Whether residential, commercial, or industrial, when you have a vacant property to protect, securing all accessible openings, such as windows and doors, is a must.
Traditionally, openings were covered with plywood or OSB (oriented strand board), and this is still practiced today. The term ‘boarding up’ is still commonly used, even though sheet steel is often the preferred choice.
Either way, covering windows and doors and protecting your vacant property is essential, and when the time comes for this protection to happen, you’ll need to know how to approach it, what can be done and when.
In this ‘ultimate guide,’ we’ve taken the most commonly asked boarding up and steel security questions and answered them in a single article.
From understanding when and how to ‘board up’ your vacant property to the surveying and installation processes involved, this post has you covered.
What Is Boarding Up?
When your property becomes vacant, boarding up is an essential part of the security process, helping you protect your assets from intruders.
‘Boarding up’ describes the process of installing boards to all the openings on a building, such as windows, doors and skylights, using plywood boards or steel sheets.
The process of using steel sheets to protect these openings instead is becoming known as steeling up. Often a more cost-effective and longer-term solution to vacant property security, once installed, steel security should protect your property for much longer than traditional wooden boards.
The Origins of Steel Security
Although steel has been mass-produced for hundreds of years, it wasn’t necessarily used for security purposes until the 20th century.
Steel doors quickly became essential for businesses fearing break-ins and theft. Decades later this trend of steel security spread to residential and commercial properties too. In the 1990s consumer magazines began testing different types of doors, with steel doors outperforming wooden ones significantly.
Sitex (formerly SitexOrbis, but now just Orbis) is recognised in the UK as the original vacant property service provider. Essentially creating the residential security market, Sitex introduced security solutions and techniques that are still being used today such as steel boarding up.
There are a variety of threats that require the need for steel boarding up, typically when a property is left vacant or vulnerable for extended periods of time.
If properties remain empty without steel security in place, they can quickly become vulnerable to criminal activities including squatters, thieves, arsonists and even youths looking for an ‘alternative playground’.
Once a property is vacant, the structure itself and the assets within are under greater threat of illegal activity taking place. At this point, it is critical to ensure your property is protected.
Why Use Steel Security Instead of Plywood Boards?
When it comes to boarding up, you typically have two options, steel sheets, or plywood boards.
Despite the cost for plywood boards being much cheaper, steel is the only long term solution to help indefinitely protect your vacant property.
We’ve written an entire blog comparing steel sheets with plywood boards, but essentially it comes down to security and durability. Over time wood warps and delaminates, creating opportunities for criminals to gain access. On top of this, arsonists can use wooden boards as fuel to start fires meaning that it often isn’t covered in your vacant property insurance.
As you will see further down the page, steel eliminates these issues and is the only long term security solution you should consider for your vacant property.
Boarding up is also a vital stage in the timeline for Landlords and managing agents who must meet the requirements of their insurers, making sure that they are still covered despite the circumstances.
Most standard home insurance providers will not cover properties if they are unoccupied for over 30 days, but it’s important to understand your specific policy as requirements may vary from provider to provider.
When it becomes apparent that your property will be left vacant for an extended period of time, the Code of Practice for Unoccupied Buildings should be followed. This includes a number of precautions property owners can take such as turning off water and gas supplies, clearing waste and sealing off letterboxes.
Despite not being essential for insurance purposes, it is becoming best practice for many property owners to also pay for steel security to further protect their assets as well.
Despite the additional costs, when you compare it with the price of removing squatters, typically starting at £5,000 for the legal fees alone, it can be money well spent to further protect your property.
Boarding Up – Where is Steel Security Used?
As we’ve mentioned earlier in this post, boarding-up is essential to protect properties from criminal activity and to validate insurance policies, however, what needs to be boarded up to achieve this?
Almost every building can be boarded up to securely protect it. From residential properties, commercial buildings, and industrial warehouses, to churches, stately homes, and even ‘listed’ buildings, boarding up is a universal security solution.
Every access point below the second floor must be boarded up, or, to phrase it differently, any access point that is accessible via a flat roof, floor or fire escape ladder. This helps protect against all types of attempted criminal access and activity.
Boarding Up – What Should Be Boarded Up?
Windows and doors of your vacant property, are the most obvious entrances to cover, but when it comes to boarding up, it’s vital to ensure that every opening is considered, even those that might not be conventional entry points but could be used as such by criminals.
These might include entrances such basements, skylights and even delivery points such as barrel access pubs and bars.
You might also have a conservatory attached to your property, despite thinking that you’d have to board up all the windows, what most security providers would do is board up the access to the main property as a way of remaining cost-effective and secure.
How Long Does My Property Need To Be Boarded Up?
There is no definitive answer to the above question as it is entirely up to the property owner and what suits their specific needs.
You might need to board up a property to protect it due to a sudden vacancy or prior to demolition, each will have different timescales.
It’s important to note that this is why it’s advisable to use steel sheets, as opposed to plywood boards, because they can last indefinitely.
Over time, plywood begins to deteriorate and break down, making properties more vulnerable which is why, if you’re boarding up, it’s important to consider steel.
If your property is set for demolition, it’s important to find out if you can leave boards up as long as needed, then have them removed prior to demolition.
What Type of Steel Security Sheets Are There?
Steel is used in a variety of industries and is available in a range of thicknesses, ranging from as low as 0.5mm to 50mm and beyond.
However, the most common sizes used for boarding up are typically 1.-2mm thick, delivering the required levels of protection.
There are also two different varieties of sheet steel – solid and perforated.
Typically, solid steel sheets are suitable for every installation unless you need light within the premises to aid in viewings. In these instances, using solid and perforated sheets together, at a ratio of 2:1, should work well.
What Does The Boarding Up Process Involve?
The first part of the process should be a site assessment, so the security provider can fully understand, and consult with the client on, where the vacant property is vulnerable and what type of boarding up is required to best protect it.
On-site, a security professional should conduct an extensive and thorough survey of your property –
- Assessing the number of access points and openings
- Measuring their dimensions
- Calculating the amount of steel needed (and when and how it should be installed).
A site survey should also highlight additional risks such as fire escapes and access points next to flat roofs, all potential access routes for criminals.
What Tools Are Used For Boarding Up?
One of the most important tools relates to the anti-tamper fixings that should be used on steel security.
A unique security bit is required to screw in anti-tamper fixings. It is only with this tool that you can be sure steel is securely fixed in place and resistant to tampering by criminals attempting to use tools such as screwdrivers or drills.
Compared with plywood boarding up, usually fitted with simple nails and screws which can easily be removed, using anti-tamper fixings means your property will be well protected.
What Tools Are Used To Cut Steel Boards?
Solid or perforated, steel is usually delivered in large sheets that are then cut to the required size.
These sheets are usually 8ft by 4ft and are cut on-site by installation teams to ensure they accurately fit the window frame or opening they are covering.
This means that a tool called a nibbler has to be used.
A nibbler is designed specifically to cut through sheet metal without leaving any distortion and means that the steel will fit accurately into the desired location.
Available as manual cutting tools to snip and punch holes from sheet metal, powered nibblers are used when extensive cutting is required.
How Do You Board Up With Steel Sheets?
Depending on the material of the access point in question, boarding up must be approached in different ways.
For example, once cut to size, steel sheets should be placed over window frames and secured in place with anti-tamper screws. This combination of being wedged in place, using friction and anti-tamper screws, means that steel screens will be flush with the window or opening.
A tight fit and the use of special fixings means it’s impossible for criminals to use a crowbar or other domestic tools to remove steel panels.
How Can Steel Security Doors Help When Authorised Access Is Required?
Steel security doors are also available and are used to protect properties being accessed illegally.
With the standard door size of 900x2200mm, they are fitted with 2, five-lever deadlocks locking into the top and bottom of the doorway.
When access is required, there are a number of different locking systems to consider, depending on the property and location.
Keys are the most widely used options to gain access through steel security doors, with many security providers offering options on having the same key for both top and bottom locks, or different keys for both.
Keyless options are also available if you’d rather not be relying on a key holding service. These can include options such as number pads, keypads or even smart locks.
It’s important to check with your security provider to understand the best access options for steel security doors.
How Long Does Boarding Up Take?
The time it takes to board up a property depends on the type of building being protected and how many installers there are.
Typically, a team of 3 should be able to board up between 30-40 windows in an 8-hour day, including time spent measuring, building frames and cutting.
However, it’s important to consider the location of the windows and doors being boarded up. It will take less time to complete ground floor windows than second and third storey windows where the use of lifting machinery and platforms may be required.
What is The Cost of Boarding Up?
Prices for boarding up vary depending on the materials used and how long the boards/sheets remain in place.
Compared like-for-like, steel usually costs more than plywood, typically 10-15% more, but it can last indefinitely making it the more cost-effective choice.
Over the course of a year, plywood warps, delaminates, and ‘pulls away’ from fixings, increasing the likelihood that your property will be accessed by intruders. So, despite steel being more expensive, it provides much better levels of security for your property.
On average security, providers will charge between £3-£4 per opening per week for standard-sized windows and around £10-£15 for a steel security door. This would change for more obscure shapes and larger size windows.
This average cost means that to board up a traditional terraced house, you should be charged between £45-£65 per week to ensure its protection depending on your service provider.
Boarding up a property can conjure up a range of different questions that we hope we have answered for you in the above post.
It’s always important to speak to security experts before undertaking any security solutions.
Is it the right time to board up? Does the cost outweigh the threat? How long does it take? All of these questions are what you should be asking yourself; and what we have answered above in this comprehensive guide to steel security and boarding up. For any other advice around steel security, contact our expert team today.