dunbar Boardman to provide façade access consultancy for this project.

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