Taking action on Climate Change

by Michelle Agha-Hossein, BSRIA Building Performance Lead

Most nations now recognise climate change as an established, perturbing fact that needs immediate attention. We can see the effects in the worsening and more frequent extremes of weather: flash floods, droughts, strong winds, heavy snow, heat waves, etc.

UK temperatures in 2019 were 1.1°C above the 1961-1990 long-term average and it was a particularly wet year across parts of central and northern England. Still fresh in the memory are storms Ciara and Dennis in February 2020 with strong winds and heavy rain that caused significant damage to homes and commercial buildings. There is growing evidence that periods of intensely strong winds and heavy rain are likely to increase in the future.

The UK is not the only country affected by climate change. Many other countries are (and will be) suffering disproportionately. The world’s leading climate scientists have warned that we might have just 12 years to keep global warming at a maximum of 1.5°C. After this point, the risk of extreme weather conditions will significantly increase. The increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather will affect all but is most likely to bring catastrophic consequences in many less economically developed countries, where food shortages and water scarcity can trigger deep social changes.

Immediate radical action is required to limit carbon emissions, and the built environment industry can play a crucial role by changing the prevailing culture.

Most building-related carbon emissions are generated from energy use in buildings. However, there are choices that building owners/operators can make and initiatives that they can undertake to lessen the related negative impact on the environment:

In brand new buildings, the most effective way for addressing emissions is reducing consumption through energy efficient design. In existing buildings, the issue can be addressed by efficient retrofitting and effective maintenance strategy. Adopting renewable energy technologies in both cases can significantly reduce building emissions.

Steps building owners and operators can take today.

There are several initiatives/activities that can help building owners/operators combat climate change:

  • Consider ‘net-zero carbon’ targets for your building: UKGBC launched its Advancing Net Zero programme in 2018 and published the ‘Net Zero Carbon Buildings: A Framework Definition’ in 2019. The framework provides the construction industry with clarity on the outcomes required for a net zero carbon building.
  • Ensure the required outcomes for a ‘net-zero carbon’ building are achieved: As advised by UKGBC in the framework definition, initiatives like BSRIA Soft Landings should be adopted in new build as well as in refurbishment projects to ensure a net zero carbon building will be achieved. The BSRIA Soft Landings framework provides a platform for project teams to understand the required outcomes for their project and ensure all decisions made during the project are based on meeting those outcomes.
  • Maintain your net zero carbon building effectively: Business-focused maintenance is a methodology developed by BSRIA that can be adopted to help building operators maintain critical assets effectively and efficiently to sustain a net zero carbon building within budget.
  • Investigate failure quickly: Is the energy bill for your building higher than it should be? Investigate the problem as soon as you can. The first and easiest step would be looking at the energy end use breakdown to see which areas are using more energy than expected. If the issue is related to the HVAC system, check the system’s setting points and monitor the indoor air temperature and relative humidity. Thermal imaging of the fabric of the building can also help to identify, thermal bridging, missing/damaged insulation and areas of excessive air leakage.
  • Promote a healthy diet among building occupants: This is a non-technical initiative that building owners/operators can adopt in their buildings. Eating less meat and gradually shifting to more plant-based foods is vital for keeping us and our planet healthy.  It is important to think about initiatives such as using signage or lunchtime talks, to educate building occupants about healthy diets and encourage them to eat more fruit and vegetables. Research has shown that adhering to health guidelines on meat consumption could cut global food-related emissions by nearly a third by 2050. Healthy diet is also supported by Fitwel and the WELL building standard.

Building owners and operators, to play their role in combating climate change, should ensure their decisions and the way they create and run their buildings contribute positively to the wellbeing of our planet and its citizens.

So, make a start today and choose the first thing you are going to assess/change in your building to help combat climate change.

To find out more about how BSRIA can help you improve building performance, visit us here.

The importance of investigating failures in building services

Pinhole corrosion of radiator (outside surface)
Pinhole corrosion of radiator (outside surface)

A study from the UCL(1) revealed that building failures may cost the UK construction industry £1bn to £2bn every year. This was a conservative estimate made in 2016, based on 1 to 2% of the total value of construction.

As of March 2020, the Office for National Statistics has estimated the total value of all UK construction works to be worth £12.7bn, 68% of which is for new buildings or the repair and maintenance of existing buildings. This would give an estimated cost of failure between £85m and £170m, of which building services would account for a high proportion.

(1) Razak, D S A, Mills, G and Roberts, A (2016) External Failure Cost in Construction Supply Chains. In: P W Chan and C J Neilson (Eds.)

Types of failures in building services

Bathtub curve regarding types of failures in buildings
Bathtub curve

The typical pattern of failure arising against time is shown by the well-known bathtub curve. The curve is divided into three segments: an infant mortality period, usually marked by a rapidly decreasing failure rate; a random failure period, where the failure rate continues at a

The first period is usually detected during the defects liability period after a project is handed over.

The second period would happen during the operation of a system, and failures may occur due to inappropriate operating conditions or maintenance regimes.

The third period is when the system is reaching the end of its life. Failure could be imminent and there should be little or no surprise in this happening.

Importance of investigating these failures

Showing house made of money i.e. there is cost in everything, so always investigate to prevent repetitive failures
There is cost in everything: Always investigate to prevent repetitive failures

There are various reasons why every unexpected failure should be investigated. Below are some of the key ones:

  • Insurance purposes. Insurers may require an independent evaluation of the failure and investigation of its possible cause to identify possible fraudulent or malicious intentions.
  • Cost savings. Too often, failed components are replaced without investigating the root cause. Without understanding the origin of a failure, it is not possible to prevent its re-occurrence. Repetitive failure and replacement of components could add significantly to the operating cost for a building or estate.
  • Health and safety. In May 2009, a lift at London’s Tower Bridge tourist attraction suffered a vital mechanism failure that sent it falling with 9 people in it, four of whom suffered bone fractures. The malfunction was caused by the failure of a counterweight mechanism. The accident investigation by the HSE revealed that there had been several previous component failures with the counterweight mechanism, and the components had been replaced without proper review, and with no investigation into why they were failing so early. Tower Bridge was ordered to pay a total cost of £100k, and the HSE concluded that, had there been a proper review into the counterweight mechanisms, the catastrophic failure of the lift could have been avoided.

BSRIA can help with building services investigations

BSRIA has been in the building services industry for over 60 years and has been involved in hundreds of investigations.

Our independence makes us the ideal partner to provide non-biased failure investigations. Our expertise and capability in testing various materials and components of building services to determine the likely cause of failure is unique. We are able to perform investigations on site, examinations in our labs and analysis in our offices.

Our professional approach is such that there is no failure too large or too small to investigate today because this can save lives and costs tomorrow.

Read more about BSRIA’s Failure Investigation service here

Author: Martin Ronceray, BSRIA Engineering Investigation Lead

The BSRIA investigation team can be contacted at

+44 (0) 1344 465578

Investigations@bsria.co.uk

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