How to specify a partitioning system

As an integral part of many office fit-outs, partitions offer a host of structural and aesthetic benefits and can make a major contribution to the overall appearance and quality of a finished space. However, specifying the right partitioning system can become somewhat of a minefield if you are unsure of what to look for. Here Joe Cilia, AIS FPDC technical manager, looks at what to consider in the specification process

With cost a major influence when it comes to system specification, it can be all too tempting to opt for the cheapest solution. While this achieves a short-term win in terms of saving money, it will soon become apparent if the partitioning solution selected does not meet the needs of the area in which it is installed.

An understanding of how the space is going to be used should therefore underpin any specification, as this will affect the levels of acoustic or fire performance required – or dictate whether the system needs to be relocatable or include storage.

Care should then be taken to ensure the system has been fully tested, ideally by an independent test laboratory accredited by UKAS, to meet the necessary performance requirements. It should be noted that this test will only give an indication of potential site performance as many other on-site factors will have an effect. Specifiers should not accept any substitution of system materials without further assessment, as alterations to materials may compromise performance.

Joe Cilia, AIS FPDC technical manager Joe Cilia, AIS FPDC technical manager

Writing a specification in partnership with a manufacturer will help ensure that key issues and details are considered in the design process.

While it may be a given to most, ensuring that the selected partitioning system is compliant with the latest building regulations is incredibly important. Not only will this guarantee that the solution itself is fit for use, meeting the demands that will be put upon it, but also that it is legally compliant. The person writing the specification is responsible for ensuring the product installed meets the legal requirements.

As budgets will differ greatly from project to project, with varying performance levels required depending on the installation in question, specifiers can make their budget work harder for them by speaking to a specialist, experienced contractor who should be able to suggest where cost savings can be made without compromising the end result.

Specification considerations may be steered by the company’s CSR or environmental policy statement. As a result, the need to meet these requirements can result in a very specific solution being needed – meeting a good BREEAM or SKArating, for example, can impact the initial specification process.

Comprising more than 100 good practice measures, the SKArating system means that an office fit-out project can be completely measured to ascertain its environmental performance by following a three-stage assessment process. BREEAM works much in the same way and although the current system applies to the building as a whole rather than just the fit-out, a non-domestic fit-out version will be available from BRE later this year.

Of course, while careful planning and budgeting can account for most things, the availability of the selected system can hold up the operation of the facility. Where specification takes place some weeks or even months in advance, this is not so much of a challenge. On projects where time frames are much more limited, however, an alternative plan of action must be put into place – off-site manufacture, for example, can help where completion dates are brought forward by reducing installation time.

Getting the right look and feel from a fit-out is just as important as ensuring it is able to meet performance requirements. According to the system finishes and layout of a partitioning system, it is possible to portray a very specific impression of a company just by getting the aesthetics right. When specifying a partitioning system, it is important to have a good idea of what exactly is required from the finished solution – be it to represent the look of a forward-thinking communications company or to give the impression of a strong, stable and historically long-standing company with a traditional corporate image.

Of course, while it is important to get the specification just right for the project in question, it is just as necessary to select a reputable contractor. In this respect, a good starting point is to look for a contractor that is a member of a trade association, such as AIS FPDC, where there is a need to adhere to a strict code of conduct and are equally guided in terms of meeting important quality standards, as described in the AIS FPDC best practice guide to the installation of partitioning.