Contractors can’t build well without clients that lead

Did anyone see the recent news story on the Edinburgh PFI schools with structural failures? In 2016 we shouldn’t be constructing buildings with feeble brickwork. We have Victorian and Edwardian schools that have been standing for over 100 years without these problems. More ironically we have 1960s CLASP schools – built on a budget with the flimsiest of constructions – still standing and performing their role well after their sell-by date. OK, they’re usually freezing in winter and boiling in summer, with asbestos in places a power drill shouldn’t reach, but at least they’re still standing.

The reasons for these high profile failures are easy to park at the door of the PFI process. One can blame cost-cutting, absence of site inspections, and lack of quality control. Some even say that the ceding of Building Control checks to the design and build contractor is a root cause: site labour can’t be trusted to mark their own exam paper when their primary interest is to finish on time and under budget.

Some commentators blame the design process, and bemoan the loss of days of the Building Schools for the Future programme when design quality was overseen by the Commission for Architecture in the Built Environment (CABE). The erstwhile CABE may have tried to be a force for good, but project lead times become ridiculously long and expensive. And would it have prevented structural failures? Hardly likely.

The one cause of these failures that doesn’t get enough press coverage is the important client leadership and quality championing. It can be argued that clients get what clients are willing to pay for, and there’s no industry like the construction industry for delivering something on the cheap. The cost-cutting, the emphasis on time and cost at the expense of quality control – all this can be pinned on a client base that does not lead, demand, oversee, and articulate what it wants well enough to prevent the desired product being delivered at the wrong level of quality at the wrong price.

Which means that clients have to a) get wiser on what can go wrong, b) get smarter with their project management, and c) articulate what they want in terms of performance outcomes. Truly professional designers recognise this, and are prepared to guide their clients through the shark-infested waters of writing their employers requirements. But once that is done the client’s job is not over. They can’t simply hand the job over to the main contractor and turn their back until the job is complete. They need to be closely involved every step of the way – and keep key parties involved beyond practical completion and into the all-importance aftercare phase.

Soft Landings provides a chassis on which focus on performance outcomes can be built. The chassis provides the client with a driving seat to ensure that standards are maintained, along with a shared construction team responsibility to make sure the building is fit for purpose.  The forthcoming BSRIA conference Soft Landings in London on 23 June is a good opportunity to learn how this can be done. It will focus on workshops where problems can be aired and solutions worked through. It will be led by experts in the field who can suggest practical solutions for real-world projects. Why not book a place for you and a client? For more information visit the BSRIA website. 

University of Reading Research Study: Indoor Environmental Quality and occupant well-being

Gary Middlehurst is a post-graduate student at the University of Reading's School of Construction Management and the Technologies for Sustainable Built Environments

Gary Middlehurst is an Engineering Doctorate (EngD) student at the University of Reading’s School of Construction Management and the Technologies for Sustainable Built Environments (TSBE)

Looking at a new approach for determining indoor environmental quality (IEQ) factors and their effects upon building occupants, BSRIA has provided the University of Reading’s School of Construction Management and the Technologies for Sustainable Built Environments (TSBE) Centre access to their Bracknell office building known as the “blue building”.

 IEQ factors are proven to affect occupant well-being and business performance, however, for the first time, actual environmental and physiological field measurements will be compared. New research therefore has been developed by the University of Reading, which will seek to understand these relationships and the potential impacts of known IEQ factors on perceived levels of occupant satisfaction and well-being.

Understanding fundamentally how IEQ factors can affect building users, will allow system designers to finally visualise occupant well-being, personal satisfaction and productivity as part of a holistic business performance model. Based upon empirical measured IEQ factors and surveyed occupant data, the research hypothesis proposes that high-density occupation can reduce office workplace environmental footprints significantly when physiological impacts are understood.

The research methodology brings together measured environmental characteristics, physiological performance measurements, POE survey responses, and then uses an Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP) to assess existing workplace designs.

Gary Middlehurst blogReducing operational costs and increasing occupant satisfaction and well-being is seen as a distinct competitive advantage, however, businesses remain focused towards meeting the challenges of energy security, demand side management and carbon commitments. The research, therefore, will provide empirical data to create informed business decisions focused upon these challenges. This is done by increasing the importance of well-being and by defining performance as a key metric.

Field research is currently underway on the top floor within the “blue building”, where 4 willing volunteers are participating in physiological sensory measurements and POE response surveys. The project will be running for 12-months, with the initial current 2-week data acquisition period being repeated a further 3 times during winter, spring and summer of 2015/16.

The research is also being conducted at two other similar office environments in Manchester and London, and seeks to support the hypothesis that hi-density workplaces are a further sustainable step in designing and operating more efficient and effective intelligent buildings.

BSRIA Residential Network launch

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This blog was written by Saryu Vatal, Senior Consultant and Researcher for BSRIA Sustainable Construction Group

The BSRIA Residential Network was launched on the 11th of September, kindly hosted by the Wellcome Trust and well attended by over 50 delegates, comprising of both members and invited guests.  Ian Orme Business Manager for the Sustainable Construction Group welcomed the delegates and introduced briefly the intention of the network and how BSRIA would like to engage with all stakeholders to help make residential development better.

The event was chaired by Richard Partington of Richards Partington Architects, architect advisor for the Zero Carbon Hub and co-chair of the steering group for their Performance Gap project.

The day started with a summary of the current policy context for energy efficiency standards in new homes and challenges and opportunities for low energy retrofits.

The recently concluded Performance Gap project for the DCLG provided a starting point for discussing issues that impacted new build residential developments. For this project, an extensive evidence gathering and review exercise was carried and over 60 issues were identified as contributing to the gap between the designed and measured energy use in homes.  Of these the ones prioritised for action and further research, along with the shortcomings in skills and knowledge highlighted through the end-to-end process review of over 20 new developments,  formed the core of the Hub’s recommendations to the Government.

Rick Holland was present to give an update on the Government’s continued support for funding research into construction processes via Innovate UK (previously Technology Strategy Board), both for domestic and non-domestic buildings.

A major programme from this funding stream looking at Building Performance Evaluation is coming to a close at the end of September and early stage findings from meta-data analysis were presented by Ian Mawditt of Fourwalls.  This focused on the common issues found with the design, installation and operation of MVHR systems and data from whole house co-heating tests. The final findings will be disseminated via Innovate UK and will include information from all projects across the seven funding tranches.

The analysis of key design specifications that would impact the performance of the mechanical ventilation systems raised some interesting observations about common assumptions made at early design stages.  Common themes from the commissioned air flow rates were also discussed.  The performance of homes built to Passivhaus standard was notably better, which emphasised the importance of process control on site, but also highlighted the fact that, when needed, the industry was able to deliver a high quality product (homes).

The presentations of the day concluded with a summary of how BSRIA would like to engage with its members to try and address various shortcomings identified through research.  Members are invited to put forward areas where there is a need for additional support, in the form of training, guidance and impartial technical expertise.

Calculator leaned on a little house with red roofA panel discussion was facilitated by the event chair in which a range of topics were discussed.  These included issues around the effective design, installation and modelling of district heating in residential and mixed use schemes and variations in standards and assumptions between the EU and the UK.  Ashley Bateson was able to provide an update on standards being developed by CIBSE.

The conflict between supporting innovative technology and the confidence in product and performance data to allow these to be accepted into mainstream and within compliance tools was also highlighted as an area of concern.

The impact of users on the actual energy performance in homes has not been included in some key research projects although in reality this has significant impact.  While this lies beyond the scope of a developer’s influence, key decisions about the complexity of services, controls interface and handover procedures all contribute towards the usability of homes.  Instances of how internet based tools and were successfully employed in some projects to engage with occupants to develop a feedback and learning mechanism were highlighted.

There were concerns voiced about the problem of overheating in new and newly refurbished homes, especially when dealing with vulnerable occupant groups like the elderly.  The Zero Carbon Hub are working on a project looking at the evidence and aim to help develop the assessment standards and methods for evaluating and mitigating risks in new homes.

BSRIA sees itself well-placed to engage with its members and the wider industry to help address the various shortcomings and areas of concern highlighted.  Subsequent network events have been planned to focus on specific topics in detail and we are seeking feedback from members to help structure our efforts in the most effective and useful manner.

Presentations from all speakers can be found on the networks page of the BSRIA website.

Design Fine Tuning?

 

Julia Evans, BSRIA Chief Executive

Julia Evans, BSRIA Chief Executive

BSRIA has been involved in many recent projects including an independent assessment of the realised performance of low energy / environmentally conscious buildings.  This includes projects associated with the Technology Strategy Board’s Building Performance Evaluation (BPE) programme.

The emerging results for more than 50 non-domestic buildings have now been analysed by BSRIA to look at what works well, and when things don’t, why this is the case.  It’s always difficult to generalise based on such a diverse building stock, ownership profile, procurement route, supply chain capabilities, and operational approach, but its clear that in many of the buildings there is a significant performance gap between design intent, and realised performance.  Analysis of such data is always a challenge.  How does one attribute, for instance, any shortfall in performance between the specification, design, construction, commissioning process, and to operational issues such as sub-optimal energy management and / or changes in operating regime such as an extension in occupancy hours.

However one lesson inferred from the analysis is that with some low carbon (and / or energy) buildings one of the unintended consequences is that sometimes the building has been finely “tuned” to minimise carbon (and / or energy), and capital costs at the expense of the building’s resilience in the face of, say, changing patterns of use or internal gains.  Put simply, if a building has been engineered to reduce energy and or carbon for a particular set of operating conditions, and one way of achieving this is to simply size ventilation, and air conditioning plant in line with those conditions, what happens if say internal gains increase as a result of higher occupancy loading?  In practice it is found that some environmental designs lack the flexibility to cope with changes in business use because of limitations built into their design.  This happens with more conventional buildings, with the difference for environmental buildings being more pronounced because the design in many cases is more finely “tuned” as we move ever closer to “near zero”, or “very low” energy / carbon buildings.

BSRIA’s experience identifies many of the good practices required to ensure environmental buildings work well, and also the impact of poor practice.  Overly sensitive design is one cause of poor performance in practice.  So the question is why do some clients and their design team include a sensitivity analysis to design services and size plant so as to ensure resilience, whereas others adopt an approach best characterised by “lowest capital, highest environmental ranking, never mind about actual performance in use”?  The likely answers are complex.  Those found by others like Latham and Egan come to mind for some instances: informed clients recruit supply chains who know their business, and both understand implications of design decisions; post-occupancy-evaluationanother is the chasm which can often occur between those who specify, procure, and lease buildings, and those who occupy and manage them.  Perhaps a third is that once a building has been occupied, too seldom is thought given to how the building will actually work in the face of changes in occupant requirements.

The question for BSRIA is how we can provide a steer and guidance to our members and the industry as to how best to ensure that we build the next generation of environmentally sensitive buildings to be even more resilient in the face of likely changes those buildings will face over their lifetime.  A building which has a very low carbon and / or energy design use, but which fails to provide a productive environment in the face of foreseeable changes in operating conditions can’t really be described as “sustainable”.

This blog was written by BSRIA’s Chief Executive, Julia Evans. For more information about BPE you can visit our website or visit the TSB’s BPE pages where you can look at case studies and methods of BPE (you may need to register to access these). 

Making buildings better – measuring for improved building performance

Andrew Eastwell, BSRIA CEO

Andrew Eastwell, BSRIA CEO

BSRIA has always been in the business of measuring, whether it is a physical quantity such as temperature or pressure, a market assessment such as volume of product imported to a given country or a softer, more management-orientated value such as a benchmark or satisfaction score. Measuring is a fundamental characteristic of our industry’s operations and it is in BSRIA’s DNA.

The need for accurate and more comprehensive measurement has been increasing in response to the revolution that is the low carbon agenda. Revolution is no idle description either. In just over a decade, carbon signatures of new buildings have been required to fall to “nearly zero” – yet few owners were even aware of their building’s operational carbon use at the start. In looking backwards over the past few years, I think BSRIA can be proud of its role in promoting the increased use of through-life measurement embedded in processes such as Soft Landings and the associated building performance evaluations.

There is another BSRIA process that is associated with the collection of measurements. This is the process that turns detailed, often randomly accumulated and frequently disconnected data and information into documents that can be used by our members to guide them in their work. A couple of decades ago this process was greatly enhanced by the availability of a managed construction research programme that not only contributed funds from central government but much more importantly brought focus and long term stability to the accumulation of knowledge. This stability was crucial since it enabled individuals to establish research skills and careers with enduring value to the sector they served. Loss of this programme has also resulted in a loss of cohesion between frontline companies willing to collaborate within the longer term research process.

There is a however a new kid on the block that may be about to revolutionise the traditional measure/analyse/publish process that has dominated research and guidance in our sector.

As disruptive technologies go, Big Data has managed to remain under the public radar quite well until the recent disclosures of the USA “Prism” project. Under Prism, colossal quantities of data harvested from both open and private sources are analysed to identify supposed threats to homeland security. It is the use of automatic analytics software combined with large arrays of sophisticated new sensing technologies that makes Big Data techniques so intriguing for the built environment sector.

By way of example, consider the problem of maintaining comfortable temperatures in a space. Traditionally we have used lab research on volunteers to establish what “comfort” requires. Ole Fanger took years to generate his widely used algorithms but they still do not cover all the possible variables that affect perceived comfort. We now use a thermostat, with a setpoint guided by Fanger, and assume that all is well with our occupants. In the new paradigm, cameras utilising facial recognition software will be capable of spotting yawning (too hot, too much CO?) or sluggish activity (too cold). This data is available for every worker in a given space and a “voting” system used to optimise comfort over the group.

But of course there is more. This data could be available from many sources in a Prism type environment. There would now be the potential to mine the data to establish new benchmarks feeding back to the design process that can be tailored to the particular activity type. Schools, offices, homes and shops each can be analysed not just to establish a single setpoint value but to understand in great detail the envelope or distribution of responses. At last, proper large scale data sets can aid our work – and most of what we need to do this is already available through installed BEMS.

There is one further gain possible from this approach. Traditional academic research leading to refereed papers and thence to institutional guidance can take half a working lifetime to complete. Big Data results can be achieved in hugely reduced timespans. Take the case of adverts you see on Google – these are tailored specifically to you based on purchase decisions you may have only made via unconnected sites a few hours earlier. Scary but true.

Big Data is where BIM, Smart Cities, performance contracting and responsive design meet. It challenges all the preconceptions of professional codes, cuts swathes through the notion of privacy and opens up “our” market for knowledge to an entirely new set of competitive players. The next decade is going to be seriously exciting and I am sure BSRIA will remain strong to its ethos of Measuring and Managing in this startling new environment.

BSRIA provides a range of services to conduct and support BPE, from the complete evaluation to providing energy monitoring instruments and benchmarking building performance.

Post Occupancy Evaluation – The challenges of a ‘greener’ future

I joined BSRIA as a Graduate Engineer in January 2011. Prior to this I was studying for my PhD in the School of Civil Engineering at the University of Leeds.

An Appraisal of the performance of a ‘green’ office building

A summary of my research is given below:

The challenges of a ‘greener’ future are now a responsibility for everyone. This is particularly so for the built environment, where sustainable building design is no longer an innovative option but more of a legislative must. Unfortunately significant differences are often found between the design and measured performance of buildings, with many factors contributing towards these discrepancies.

The research work investigated, using Post Occupancy Evaluation (POE) techniques, the credibility gap between design and measured performance of a partially occupied ‘green’ office building selected as the case study. The results found that the measured energy consumption was over three times the design estimates, and the performance compared poorly against good practice benchmarks for similar buildings. The study’s POE also revealed inefficient control settings, high out-of-hours energy consumption and ineffective building management.

This study went beyond a typical POE as it also includes investigations into how the occupancy variations, and the management strategies applied under these conditions, can impact on building energy performance through the use of simulation modelling techniques (IES<VE>). This is an area where very little research had previously been carried out. At the 50% occupancy levels found at the time the research was conducted, potential annual savings of over £30,000 in utility bills and 60% in energy consumption were estimated if more effective management and control was implemented.

Social-related aspects of building performance are also investigated. Occupant satisfaction and comfort surveys were conducted and the results were compared to previous findings. The perceived comfort and satisfaction with temperature was the most disappointing finding from the survey, however overall the building was comparable to the average benchmarks, but did not perform well when compared to other ‘green’ office buildings.

The study revealed the potential for the building to be fine-tuned to perform more efficiently than was at the time of the study, however there must be suitable, skilled Facility Management to ensure this is delivered.

For more information on Post Occupancy Evaluation/ Building Performance Evaluation…..

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