The Lyncinerator on… an unexpected link between onesies and buildings

Don’t get me started. When asked what he wanted for Christmas, our nephew told his aunt he would like a Harry Potter ‘onesie’. Aunt Lil delivered one. “Exactly the right size”, noted Aunt Lil triumphantly, sure that she had delivered what was wanted. However, she had no idea that there are different houses at Hogwarts school and that getting the ‘right’ house Really Matters. “It’s got a slithering snake thing on the hood” she pointed out – anathema to the Gryffindor besotted youngster. He also expected a thick fleecy onesie, not the thin synthetic version chosen. “It’s just right for bed” she said, not realising that he wanted a cosy onesie for day time lounging. The boy reluctantly put on the item leaving a slightly cross aunt murmuring about ungrateful youngsters.

75-16 Lynne Ceeney

This blog was written by Lynne Ceeney, Technical Director at BSRIA

It was an interesting lesson in specification. The situation reminded me of many building projects. Unless requirements are clearly specified, teams usually look for the cheapest way to deliver to the worst permitted standards – building regulations or health and safety minimum standards.

Aunt Lil could say she had met her brief. She delivered a onesie that had a vague connection to Harry Potter, from a legitimate source, which met legal standards. And was low cost. But it wasn’t what the recipient wanted and his performance expectations definitely were not met. Just like many buildings. It isn’t all down to the deliverer. A better conversation was needed between the boy (or his parents acting as agents) and Aunt Lil – to explain his specification.

Increasingly, client specifications for buildings and their services relate to performance outcomes rather than specifying the inputs to be supplied or designs to be built. That is, the client sets out what product or service being supplied is required to do, rather than what should be supplied or how it should be designed. The ‘Design for Performance’ family of ratings standards (including NABERS) rates buildings in accordance with their operational performance over 12 months of auditing. Failure to meet the pre-agreed standard is considered a contractual breach. Ratings systems such as BREEAM encourage operational performance improvement. Government is also considering “shifting” away from EPCs which only measure theoretical design performance.

The increased use of real time monitoring and smart technologies is leading to the servitisation of facilities management and maintenance as reliability of performance and speed of responsiveness to occupier demand is becoming more important to the building owner and their clients. Social influences, such as an increased focus on wellbeing and wearable technologies, build expectations for a real time response to performance variation rather than periodic interventions.

This has considerable implications for the building services industry. Bringing in building services engineers at the end of the design phase won’t work as they need to be involved in overall design so that required outcomes can be achieved. Tools like Soft Landings will be used more widely to maintain the focus on performance targets through design, delivery and operation and to assist in increasing collaboration throughout the supply chain.

The detail in the specification and the degree to which it is input or outcome focused will depend on the context and situation. Drawing up a good specification requires knowledge and experience. It can be determined through dialogue between the client and an appointed deliverer, combining technical expertise with user experience. However, in a pre-tender situation, the client may choose to take professional advice or to use the technical guidance available from BSRIA (and others).

As the boy’s mother will say, good specification saves a lot of awkwardness. She wishes the cheap onesie label had specified its maintenance needs properly. It shrunk in the wash. She is reprocessing it as a cleaning rag and his dad will buy him the onesie the boy wanted in the first place! Mum will supervise his Christmas list this year. Don’t get me started…

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