Wiping Out The Temporary Lifespan Myth

Editors note: Whenever we write an article here at the BISF House website, we try to be as accurate and as balanced as possible. But today, this article is somewhat of a rant, for which I make no apologies whatsoever. It relates to certain companies that we both respect & admire within the construction industry. Large companies that deal with BISF refurbishments on a regular basis, who should know better than to contribute to the badly misinformed urban MYTH that BISF were only ever built as temporary dwellings.

Most BISF Homeowners and readers of this website will no doubt be fully aware that BISF Houses were built as permanent homes, with a similar life expectancy to traditional post war brick properties.

Prior to the creation of the BISF House website, the Internet was awash with misleading information that commonly referred to BISF houses as being nothing more than temporary prefabs with a shelf life of just 10-15 years.

Temporary post war prefabricated bungalows were built across Britain in huge numbers just after the WWII and many of these building did indeed have a short expected lifespan. Commonly constructed using asbestos roofing sheets and clad with pressed steel panels, these bungalows were instantly recognisable to the public as temporary prefabs. These small lightweight units were pre-assembled inside factories and often in two halves which were then loaded onto the back of lorries and transported around the country. On site they were placed onto simple foundations and bolted together in very short time. Hence the name prefabricated or pre-made.

prefab-exhibit-1945

Around the same time, 36,000 BISF homes were also built around the country and, due to material & skilled labour shortages, they were also covered with asbestos roofs and clad with pressed steel panels. In effect and not surprisingly, the BISF house, at least in the public’s eye, was simply a two storey big brother version of the temporary bungalow and so the MYTH and misinformation began.

To make matters worse, the term prefabricated was also applied to the steel framed BISF house, suggesting that like the temporary bungalows, these houses were pre-assembled off site or inside a factory when in fact they were not. Of course, certain key parts of the building, including the steel frame and roofing panels were pre-manufactured in advance just as timber roofing joists, drywall panels and a myriad of other building materials are today but, the BISF house was never pre-formed, pre-assembled or Pre-fabricated in any way.


The BISF House is a “Steel Framed Non-Traditional building”, nothing more, nothing less. Some Non Traditional building however appear remarkably different to others as much depends upon the materials used to clad or build the exterior visible surface.

Take a look at the mage below. What do you see?

whitefarm steel

What you are looking at is a steel framed non-traditional house built in a very similar way to the BISF house, the only real difference is what you can see on the outside. Whilst a BISF house is clad in a mixture of unconventional materials this house has been clad in a brick skin. Yet I would suspect that nobody would consider this house to be a prefab in any shape or form.

Move forward into the 21st Century and slowly but surely, thanks in part to this website and our members and community, we are making a difference, putting the record straight and re-educating the public and commercial sector alike.

But, wiping out the temporary lifespan and prefab myth is proving to be anything but simple, particularly when well respected market leading companies continue to perpetuate these old MYTHS. Take a look at the examples below:

WEBER SAINT GOBAIN

Weber is part of an international group employing more than 10,000 people across 48 countries worldwide. The company is also a major manufacturer of external insulation systems supplying the UK market.

Webers own website describes the BISF House as,

“The BISF house is a steel framed house, designed and produced by the British Iron & Steel Federation and erected around the country from 1946. In Cambridgeshire these temporary prefab homes, constructed in 1950, are still standing securely today”. LINK

HENRY BOOT CONSTRUCTION

Henry Boot are an award winning contractor operating to the highest standards in the construction industry. They work closely with local authorities and social housing groups nationwide in expertly refurbishing and renovating BISF properties.

We have great regard for the work and expertise that Henry Boot deploys in relation to its work with BISF properties but we were equally shocked at the following statement displayed on their company website in respect to BISF renovations in Barnsley:

BISF properties are prefabricated structures erected after the Second World War to provide temporary accommodation during the housing shortages.

Originally designed to last 10-15 years, many of the properties are still inhabited over 60 years later, meaning modernisation works are essential to allow residents to continue living in their homes” LINK

Last but certainly not least, this last company, albeit apparently much smaller in size than those previously mentioned, manages to take pole position of our MISINFORMATION AWARD.

COBALT CARBON FREE

Claim to offer internal and external wall insulation to owners of BISF houses with 30 years’ experience in a wide range of situations including social housing. They have a full page dedicated to the work that they had carried out on a “BISF” house including before and after photographs with the title:

Pollington BISF Bungalow, Goole

This 1960’s system built bungalow was leaking heat due to age, lower build standards, incorrect materials and lacking production quality.

Not only are the photographs NOT of a BISF House but sadly they ARE of a Post War Temporary Bungalow which is sad really as we think they did a great job on the renovation.LINK

FACE TO PALM

Great job but sadly not a BISF house

Now, please don’t think we are on a witch hunt here because we are not but unless we strive to highlight these indiscretions and wipe out these false MYTHS, the reputation of our homes will continue to be tarnished and that is one thing we will never accept and nor should you.

The plain and simple truth is that companies who deal with BISF houses should know better better than to display incorrect information that serves nothing more than to undermine their own reputations without needing any help from us to do so.

If you yourself find any similar examples of companies displaying incorrect information regarding BISF houses then please feel free to add your links below and together we may continue to make a difference.

Responses

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  1. Hi Marc, excellent work here again! It’s amazing how much difference this website has made on the net to correct these myths.

    I was at the local leisure centre the other day and suddenly realised that the hall in which the swimming pool is was constructed much like a BISF house, but of course on a larger scale and much more recently (less than 25 years old at a guess).. Steel stanchion, diagonal bracing in the corners and roof trusses with profiled steel cladding on the walls and profiled sheet roofing.

    I was thinking it’s important to remember that even though steel framed construction is fairly rare for a house in the UK, it’s a very standard method for commercial and industrial buildings – everything from sports centres and supermarkets to warehouses and skyscrapers, so it is a tried and tested system, unlike say the PRC systems that were found to be defective. No-one would consider the Sears Tower to be a temporary prefab!

  2. Hello Ed, thank you foryour kind comments.
    I agree with you 100%, there are a huge number of buildings in the UK built in exactly the same way as you describe, including a vast number of schools and commercial buildings.
    The C.L.A.S.P building system is very similar in many ways to that used in the BISF House and has most widely been used in the construction of Schools, Universities and other public buildings.
    The simplicity of the steel frame building technique in today’s building sector is constantly developing and widening due to a number of factors including speed and flexibility of construction. In many ways, what made this type of construction so attractive in a post war era is even more relevant in today’s climate. System that reduce construction time, costs and manpower will continue to thrive and as you say, without the stigma often wrongly associated with similar post war systems.

    In the early days and prior to the formation of the BISF House.com website, the internet was indeed awash with negative stigma in relation to BISF properties. This stigma was having such a negative impact upon BISF houses in the marketplace that we decided urgent action was needed in order to reverse this trend through information and education which resulted in the formation of our site. I do believe that together we have made significant strides toward achieving our goal but we still have a long way to go. None of this could have been achieved alone though Ed as without valuable members like yourself spreading the word to all corners of the internet, we would probably still be stuck in the darker days of BISF history.

    It brings to mind the saying, “Together we can make a difference” and thanks to the members of the BISF House Community, we already have.

    Thanks Ed
    My best regards
    Marc

  3. Here’s an image of a Scape system steel, modern steel frame that is the predecessor to the C.L.A.S.P system. It really is very similar in many ways to the BISF steel frame.

  4. It seems that the confusion over what was meant to be permanent and what temporary and what was meant by ‘prefabrication’ goes right back to the period immediately after the Second World War when the BISF houses were built. I found the following extract from a paper by Nick Hayes in Volume 25 of History of Technology and added a few comments in [].

    Ed

    ‘misunderstanding and prejudice are about equally mixed in the public mind’. This was the ‘product of cellophane wrapped publicity campaigns’ and the ‘deeply rooted acceptance … of brick-wall and pitched roof traditional construction … as the ultimate in building technique’ [it would seem the latter is still true, even though many new materials and techniques that allow greater energy efficiency, quicker construction etc have been invented since the 1940s and taken up in commercial buildings, but the house building industry is resistant to them – Ed].

    Non-traditional houses thus continued to be viewed, as they had in the inter-war period, as ‘makeshift’ or ‘temporary’, where local authorities viewed them as ‘ten year’ expedients, after which the government would ‘take the damned things away’. Indeed misunderstanding, apparently, was endemic: ‘much nonsense’ being ‘talked about prefabrication, chiefly because the meaning of the word had not always been fully understood’. Did it mean, as was commonly implied, ‘the manufacture of the the complete house and its rapid mechanical erection on site’, or rather, as the Burt Committee and many architectural opinion-formers would rather have it, ‘the application of certain factory methods in the mass production of certain component parts, thereby reducing site costs’ for everyone? [Clearly the BISF house is prefabricated in the latter sense of the term but not in the former – Ed] Apologists for traditional methods again blamed the ‘confusion of thought’ on the ‘political propagandists’ of prefabrication:

    They insist on representing it as a technique providing a ready-made solution to the housing problem, gifted by progressive scientific thinkers to a grateful nation, but rejected by a backward and reactionary building industry, intent on preserving intact the twin citadels of craft monopoly and swollen profit. The public has been led to suspect that houses might now be rolling off the production line like typewriters or motor cars , were it not for the hidden and frustrating hand of vested interest.

  5. I am today feeling a great deal of frustration about this misinformation and myths around BISF houses being so prevalent. I spent almost everything I had buying my house in Twerton, Bath, without a mortgage, with the idea in mind that I might be able to get equity release to pay for a lot of maintenance and improvements. However, I have been informed by two financial advisors that no equity release company will consider any type of non-traditional built house. Again, the BISF house is lumped in with all post-war steel-framed construction. This ignorance is infuriating. Our BISF houses obviously have a great deal of value, are being bought and sold, and increase in value, so at least some people must have faith that they are a good investment.

    1. Felicity, I agree wholeheartedly with your statement above.
      The biggest challenge any BISF homeowner faces is indeed prejudiced misinformation from so called professionals who should know better.

      I have read many statements online that are false and misleading representations of our homes, some of these statements have been made by large multinational companies who actually deal with BISF houses on a frequent basis. I saw a post by Dr John in the questions section, venting his anger, and naming and shaming these companies who continue to spread falsehoods which in turn, damage the reputation and values of our properties, simply because someone can’t be bothered to research factual information regarding our assets.

      With so many companies, financial advisors, surveyors and even estate agents spouting utter rubbish, it is no wonder that this filters down to equally misinformed financial institutions, who alter their lending criterias based on this tosh which which has probably been provided by some ill educated RICS Surveyor who should indeed know better.

      I think this website, no scrub that, I know that this website has already changed perceptions and re-educated many professionals as to the true merits of these houses but still, much more needs to be done if our homes are to receive their true validation and status, as permanent, non defective structures, built with the same lifespan as a traditionally built property.

      There are companies out there who do accept these merits and act accordingly and without prejudice, but at present, they appear few and far between, which leaves us with the unenviable task of finding that elusive needle in the hay stack.

      The battle continues but the establishments need to be challenged if we are to ever correct this very real and most frustrating problem.

      Trish x