BSRIA relaunches Topic Guides

Construction compliance 3BSRIA is pleased to announce the relaunch of our information topic guides with the first release of this ‘At a Glance’ series TG07/2015 At a Glance – Airtightness available to download from the BSRIA website now.

The BSRIA Topic Guides are designed to be an at a glance publication introducing readers to key industry topics and suggesting further reading. BSRIA’s Information Centre is relaunching them with the aim of providing an introduction to key topics in the industry providing readers with an understanding of the area and how they can learn more. A new addition to the topic guides will be a feature by a BSRIA expert on the subject, offering a fresh insight. The airtightness topic guide features an insight into the legislation by our expert David Bleicher.

BSRIA’s Information and Knowledge Manager Jayne Sunley said ‘The topic guides are a great way of providing members and non-members alike with good information that will hopefully clarify some of the questions they have about topics they are new to, they’re not designed to be an all-encompassing guide but rather a starting point for anyone looking to learn more. The addition of the expert insight is just a way of showing readers that there is more to the topic than they might have first thought’.

TG07/2015 At a Glance – Airtightness offers readers a view of why airtightness is important for our building stock and how a building can be tested. It is now free to download from the BSRIA website for members and non-members alike.

Future 2015 titles in the At a Glance series will include Legionella, Data Centres and Smart Technology.

Have you been blackmailed by your Dishwasher? Who Owns the Smart Future?

This blog was written by BSRIA's Henry Lawson

This blog was written by BSRIA’s Henry Lawson

Having recently updated BSRIA’s key market studies on Building Automation Controls (BACS), Building Energy Management (BEMS) and Smart Evolution – towards the Internet of Everything, I was struck by a world in a state of flux with  implications for the built environment and technology in general that could be as profound as they are unpredictable.

The structure and make up of our buildings and cities have always been intensely political. The most visible of all human creations, they speak volumes about our abilities, our status and our values and our aspirations. I felt this last month  when viewing the ruins of Ephesus – once the second city of the Roman Empire –  as much as when  I am visiting London or Chicago.

At least since the turn of the millennium there has been a tacit assumption that while technology is the great enabler, much of the change in the way our buildings and cities are designed and organised will be driven by social concerns, typically expressed through politics. In particular, the perception that the threat of climate change requires far reaching action has led to a sustained series of targets, guidelines and regulations to increase both energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy, which naturally impacts on the built environment as one of the biggest consumers of energy.

Is this movement losing momentum? The financial crisis and recession affecting much of Europe, North America and some other parts of the developing world has proved to be the most prolonged since the 1930s. Even countries which appeared to escape the worst impact have since experienced either recession or a dramatic slowdown, including Australia, Canada and of course China.

With falling or stagnating production and rising government debt levels in so many countries, it is no surprise that finances and basic economics have come to the fore. Violent conflicts, especially in the Middle East, Africa  and Eastern Europe, but overflowing into other parts of the world, and in turn fuelling mass movements of refugees and economic migration are also seizing attention in developed countries as well.

All of this has sometimes appeared to leave the “green agenda” somewhat on the back foot. Even in countries like Germany, Austria, Australia and New Zealand, where Green parties have attracted mass support and had a major influence on government, they have seemed to become more marginalised. Britain’s recent elections resulted in a new majority government which has very quickly moved to relax requirements on the energy efficiency of new buildings, and also to phase out subsidies for wind power.

While there is argument as to how far this is simply a question of means, and how much it represents a shift in priorities, there is little doubt that measures to improve energy efficiency or to promote use of smart technology face an uphill path if they cannot also provide a quick pay-back.

Where governments get involved in technology, it tends to be for old fashioned economic reasons.  When  mega-corporations  like Microsoft, Apple, Google and Amazon have been in the spotlight it has mainly been because of accusations of anti-competitive practices or because of their tax policies. Rather less thought has been given to the ways in which companies like these could change the basic structure of society, the balance of power, and the whole environment.

Increasingly these global brands interact directly with a global audience, influencing their behaviour, and in turn being influenced by them. It is no accident that Microsoft, Apple, Google and Amazon, having established themselves as consumer brands, are now all active in the area of smart buildings, ranging from the smart home to, in Microsoft’s case, providing the data crunching to manage and optimise whole campuses of buildings.

Increasingly we can link these to wearable devices and to creators of virtual realities which could radically change our day to day activities and environment. Even the basic blocks  from which buildings are made can have ‘smart’ properties, from ‘self-healing’ bricks to glass that responds dynamically to different levels of light.

threatsWith artificial intelligence already surpassing human intelligence in certain well defined areas – such as chess playing – questions are raised about how far the technology goes, who owns it, and how much power they will have. Even our homes and offices can study, learn and predict our habits and our preferences, in ways that can certainly be useful, but also potentially disturbing.

For over a hundred years there have been fears about the prospect of vital areas of technology  being dominated by a single concern or perhaps a cabal of companies. So far, in practice, it has been innovation itself  that has come to the rescue. Even the most nimble footed technology giants have been caught off-guard by new waves of technology, from IBM, to Microsoft to Nokia. In the case of building technologies the requirements are particularly diverse, and  it is quite unusual to find a country where a single supplier accounts for more than 25%-30% of the market.

Nonetheless as we look to a future where corporations and, by implication, governments have access to information about almost every aspect of where we are, what we are doing, how we feel and what we want and fear.

While you can probably rest assured that your dishwasher probably doesn’t have a motivation to blackmail you (why were those extra glasses washed out at 3 o’clock last Thursday morning?) you can be less assured that it won’t soon have the evidence to do so.

More information about the latest editions of BSRIA’s market studies on Building Automation, Building Energy Management, and Smart Evolution is available here.

Overheating in homes

This post was written by BSRIA's Saryu Vatal

This post was written by Saryu Vatal, Senior Consultant of BSRIA’s Sustainable Construction Group

BSRIA’s Residential Network organised an event on the 22nd of July focussing on the issue of overheating in homes with an excellent line up of speakers. Nicola O’Connor started the day summarising an extensive research project by the Zero Carbon Hub that brought together input from government, industry and academic experts to understand the challenges around tackling the risk of overheating in homes (http://www.zerocarbonhub.org/current-projects/tackling-overheating-buildings). Chris Yates from Johnson and Starley made an appraisal of the assumptions and requirements within the Building Regulations and associated guidance as well as the implications for mechanical ventilation system manufacturers. Neil Witney from DECC explained the challenges around defining and regulating of overheating within homes, current policies and mechanisms that may be introduced in the future in response to the growing body of evidence highlighting the issue. Paul Ciniglio from First Wessex shared the organisation’s findings from several research projects and experience from their own developments, which resonated with issues highlighted by members of the audience. Bill Gething of Sustainability + Architecture and professor at the University of West England brought into perspective how changes in the way homes have been designed and built over the recent years has led to a shift in the performance of homes. James Ford, partner at Hoare Lea discussed some key considerations for designers to address the issue at early stages, to help minimise risk and dependence on active cooling solutions.

Extent of overheating

Evidence indicates that up to 20% of homes in England may already be overheating. Areas where additional risks have been highlighted include:

  • Common areas in apartment blocks, especially where community heating is installed – these areas are not assessed using SAP as they are outside the dwelling envelope. In reality, being unoccupied spaces these are often not modelled for their thermal performance (and energy use) at all. Community heating is being incorporated in an increasing number of projects and the supply network remains live even in the summer to meet the domestic hot water demand. Ensuring that the specification and installation of insulation for the distribution pipework is adequate is becoming increasingly important as buildings are made more airtight. Often stairwells and circulation areas have a high proportion of glazing and, with recent improvements in the general standard of construction and materials, tend to retain a large proportion of the heat gains. It is now important to incorporate a ventilation strategy for these spaces so that the accumulated heat can escape.
  • Urban areas – the average temperatures in city centres can be more than 4°C higher than rural areas. Flats are more common to city centres and these are often close to sources of noise and air pollution and have limited, if any, potential for cross ventilation. All these factors can combine to limit the effectiveness of natural ventilation in addressing the build-up of heat and not just in the summer. Building designs that incorporate large proportions of glazing in their facades, such as penthouses, if not carefully designed, can require air change rates that are unrealistic to achieve, using natural or mechanical ventilation systems.

Need for a definition

A number of sources and definitions are being referred to currently when evaluating for the risk of overheating in homes. These include CIBSE’s Environmental Design Guide A (2006) which sets standards for comfort, although it is not mandatory to use this to demonstrate compliance with the Building Regulations. Dynamic modelling through tools such as TAS and IES offer the opportunity of making a more comprehensive evaluation than SAP, but this option is skill, time and cost intensive. Building Regulations do not relate to limiting overheating for thermal comfort, just limiting the use of fuel and power for air-conditioning. The minimum evaluation for demonstrating compliance with Criterion 3 of Approved Document Part L of the Building Regulations needs to be carried out using SAP. While SAP is not intended to be a design tool, it is accepted that it is the default tool the industry uses widely.

Research projects have highlighted that dwellings can demonstrate a risk of overheating when evaluated against the CIBSE standard but not when modelled in SAP. Surveys from the Zero Carbon Hub study showed that nearly 60% of the housing providers surveyed had checks in place to assess the risk of overheating. However, only 30% of these housing providers explicitly included the requirement for considering the risk of overheating as part of their employees’ requirements to architects and designers. This suggests a missed opportunity for the issue to be addressed early on in the process, when cost and energy efficient measures may be effectively incorporated.

There are several challenges around the definition of conditions under which overheating can be said to occur as several factors contribute to this, including but not limited to air and radiant temperatures, humidity, air velocity, level of activity the adaptability of the individual. There are several checks that can be built into the design process which can help identify the risk at an early stage and allow for a method for mitigating these to be set up and followed through.

Contributing factors
The energy efficiency of homes in the UK has improved significantly in terms of reduction of space heating loads. This has come about in new homes through Approved Document Part L 1A of the Building Regulations and in existing homes through schemes such as the Green Deal. Homes are now less leaky and better insulated to keep warmth in but attention and emphasis is needed on measures to facilitate the expelling excess heat adequately when temperatures rise.

Homes are expected to provide comfortable conditions for occupants all year round and through a range of different occupancy patterns, which may in reality be considerably different to the standard assumptions made in modelling tools like SAP. It is possible that if modelling for thermal comfort is carried out assuming worst case assumptions for occupant density, external conditions and hours of occupancy, many homes would require mechanical cooling. There are, however a number of common sense measures that can be applied to ensure the impact of key contributing factors are minimised. These include controlling solar gains from south and west facing glazing and making provisions for adequate, secure ventilation especially when thermal mass has been incorporated in the structure.
The current extent of overheating in homes must be seen in the context of the anticipated changes in climate. With external temperatures expected to rise with an increased frequency of extreme weather conditions, homes built today must be fit for purpose for warmer summers.

Mechanical cooling?
There has been a rise reported in the installation of mechanical cooling systems in homes in the UK, more noticeably so in the south. While this may be an expected feature in high end homes, the cost of running these systems can be prohibitive, or at least perceived as so, for households where minimising expenditure on energy and fuel is a priority.
There is potential to develop low carbon mechanical cooling systems such as reversible heat pumps. The large scale uptake of these can however have some serious implications for energy supply and the capacity of the grid to accommodate a draw in peak summer months.

Way forward
In addition to affecting comfort, exposure to high temperatures over prolonged periods can have a significant impact on the health and well-being of residents. It is critical therefore to agree on a set of parameters that can help define overheating in homes and this should be carried out with input from bodies such as Public Health England.
Until a definition and modelling strategy is developed, designers and housing providers can refer to several good practice guides and research studies that help embed a common sense approach to design. There is significant potential to mitigate the risk of overheating in homes if early stage design decisions are taken with due consideration for the issue. The limitations of mechanical ventilation systems to help achieve comfort in homes must be acknowledged so that the final burden of an ill-considered design does not rest with the occupants.

References and further reading
http://www.zerocarbonhub.org/sites/default/files/resources/reports/ZCH-OverheatingInHomes-TheBigPicture-01.1.pdf
Design for Climate Change, Bill Gething and Katie Puckett, RIBA Publishing Feb 2013
http://www.arcc-network.org.uk/wordpress/wp-content/D4FC/01_Design-for-Future-Climate-Bill-Gething-report.pdf
http://www.zerocarbonhub.org/sites/default/files/resources/reports/Understanding_Overheating-Where_to_Start_NF44.pdf

To find out more about our Residential Network and to download the presentations from this meeting check out BSRIA’s Network pages.  To find out more about all of BSRIA’s networks contact tracey.tilbry@bsria.co.uk.

Construction Industry Summit announces its two day programme

CIS_Logo_New_DatesThe Construction Industry Summit: Government and Industry Working Together is a major two day event in the 2015 construction industry calendar taking place in London on 8-9 September at Grange, St Paul’s Hotel, in Central London.

Organised by the industry, for the industry, this flagship conference and network event, led by the Construction Industry Council (CIC), the Strategic Forum for Construction (SfC) and the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), will engage and empower stakeholders from across all sectors of the built environment to achieve and deliver the Construction 2025 vision.  Leading professionals from across all sectors will come together to share best practice, challenge conventional thinking and learn from one another. Over two days the Summit focus will be on two main themes – GROWTH and PEOPLE.

Day One – Tuesday, 8 September

Following introductory addresses by eminent government and industry speakers, day one will look at the key drivers of growth to 2025; the growth opportunities and risks that lie ahead; Government as a Client and; how innovation will help us to achieve growth. Presentations will be delivered by notable industry leaders and academics in their fields, with panels of experts providing a broad range of perspectives. Speakers include Dr Peter Hansford, Chief Construction Adviser; Rain Newton-Smith, Director of Economics at CBI; Mike Putnam, President and CEO, Skanska UK; Madani Sow, CEO & Chairman, Bouygues UK.

Day Two – Wednesday, 9 September

This day will be devoted to the people who make up the industry and whose talent and expertise it relies upon to deliver the Construction 2025 vision and its aspirations for the built environment of the future. How will construction compete with other industries to attract a mix of top new recruits? How will it develop their construction skills throughout their careers and retain expertise for the long term?

Keynote speakers include Adrian Belton, Chief Executive Officer of the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB); Jocelyne Underwood, Construction Membership Manager at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce and; Jo Pottinger, Head of HR Strategy and Development at BAM Construct UK. The day also features viewpoints from new recruits on what it’s like entering the industry today and four women on the frontline of the industry’s diversity challenge show how inclusive strategies will help the industry succeed in a global marketplace, forecast to grow by over 70% by 2025.

The Construction Industry Summit is supported by the Cabinet Office and by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. The latest construction policy announcements are expected to be made at the event.

You can find detailed information about the programme on the website as well as information about booking and commercial opportunities:

http://www.constructionindustrysummit.com/ 

 

Summary and Opportunities – Smart Cities and Smart Energy

Bill_Wright_3

Bill Wright, Head of Energy Solutions, ECA

Bill Wright, Head of Energy Solutions, ECA, briefly summarised the BSRIA/ECA Conference in Dublin on the 11th June 2015 looking at previous papers and highlighting a few areas for further discussion / questioning . A few topics that came to the fore in the presentations were:

Sustainability – what actually is the meaning of this? Is a business sustainable if it is highly energy efficient, uses recycled materials and has a very low carbon footprint, or is a sustainable business about being in business tomorrow? It is best to be a combination of both but what is the best mix? Ethics can also come into this. A difficult question which can be discussed at length!

Another area for discussion is who pays for the infrastructure put in place for these Smart Cities? It is not so long ago that you paid for internet access in hotels and public areas, now it is generally regarded as being free, but is it? The costs are being absorbed into everyday prices as we begin to take internet access for granted. Ultimately we all pay. The installation of Smart meters and their operation will be paid for by higher energy bills, but it is hoped that the cost will be offset by lower energy usage. Time will tell.

Smart meters were discussed and compared between the UK and Ireland. The Irish ‘thin’ meter seems more compatible with major software changes as all the ‘intelligence’ is in a central processor unit, away from the meter. The UK version has its own processor. There is a danger it will be obsolete before the final units are installed.

Smart meters will bring remote monitoring down in price and improve availability of data as well as the reality of being able to monitor peoples’ actions in buildings. Another ethical question – how far do we go in this? Actions such as putting the kettle on or heating can be monitored bringing in the possibility of monitoring care homes – but this could lose the human contact.

There was considerable emphasis on Smart Grids and how the nature of power generation was changing as renewable energy sources at the periphery of the grid network were providing an increasing proportion of the power required for a country. Networks were designed for central power plants distributing electricity to the periphery, not the other way round. Considerable effort has to be put in to keep the system stable as the proportion of renewable or local energy sources proliferate. New standards were being developed as part of the international wiring regulations on how to integrate all these systems together. These may appear in the next edition of the UK IET Wiring Regulations, BS7671.

There was mention of the European super grid where power can be transmitted east to west or north to south to enable power to be generated in the most advantageous places and move to meet peak demands in various countries at different times.

All of this will be controlled by, or use the internet for communication. How secure is this? Many examples are available of systems being hacked into and taken over. How can this be stopped when we become ever more reliant on secure communications? Systems must be designed in such a way so as to be impregnable!

The redevelopment of the Dublin Institute of Technology was given as a good example of sustainable development where many systems, design and construction could be integrated on a new site to give an excellent performing series of buildings. Good initial design and programming the construction is the key to the success of this.

All of this brings the building controls industry into greater importance and our profession must grasp this and ensure that systems are designed and installed to the highest standards. This gives many opportunities to get involved, especially on the installation side where it is deemed to be at present strictly for specialists. New areas of building design such as power over data and LVDC systems should be grasped and brought into use to improve energy use and overall sustainability. The recent announcement by Tesla of the home battery system to enable PV systems to store energy to be used overnight is an exciting development which we can all use.

We are working in exciting times and it is great to be in the Building Services Industry. Let’s keep ourselves at the forefront of technology for the good of all.

The presentations from the Energy and Sustainability Network event are available to download from the BSRIA website. 

Post Occupancy Evaluation: operational performance of a refurbished office building

This blog was written by Dr Michelle Agha-Hossein BEng (Hons), EngD, Sustainable Building Consultant for BSRIA's Sustainable Construction Group

This blog was written by Dr Michelle Agha-Hossein BEng (Hons), EngD,
Sustainable Building Consultant for BSRIA’s Sustainable Construction Group

My Engineering Doctorate study aimed to investigate how and to what extent office building refurbishment can help to improve occupants’ satisfaction, perceived productivity and well-being while optimising building’s operational performance.

A case study approach and a “diagnostic” post-occupancy evaluation style of framework were adopted in this study to evaluate the performance of a recently refurbished 5-storey office building in detail and find opportunities to reduce the gap, if any. The study divided the workplace’s environment into three categories: ‘physical conditions’, ‘interior use of space’ and ‘indoor facilities’. Employee surveys and interviews revealed that interior use of space was the most important aspect of the building influencing occupants’ perceived productivity, well-being and enjoyment at work (happiness) while the improvement of the indoor facilities had no significant effect.

The study also concluded that issues with the physical conditions (such as noise and temperature) causes negative effects on perceived productivity but improving this aspect to a higher level than it is required would not necessarily increase perceived productivity. In contrast, improving the interior use of space aspect of a workplace would increase employees’ perceived productivity proportionally.  These results, however, should be considered with cautious as employee’s satisfaction surveys and interviews revealed that employees’ levels of expectation might have affected their levels of satisfaction with their new work environment.  This could cause some bias in the results of buildings’ performance evaluation. A potential

Old working environment

Old working environment

solution to this issue is to measure occupants’ expectations for their future workplace at the design stage to try to fulfil these expectations as much as possible. How well the new work environment met occupants’ expectations is another factor that should be measured at the post-occupancy stage.

It was also noted that the occupants density at the building was low at the time of the study (17.7m2/person) and that the space was not fully and effectively utilised and more than 50% of the workstations were often not in use. The link between improving space utilisation and the building’s energy consumption as well as its occupants’ perceived

New working environment

New working environment

productivity and well-being merits further investigation. These results are important in the projects where increasing productivity is a key and the budget is limited.

In terms of energy performance and CO2 emission, it was revealed that the actual emission of the building was three times more than the design target. Most of the low cost opportunities identified to reduce the gap were related to the building management and control as well as occupants’ behaviour. I will be doing a webinar very soon on simple energy efficiency tips related to building management and control and occupants’ behaviour. Watch BSRIA’s website for more details about this webinar. 

BSRIA BIM Network event review – Delivering the Level 2 BIM tools

John Sands blog 1BSRIA’s BIM Network focusses on bringing particular issues around BIM to its members in an informal environment.  As part of this mission, it has previously held two events specifically looking at the Innovate UK (formerly Technology Strategy Board) competition to provide the missing Level 2 BIM components – the digital plan of work (dPoW) and the classification system, all wrapped up in a user-friendly on-line tool.

The competition was won by RIBA Enterprises, with a team including NBS, BIM Academy, BDP, Laing O’Rourke, Microsoft, Mott MacDonald and Newcastle University.  The period of the initial delivery phase was six months with a due date of mid-April.

This topic was first looked at in the Network in February 2014 when the competition was about to be launched, and a second event in September reported on progress and the outcome from the second stage of tendering.

The latest event, held on 21st April 2015, was timed to follow hot on the heels of the launch by RIBA Enterprises.  As it turned out, a beta version was the subject of a ‘soft’ launch, made at the BIM Show Live on the 8th April, with the ‘hard’ launch now planned for some time in June.  The contract calls for RIBA Enterprises to ‘maintain’ the product (known as the BIM Toolkit – but more about the title later) for five years so development is expected to continue.

Almost thirty people attended the half day event, and represented a wide cross section of the built environment industry with designers, constructors, manufacturers and utilities suppliers all taking part.

The format for the event was very simple, with the aim being to give as much time for debate as possible.  Following a brief introduction from the chairman, Rob Manning from the Government’s BIS BIM Task Group gave a presentation describing the background to the UK Government’s Level 2 BIM requirement, and to the Innovate UK competition.

John Sands 2Rob’s presentation ran through eight key themes, all seen as vital to enabling effective Level 2 BIM:

  1. The Level 2 BIM journey
  2. Consistent work stages
  3. The Employer’s role
  4. Innovate UK project – A digital tool for building information modelling
  5. Digital Plan of Work
  6. Classification
  7. Validation tool
  8. Multi mode access

The first three items demonstrated the need for BIM Toolkit, and the remaining topics explained the requirement contained within the Innovate UK competition.

Sarah Delany of RIBA Enterprises then gave a presentation on the Toolkit, giving some background to the project from RIBA Enterprises’ perspective, and demonstrating its main features.  The presentation looked at the various features of the Toolkit, against the backdrop of the project phases identified in PAS 1192-3:2013:

  • Assessment and need
  • Procurement
  • Post-contract award and mobilisation
  • Production
  • Following hand-over then “in-use”

The BIM Toolkit is a project-based tool.  As well as the usual project information, the tool lets the user input data and assign roles at each stage of the project (the RIBA 2013 Plan of Work is used).  Certain key themes are displayed in the pane on the left hand side (see red box in the image below) which can be completed for each stage.

John Sands 3The Toolkit also incorporates a classification structure (Uniclass 2015), and a data validation facility, although these weren’t included in the presentation.

There was a lot of information to take on board and the coffee break after the last of the presentations was welcomed by all.  It also gave the audience a chance to collect their thoughts and frame some telling questions.

As was expected, the questions were wide-ranging, from how the tool affected what information manufacturers were expected to produce, to how the tool was intended to be used.  This latter enquiry highlighted a key aspect of the tool, which had previously been misunderstood – at least by us.  One of the MEP constructors asked if the tool was meant to be hosted in the project environment, where all members of the team would be able to see it.  Rob Manning’s response was that the tool was meant to be used by the client, who would then export it into another environment for use by the project team if required.  The same person then asked if it was in fact a tool for the client and Rob Manning said that was indeed the case. We must admit that at that point we were struggling to see the collaborative element of the Toolkit.

The name of the tool also raised some questions.  Given that it was for the use of the client, someone asked if the name of Toolkit was perhaps not as helpful as it could be.  Rob Manning said in response that perhaps the name may need to be reconsidered.  Someone in the audience suggested that EIR Writing Tool or Briefing Tool may be more appropriate.

BSRIA is considering holding a similar event in early June.  This will give the industry another opportunity to ask questions once they have had a chance to look at the Toolkit in more detail, and consider how it relates to their working environment.  This will also act as useful feedback to RIBA Enterprises at the end of the beta testing period and help to shape the new release, currently due sometime in June.  In the meantime, BSRIA agreed to take any comments attendees may have between now and June and feed them back to RIBA Enterprises.

In summary, it was good to see the BIM Toolkit and to hear the Government client’s aspirations.  Also, it is worth bearing in mind how much has been achieved in such a short space of time.  However, we think that there is a lot of work still to be done to get the beta version to what was intended in the original competition brief.  It will be interesting to see how the June release has progressed.

Have a look at the beta version of the BIM Toolkit (www.thenbs.com/bimtoolkit) and send any comments to RIBA Enterprises.  It’s important to have your say and to help make the final output of real value to the construction industry.

BSRIA provides one-day training courses to introduce BIM and how to implement a BIM plan.  Visit https://www.bsria.co.uk/information-membership/events/ for more information

Renewable Energy – The Vital Missing Link

This blog was written by BSRIA's Henry Lawson

This blog was written by BSRIA’s Henry Lawson

For years, renewable energy, especially solar power and wind, has offered the tantalising prospect of almost zero carbon energy; tantalising because, even as costs fall, solar and wind are inherently unreliable, especially in temperate climates such as those that we ‘enjoy ‘in regions like Western Europe, and much of North America not to mention most of the developed world.

While a lot of progress has been made in demand response, which manages the energy that we need to match that which is available at any given time, we need a cheap, safe and efficient way of storing electrical power. Up until now, storage of electrical power in particular has been expensive and inefficient, and sometimes a bit scary.

The electrical vehicle market of course already faces this problem in spades. Electric cars are never likely to become main-stream so long as they need to go through a lengthy recharge process every 200 miles or so. It is therefore no surprise that much of the running is being made by manufacturers of vehicle batteries.

Tesla’s announcement that it is moving into the home energy storage market could represent a significant step. Being able to store electrical power not only makes local wind and solar power generation more practicable, it could also be invaluable in the many areas of the world where the grid is unreliable or virtually non-existent.

The biggest barrier, at least initially,  is likely to be the price tag. The 7kW battery which could, for example power a laptop for two days, or run one full cycle of a washing machine, or boil 10 kettles, will cost $3,000 to buy: That’s a very pricey home laundry service, and a frighteningly expensive cup of coffee, especially if you only need to use it occasionally.  The 10kW version represents slightly better value.

At this stage this is surely going to appeal only to wealthier individuals living away from a reliable grid, or those willing to pay to make a green gesture.  However, as with other technology initially aimed at the ‘smart home’ we may well find that much of the demand is actually from businesses. If you are running a business, even a small one, then any loss of service can do you immense damage. If an investment of a few thousand pounds or dollars can help guarantee that you will keep running, then it may well seem like an attractive return on investment.”

A further significant sign is Tesla’s announcement of an alliance with the international Energy Intelligence software supplier EnerNOC, which already has a presence in the USA, Canada, Germany, the UK, Switzerland, Ireland, Brazil, Australia and New Zealand.

Ultimately, success for energy storage in buildings, as in vehicles is likely to hinge on the two Cs: cost and capacity. It is a familiar catch 22 situation with most new and emerging technologies, where the market is waiting for the price to fall, but, other things being equal, production costs will only fall once you have achieved  real economies of scale.  The other factors that could influence the market are regulation, requiring builders or building owners to make provision for storage, or someone willing to take a loss leading initiative.

Safety concerns will also need to be allayed, given problems that have occurred with various types of battery technology, whether in laptops or vehicles. Storing a lot of energy in a very small space, inside the home is always going to raise concerns. And while batteries may offer the most promising option at the moment, other forms of energy storage might prove more effective in the end.

Still, the paradox is that sometimes problems get solved precisely because they are so big. The whole direction that the world is moving in, the growing realisation that we need to slash CO2 emissions,  demands cheap, efficient, safe energy storage. It seems likely that companies like Tesla, along with the other major energy companies involved in energy storage  will continue to concentrate their fire power on this until a viable solution emerges. And for the first few who get this right, or even approximately right, the potential returns are huge.

For then we really will have found the missing link.

Betting on the general election? Think again

This post was written by Julia Evans, BSRIA Chief Executive

This post was written by Julia Evans, BSRIA Chief Executive

There are number of ways of predicting the outcome of the general election and an equal number of ways of being wildly incorrect. Bookmakers across the land are considering the 7th May to be a field day equal only to the Grand National in terms of punter cash finding its way through the betting shop door and not finding its way out again.

The one thing that seems sure is that the outcome is likely to be uncertain with both a three way coalition and a rerun of the election in the Autumn both being seen as possibilities.  So, where does that leave construction and building services?

Just as education and the health service are perennials in political manifestos so construction has some constant themes. Although construction rarely makes front page news there are a number of issues that seem likely to make the political headlines. Maybe for reasons of one-upmanship, as in who is promising to build the most houses? It’s the Liberal Democrats, since you ask; who are promising 300,000 new houses a year and an assurance that they’ll all be energy efficient. Or the startling alignment and collaboration between the three main political parties who are promising to work together on climate change, which in itself is surely not a bad thing?

But what of the perennials that effect construction?

Representation at senior levels seemed threatened at one point by questions being asked about the continuation of the role of Chief Construction Advisor, this is now resolved at least for the next two years. However other things are less easy to solve – the impending skills shortage, the delivery of low carbon retrofit and the lurking influence of increasing devolution will all play their part. As will continuing pressure on late payment practices, poor treatment of supply chain and the weakening of centrally funded research programmes.

The uncertainty caused by the impending election has been felt in the slackening of demand for construction since the turn of the year, the recent results of our quarterly consultants survey suggested that there has been a halt in new work as we wait for a new government. This has also been seen in a reduction in the immediate pre-election period of house building starts just at a time when we need to be addressing the national shortfall.

So back to my punt at the bookies, I think I will put my money back in my pocket and find something more predictable to spend it on, maybe something in preparation for the barbeque summer?

Nearly there – delivering the Level 2 BIM tools. Will they be what we were expecting?

We are just a few weeks away now from the first deliverables from the Innovate UK’s competition to deliver the last two key components of UK BIM Level 2 – a digital plan of work (dPoW) and an industry-wide classification system.  The ‘soft’ launch is scheduled for the 8th April 2015 at the BIM Show Live event in Manchester, with the ‘hard’ launch planned for some time in June.

With the very short time frame for the work, the opportunities for consultation with the industry have been limited and what will be delivered will largely represent the views of NBS and the other project partners.  There has been some dialogue with a group representing a number of the institutions and institutes, but it is not clear at this point how much influence they have had.  Also, there have been a number of presentations and webinars over the last few months showing progress to date.

As you would expect, there has been a significant amount of feedback from the institutions’ body, including a CIBSE team from its BIM Group.  The CIBSE team has tried to look at how these new tools will work throughout the life of the asset, and has looked wider than just the 3D modelling aspects of the output.

Three key issues have come to light with the classification structure being prepared.  Firstly, it must be capable of classifying multi-services systems or elements.  A good example would be a multi-services co-ordination drawing.  Historically, classification systems such as Uniclass have only classified up to ‘types of systems’ – ventilation and air conditioning services and electrical power and lighting services are two such examples.  Combining services in an application is common and the new classification system needs to be able to accommodate this.

Secondly, it is important to be able to classify things other than those associated with a 3D modelling environment.  A wide variety of documents will be generated throughout the life of an asset and these all need to be classified in order to be stored and subsequently made available for reuse.   Obvious examples are reports, correspondence, drawings and specifications but could equally include EIRs.

The third aspect is the continuity of classification.  It is suggested that the Elements table would be used at the early stages of a project to describe needs – Heating would be an example.  As the project progresses and more detail develops, this might become Low Temperature Hot Water Heating Systems from the Systems table.  Although this looks sensible in theory, there must be a connection between these two tables as a cornerstone of BIM is to build on information and not throw it away and start again.  Therefore, the first part of the Elements table should match the corresponding Systems table entries to achieve this.  The alternative is that the Systems table is used throughout with subsequent pairs of characters being added to reflect the increasing level of information as the project progresses.

We have discussed these issues with NBS recently and it will be interesting to see how the new classification structure accommodates them.  Realistically, it is probably too late to see them reflected in the April or June releases, but more are planned for later in the year.  If these issues are addressed I believe that it will be a significant step towards providing a classification system that works for all those involved.

A key factor in the success of the Innovate UK project will be the way in which the outputs are disseminated.  They could be the best dPoW and classification system in the world but unless they are adequately explained they might not be adopted into common use.  The phrase ‘winning hearts and minds’ seems appropriate in this case and its importance should not be underestimated.

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