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Report On B.I.S.F. Houses at Staines 1946

Part of our Historical Documents Series. The below unsigned report was submitted to the Housing Committee in 1946. The Author had previously visited the prototype housing demonstration site, located in Northolt and viewed the B.I.S.F Type A1 house. His comments below make direct comparisons between the high level of finish and materials used at Northolt to what was being built in the area of Staines.

Report on B.I.S.F. HOUSES AT STAINES 1946

1. In preparing notes on the B.I.S.F house, inspected with the chairman of the Housing Committee on 25th July, 1946, the following general considerations have been borne in mind: –

The B.I.S.F house has been designed by British Steel Houses Ltd in close consultation with the Government Departments concerned for use all over the country, in order to obtain the large quantities which are essential for mass production. It represents necessarily an average requirement and cannot reasonably be expected to meet all the criticisms of individual architects.  Matters, therefore, of individual preference or opinion, have been excluded as far as possible from these notes.

Prefabricated housing systems have not behind them the vast 
body of experience which exists in traditional building; they are all (including the B.I.S.F.) to some extent experimental, and unexpected and unpredictable troubles are apt to occur in the processes of manufacture and erection and in subsequent use.

Problems of cost and availability of materials have led, in the B.I.S.F. as in other types of building, to compromise and alterations from the original house shown at Northolt. 

It seems likely that further variations will occur as the work proceeds. Even under the present difficult supply situation, the Housing Committee and Its architects have some choice and some control in the case of traditional work; but in the case of the B.I.S.F. houses, the control and choice is exercised by the Ministry of Health, who, since they will not be responsible for maintenance, may not lay the same stress on factors affecting durability and maintenance as the Housing Committee might wish to do.

Subject to these general considerations, the following comments are submitted*.

a) Plan.

The plan is the standard one prepared by the Ministry of Works for use in prefabricated systems. It is a straightforward reasonably satisfactory arrangement for East-West aspects but will be unsatisfactory for North-South orientation. It is small, (880 sq. ft.) compared with the areas of traditional houses now being approved by the Ministry of Health. The small area is chiefly noticeable in the third bedroom, in which it is difficult to place a single bed satisfactorily.

(b) External Finish.   

The ground floor walls of the house, which on the original house at Northolt were of brick cladding are now formed of rendering on metal mesh.

While in recent years considerable advances in the technique of plastering and rendering have been made possible by work at the Building Research Station and by manufacturers, yet this type of construction has never in the past been considered satisfactory for permanent work and very many failures have occurred.

 The most likely failures are cracking, crazing or spelling off; in this house it was noticeable that the rendering had cracked in some cases below windows.    The troubles that may occur are unlikely to be serious structurally, but would spoil the appearance of the house and might give rise to minor troubles from rain and weather. The difficulty is, that it is virtually impossible to repair cracks neatly particularly with the rough “Tyrolean° finish adopted in this case and unsightly strips and patches will always be very noticeable where repairs have been carried out. The specification used by British Steel Houses represents the best modern practice in plastering and rendering but as a permanent external finish (compared, for example, with stone or concrete) it is by no means free from risk. It is understood that the specification is being amended to include expansion joints in the rendering below windows, which will reduce the risk of cracking.

(d) Heating.   

The heating system consists of an ‘Ideal’, Neo fire with back boiler, 30-gallon indirect cylinder, serving four radiators in addition to the normal domestic hot water services. By normal standards this is grossly overloaded and is likely to require very heavy firing to maintain reasonable temperatures. It is suggested that the Ministry of health or the Ministry of Fuel and Power be requested to furnish test results on this type of system, or alternatively, that they be requested to arrange a demonstration at which the Committee and possibly other local authorities, may have an opportunity of judging this system. Alternative summer heating for domestic hot water by electric immersion heater is feasible with this system and provision for insertion is made in the cylinder. Additional cost for wiring and heating unit would, however, be involved.

(e) Internally.

The internal wall finishes are specified as plasterboard but in this house are of fibre board, the jointing covered partly with small wood fillets and partly with cloth strips fixed with adhesive. These finishing’s are a standard difficulty in prefabricated houses, where it is necessary to avoid normal in situ plastering.

With very dirty tenants, cover fillets are usually criticised as offering harbourage to vermin. Apart from this risk, which may or may not be serious unless slum dwellers are being rehoused in the Council’s new houses, the coverings to joints give a cheap appearance to the interior and are liable to damage. If fibreboard is used instead of plasterboard, the fire hazard becomes an important factor. Flameproofing of fibreboard is possible; but it is suggested that assurances on this point be obtained from the Ministry of Health.

  • Staircase:   The detail of the staircase at the return on the first floor landing is unsatisfactory; it is likely to be dangerous for children and will certainly be difficult to clean.     The fixing of the newels at the foot of the staircase is weak, but it is understood that this detail is being attended to.
  • Flooring – The ground floor,  (except in the kitchen which is tiled) is covered with square edged deal boarding laid direct onto the concrete and nailed to wood fillets embedded in the concrete. The concrete is finished with a brush coat of bitumen. The fillets are pressure creosoted to a sound specification but the hoarding is untreated. If these floors are covered by the tenants with lino, there is a risk that dry rot will develop and protective treatment to the underside of the timber is advisable. This could be done, at an extra coat. Alternatively the asphalt flooring now being widely used for housing could be laid instead of wood boarding without (as far as can be Judged) requiring any serious structural changes  in the house. The difference in cost in this case cannot be estimated until detailed prices for the house as it stands, are issued by the Ministry of Health.

(h) Outbuildings       The arrangement of the outbuildings has previously been discussed with the Committee but a small technical point was noted on this house in connection with the screen wall to the outhouse.

It is considered important that a damp-proof course should be provided beneath the coping. As this wall is of traditional construction, this can be provided without difficulty during erection.

3.   To sum up, while the house is undoubtedly pleasant in general effect, it shows a noticeable deterioration from the original house exhibited at Northolt.  It is less satisfactory in detail and durability of finish than normal traditional work and the heating system, in particular, requires investigation before its efficiency can be accepted.

The following information has been provided by Spelthorne Borough Council

There are a number of BISF Houses (British steel framed house) in 
Spelthorne.

These BISF houses were originally Council owned properties.  A lot were 
sold under the right to buy legislation. The Council then transferred all 
its housing stock to Spelthorne Housing Association (now a part of 
A2Dominion) in 1997.

The Stanwell Regeneration project in the area around Holywell Way has seen 
the demolition and replacement of a number of these houses.  There are 
still BISF houses in Longford Avenue in Stanwell, which is on the edge of 
the regeneration scheme.   There are further BISF houses along the Laleham 
Road in Shepperton between the junctions of Littleton Lane and Squires 
Bridge Road, also in Fairview Drive and Bravington Close.  There are also 
BISF houses in Lower Sunbury in Oakington Drive, Lime Crescent and Elm 
Drive.


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