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 wellbeing and environmental effects of agile working

by David Bleicher, BSRIA Publications Manager

How many times in the last few months have you started a sentence with “When things get back to normal…”? For those of us whose work mostly involves tapping keys on a keyboard, “normal” implies commuting to an office building five days a week and staying there for eight or more hours a day.

When lockdown restrictions were imposed, things that were previously unthinkable, such as working from home every day, conducting all our meetings by video call, and not having easy access to a printer, became “the new normal”.

One thing the pandemic has taught us is that changes to our work habits are possible – we don’t have to do things the way we’ve always done them. Since lockdown, agile working has been high on companies’ agendas; but agile working has a broader scope than flexible working. It is defined as “bringing people, processes, connectivity and technology, time and place together to find the most appropriate and effective way of working to carry out a particular task.”

Working from home with a cat

The triple bottom line

Agile working is indeed about much more than changing people’s working hours and locations. It’s about how people work – becoming focused on the outcome rather than the process. It’s about making the best use of technology to achieve those outcomes and it’s also about reconfiguring workplaces to better suit the new ways of working. But, when considering these outcomes, we should be looking further than the financial bottom line. The term triple bottom line is a framework that also brings social and environmental aspects into consideration.

How, when and where people work has a major impact on their wellbeing. The past few months have served as an unintentional experiment in the wellbeing effects of mass home working. Some people are less stressed and more productive working from home, providing they have regular contact with their colleagues. Other people – particularly those who don’t have a dedicated home working space – returned to their offices as soon as it was safe to do so. It depends on the individual’s preferences, personal circumstances and the nature of the work they do.

On the face of it, it would seem that increased working from home or from local coworking spaces would be a win-win for the environment. Less commuting means fewer CO2 emissions and less urban air pollution. But a study by global consulting firm and BSRIA member, WSP, found that year-round home working could result in an overall increase in CO2 emissions.

In short, it reduces office air conditioning energy use in the summer, but greatly increases home heating energy use in the winter – more than offsetting carbon savings from reduced commuting. Perhaps what this highlights most is just how inefficient the UK’s housing stock is. If we all lived in low energy homes with good level insulation and electric heat pumps, the equation would be very different. Perhaps a flexible solution allowing home working in summer and promoting office working in winter would be best from an environmental perspective.

A possible long-term effect of increased home working is that some people may move further away from their offices. For example, someone might choose to swap a five-days-a-week 20 km commute for a one-day-a-week 100 km commute. If that is also a move to a more suburban or rural location with more scattered development, less public transport and fewer amenities within walking distance, then (for that individual at least) there’ll be an increased carbon footprint. Not very agile.

Impact of technology

There’s another aspect that may not yet come high up in public awareness. Remote working is dependent on technology – in particular, the video calls that so many of us have become adept at over the past few months. All this processing burns up energy. The effect on home and office electricity bills may be negligible because the processing is done in the cloud. This isn’t some imaginary, nebulous place. The cloud is really a network of data centres around the world, churning data at lightning speed and, despite ongoing efforts, still generating a whole lot of CO2 emissions in the process. Videoconferencing definitely makes sense from both an economic and environmental perspective when it reduces the need for business travel, but if those people would “normally” be working in the same building, isn’t it just adding to global CO2 emissions?

We don’t yet know what “the new normal” is going to look like. Undoubtedly, we’re going to see more remote working, but responsible employers should weigh up the pros and cons economically, environmentally and socially. Terminating the lease on an office building may seem like a sensible cost saving, but can a workforce really be productive when they never meet face-to-face? Does an activity that seemingly reduces CO2 emissions actually just increase emissions elsewhere? Any agile working solution must take all of these things into account, and not attempt a one-size-fits-all approach to productivity, environmental good practice and employee wellbeing.

For more information on how BSRIA can support your business with energy advice and related services, visit us here: BSRIA Energy Advice.

How hard can opening a new office be?

As some of you may or may not be aware, the new BSRIA North site is now open for business.

For organisations opening a new office or site, it should be a time of great anticipation and excitement as the company sets out a new path, but for many they approach this process with fear and trepidation and for those tasked with the job of making it happen, it can potentially be an extremely stressful period of time.  As Project Manager for the setting up of BSRIA North, I thought I would share with you my experiences – the very good, the sometimes bad and the occasional ugly!

This blog was written by June Davis, Business manager of BSRIA North

I will be sharing my experiences and tips on:

  • Identifying and interpreting the business requirements
  • How to determine the must have’s versus the nice to haves
  • The importance of establishing an internal project team – you can’t do this alone!

BUSINESS NEEDS

When establishing the business needs, spend time with colleagues from across the organisation to listen and understand what they would like to see from a new base – what is it about the current environment that works, what doesn’t work so well and what would improve their working environment if only it were possible!

Everyone one I spoke to was really keen to give me their wish lists and as I started to jot their ideas down, some similarities started to emerge, but for some their thoughts varied significantly.    Prioritise the must haves and rationalise the nice to haves and a vision of your new building will start to emerge.

TIP don’t lose those more obscure requests. Whilst on this occasion I couldn’t deliver a building that had an on-site wind turbine, I was able to deliver on the overhead gantry crane!

TIP:  to fulfil everyone’s requirements you would most likely need to commission a bespoke building, so make sure to manage expectations!

Internal Project Team

You can’t succeed on your own so it is imperative that you establish an internal project team.  Working with business managers from across the organisation proved a valuable source of knowledge and support.  Individual managers were allocated areas of responsibility spanning right across the project and each were tasked with identifying what needed to be done , this formed the basis of a project plan.

Example project areas:

·         Property

·         Fit out

·         Process/Systems

·         Health & Safety

·         Quality

·         Marketing

·         People

 

Ensuring the team communicated regularly weekly meetings were held and if on occasion some colleagues were unable to attend it ensured that we kept abreast of developments – or on occasion the lack of!

Select a property

It seems obvious, but finding the right property in the right location and that meets the detailed specification your colleagues have challenged you with can at times feel like finding a needle in a haystack. This is where the word compromise well and truly comes in to play!  Give yourself a sizeable geography in which to search for property – like you, everyone wants it all, so make sure you keep an open mind and research those properties that at first glance you would dismiss as not meeting your criteria.   What you think you need and what you finally agree is ‘the one’ may well prove to be completely different – it did for us!

TIP The more sites I visited the more ideas I collected as to what could work and might be achieved!

 TIP:  Draw up a short list of buildings and compare them to your must have list – is there a property that is starting to lead the way?

TIP:  Engage one of your project team to come with you to revisit your top properties – they will bring a new perspective to things.

TIPIf possible, establish a good relationship with the previous tenant, in our experience they were really helpful in providing information about the building, how it operated and its history!

The legal process can take quite some time, it was certainly longer than we had anticipated; but don’t underestimate this vital element of the journey. It is critically important that your future building has the correct legal foundations in place, so ensure you seek good advice.

With the legal aspects complete we gained possession of the building and we all got a much-needed motivation boost! The project team visited the site to design the layout and agree what renovations needed to be made.  The vision was taking shape!

Renovations and installations!

Be ready – This is an extremely busy period.  Obtaining quotes, liaising with contractors, arranging building services are just a handful of the tasks at hand. I found that having someone local to the site with good local knowledge is hugely helpful.  Access can be required at various times of the day and sometimes night but with the building not yet fully functional requires a lot of coming and goings to site.   Ensure the alarm systems are serviced and activated and site security implemented.

TIPTake your readings!  Ensure you capture the utility readings on day one and contact the associated providers to inform them you are the new tenants submitting the readings.  This should be a straightforward exercise I can assure you it isn’t, so be warned!

 

For those who may be undertaking a similar process either now or in the future, I wish you every success.  My recommendation is to ensure you appoint the right person to lead the project, a person who loves to do detail, enjoys multi-taking, doesn’t mind getting their hands (very) dirty, and has the patience of a saint and most importantly a good sense of humour!

BSRIA North is proud of what has been achieved and we forward to welcoming you through our doors – please visit us any time!

TRANSFORMATION OF THE OFFICE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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. 

Ideas competition – How would you make buildings better?

PrintBSRIA and Designing Buildings Wiki are giving you the chance to win £500 of BSRIA membership, training or publications and to be featured in Delta T magazine by suggesting ways that buildings can be made to perform better. Gregor Harvie, co-founder of Designing Buildings Wiki explains why.

The UK government’s commitment to progressively reduce carbon emissions compared to 1990 levels is broadly in line with the COP21 goal agreed in Paris last year for keeping global warming well below 2 degrees centigrade.

But the Climate Change Committee has reported we are not on track to meet the fourth carbon budget, which covers the period 2023-27, and that meeting the 2050 target, a reduction of more than two thirds compared to today’s levels, will “…require existing progress to be supplemented by more challenging measures.”

construction emissions The construction industry generates or influences 47% of UK carbon emissions, and 80% of those emissions are from buildings in use. So unless the performance of buildings is improved, we will struggle to meet our carbon reduction commitments or the COP21 goal.

The tightening of the building regulations is intended to help deal with this. But figures from Innovate UK’s Building Performance Evaluation Programme have revealed that the carbon emissions of the 76 homes assessed were 2.6 times higher than their building regulations calculations, and emissions of the non-domestic buildings were 3.8 times higher.

And of course the building regulations do little to improve the existing building stock. Its estimated that around two thirds of the housing that will be occupied in 2050 has already been built.

emissions target v actualIn fact, our actual energy consumption has changed relatively little since the 1970’s, and the reduction in carbon emissions achieved to date has largely been the result of a shift away from coal powered generation. Now that the low hanging fruit have been taken, the task gets harder.

Couple this with a population expected to rise from 65 million now to around 77 million by 2050, and we have a problem.

So what can be done?

BSRIA and Designing Buildings Wiki have launched an ideas competition asking ‘how would you make buildings better’.

The challenge requires outside the box thinking to come up with radical ideas for reducing the emissions of buildings in use. Tell us about those innovations you think of in the middle of the night and the solutions to the world’s problems you only come up with after a few hours in the pub. Whether you think the answer lies in the adoption of smart technology, better regulation, on-site generation, monitoring and feedback, or more drastic measures such as carbon rationing or a contractual requirement for buildings to achieve design standards. The more innovative and far-reaching the idea the better.

The competition is very simple to enter. You don’t need to write a long essay, your idea might only take a paragraph, or even a sentence to explain.

To enter, go to the ‘Make buildings better’ page on Designing Buildings Wiki 

The winner will receive £500 worth of BSRIA membership, training or publications, and along with 4 runners-up, will be featured in the July edition of BSRIA’s Delta T magazine and on Designing Buildings Wiki.

The competition closes on Wednesday 18 May.

Architect Dr Gregor Harvie is co-founder of Designing Buildings Wiki, a free, cross-discipline knowledge base for the construction industry written by its users. It is home to more than 3,200 articles and is used by more than 10,000 people a day. Designing Buildings Wiki is supported by BSRIA, CIOB ICE, BRE, RSH+P, Buro Happold and U+I Group.

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. 

Government Soft Landings

This is a blog by Peter Corbett, Principal Quality Inspector at Essex County Council

This is a blog by Peter Corbett, Principal Quality Inspector at Essex County Council

As a Local Authority employee I am well aware of the push for both savings and value for money, it is therefore reassuring to see the importance the Government is affording their version of ‘Soft Landings’.

The Cabinet Office sees soft landings as the ‘golden thread’ of BIM, rather than a delivery tool, and is looking for three key benefits from its implementation, those being; Improved Environmental Performance, Improved Financial Performance and Improved Functionality and Effectiveness.

The Government’s Soft Landings policy drawn up in September 2012 recognised that ‘The ongoing maintenance and operational cost of a building during its lifecycle far outweighs the original capital cost of construction, and GSL identifies the need for this to be recognised through early engagement in the design process.

To help the development of GSL a stewardship group was formed to which all government departments and agencies were invited. This group generally meets quarterly with around twenty department and agencies represented. It seeks to update the GSL implementation progress across departments, develop training ideas and determine ways of measuring the benefits that could be gained from the process.

GSL has been the archetypal snowball, steadily gathering pace as it moves toward 2016 when the Cabinet Office has asked for its adoption by all central government departments and agencies, and gradually increasing in size, as with each stewardship meeting more departments and agencies are in attendance.

I was fortunate enough to receive an invite to the last GSL stewardship meeting through my links with the BSRIA Soft Landings User Group and as a Local Authority representative, and was encouraged to see the enthusiastic approach to soft landings from some of the more engaged departments, they like ourselves see the advantages soft landings could offer (albeit from an FM focussed approach that more considers the ‘In Use’ benefits) and are eager for the evidence of this that case studies and their like could provide. Of course as with most matters concerning Central & indeed Local Government the journey is never straight-forward, and as could probably be expected the speed of soft landings adoption varies greatly both in levels of commitment and of development between each Government department and agency.

So what next for GSL? On Friday 7th November there was a GSL supply chain engagement day, to which all Government departments and agencies were invited and encouraged to extend invites to their design, construction and facilities management partners. Attendees were treated to seminars on what Government Soft Landings actually are, why they should be used and how they should be implemented, as well as what training and ongoing support could be provided.

Soft_Landings_logo-highIt was fairly evident from the nature of the questions from Government department representatives that there remains a lot of work to do to obtain both a participative and consistent approach across all departments, as well as the difficulty in impressing on the supply chain providers that success on a project is not merely about building to budget and programme. As pointed out by one contractors’ representative ‘We know of Soft Landings, but that’s where our knowledge ends’, a better description of what GSL actually is was requested with examples of what ‘success’ actually looks like, and also recognition that there is a clear shift from Capex to Opex in the governments construction expectations. All evidence that there is still much to do to achieve wider engagement in soft landings throughout the industry.

But there remains a high level of commitment to soft landings from the Government as evidenced by this event, and this is likely to soon have an impact on those of us in Local Government. In my own Authority we have been using the principles of soft landings in order to help improve the delivery of our projects in areas that have proved problematic; this has predominantly centred on the handover and defects resolution stages, and also end-user training on their new building. For us the ethos of soft landings has been extremely beneficial, but we have been fortunate enough to get the buy-in from our framework of contractors, again some contractors are more engaged with the practice than others, however with the Governments push for the use of soft landings it should encourage everyone’s participation in the process, and hopefully to the benefit of all involved; commissioner, client and contractor.

 

Blogger profile

My working career began early 1980’s in civil engineering, after taking various qualifications I moved into construction after an acquaintance encouraged me to become a clerk of works at the age of 21.  I joined Essex County Council initially as an assistant clerk of works and have remained with the authority for almost thirty years, latterly as the authorities Principal Quality Inspector. I have more recently acted as the construction performance manager on Essex County Council’s Contractors Framework, for which I am undertaking the role of Soft Landings champion. I am a Fellow of the Institute of Clerks of Works and the Construction Inspectorate having first joined the organisation in the 1990’s.

Emerging themes from Innovate UK’s BPE programme

This blog was written by Peter Tse, Principal Design Consultant for BSRIA's Sustainable Construction Group

This blog was written by Peter Tse, Principal Design Consultant for BSRIA’s Sustainable Construction Group

Back in May 2010, Innovate UK (formally TSB) embarked on four year programme, providing £8m funding to support case study investigations of domestic new build and non-domestic new build and major refurbishment projects.  In total the programme has supported 100 successful projects to provide a significant body of work, that provide insights on the performance of various design strategies, building fabric, target performances, construction methods and occupancy patterns, handover and operational practices.  This work will be shared across the industry providing evidence based information, increasing industry understanding to support closing the loop between theory and practice, ensuring the delivery of zero carbon new buildings is more readily and widely achievable.

Currently project teams are concluding their investigations and collating their findings, and dissemination of the results of the programme will begin in earnest in the first half of 2015.  However, as the programme has progressed, there are some consistent themes that are emerging.  Focussing on the non-domestic projects, I will address a couple of these emerging themes.

The first is around adopting innovative building systems to deliver low energy consumption and comfortable conditions, and unintended consequences associated with these technologies.  This covers a broad spectrum of building technologies including solar thermal, heat pumps, biomass boilers, earth tubes, rainwater harvesting, controls and natural ventilation strategies.  Innovation in its essence will have some inherent teething problems, which is often overlooked in the charge towards reaching our carbon reduction targets.  The obvious default stance is to specify proven and reliable technologies which are delivered by a team that is familiar with the technology, but our journey towards delivering true low carbon building in operation would inevitably be prolonged.

An additional level of complexity can be added with innovative systems; one healthcare facility introduced solar thermal and a combined heat and power (chp) unit, to supplement natural gas fired boilers for heating and hot water requirements. With several sources of heat complexity is added to the control strategy, trying to strike a balance between changing heat demands of the building and optimisation of the system.  This complexity, coupled with a requirement for increased operator understanding often leads to system underperformance.

The practicalities, maintenance and associated costs of innovative systems is seldom fully realised by clients.  An office reported success of the rainwater harvesting system, but were surprised at the frequency of filter changes to mitigate the system being blocked.  Another office had to regulate a fan associated with earth tube ventilation system, as running at a higher speed caused too much noise for occupants.  A school had ingress of water to an underground wood chip store rendering the biomass boiler idle for significant periods.  A hotel employed automatic external blinds which retracted in windy conditions to avoid damage, thus offering no shade to occupants during sunny, windy days.

DC-Innovative-Construction-Services-Building-Maintenance1It is clear a reality checking process is required for design decisions to mitigate such matters.  BSRIA’s Pitstopping guide, which resides within the Soft Landings framework describes a process that allows construction teams to periodically reconsider critical design issues by focusing on the perspective of the end user.  This also provides an opportunity for the client to understand the full ramifications of implementing innovative building systems for a more informed decision, and to align client expectations.

The second theme involves the process in delivering innovative technologies, with a particular a focus on commissioning and handover.  The commissioning period residing at the end of the build process is often susceptible to being squeezed.  When the decision has been taken to adopt an innovative building system, there is increased pressure during commissioning to ensure the system is operating as intended.  With the additional complexity associated with innovative technologies, it is vital the commissioning time is adequate to complete comprehensive scenario based testing; how is hot water delivered if the solar thermal does not provide a contribution, how is the building operator alerted the status of the system, how can the operator diagnose the problem, how long can the system operate without the solar thermal contribution without major detrimental effects etc.  To ease the burden on the commissioning period, it is clear commissioning should not be afterthought, but an integral part of the build process.

The commissioning period also signals a time where many of the stakeholders with tacit knowledge of the innovative building systems have changing responsibilities. It is vital this knowledge is captured for users before the opportunity is lost.  Building manuals, user guides and logbooks need to be completed so users can relate to their building environment, understand control of the environment and capture major alterations.

Figure 1 - South façade showing café, street and incubator office blockMany projects reported that guidance for both users and operators was often lacking, with several BPE teams developing guidance as part of their projects to support users.  Commonly BPE teams have also struggled to find initial design intent and operational strategy associated with innovative technologies, highlighting the importance of handover documentation.  Training of users is another key element to knowledge continuity, but several projects reported changes in staff being a core reason for innovative systems underperforming, as documentation was not kept up to date.  The value of clear concise user guidance is evident; BSRIA’s Building Manual and Building User Guides helps individuals responsible for creating building logbook and user guides.

In this blog, I’ve only addressed a couple of areas in regards to emerging themes, to hear more about findings from the programme, come hear me speak at the Energy Management Exhibition (EMEX), at Excel, London on the 20th November, 2014.  Additionally, join the BPE community at connect.innovateuk.org, and search for Building Performance Evaluation.

BSRIA Residential Network launch

saryu2

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). 

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