The hidden menace of corrosion in heating and cooling systems

Written by Reginald Brown, Senior Consultant at BSRIA

Written by Reginald Brown, Senior Consultant at BSRIA

Most buildings services engineers will have come across a heating or cooling system that has not received water treatment and still appears to function perfectly and another that has apparently been treated but experienced serious corrosion related failures. Why should one be vulnerable and the other not? The answer is that most common metals are subject to corrosion but the rate of corrosion and risk of failure depends on a variety of factors including the chemical and microbiological environment, temperature, flow rate and not least the thickness of the metal.

In many respects water is the ideal heat transfer medium for building services. It has a reasonably high specific heat, is liquid over a convenient temperature range and is non-flammable, non-toxic and freely available. The downside is that water is an electrolyte that facilitates corrosion in metallic pipework and components. One might think that the obvious solution is to use plastic pipework but this can actually increase the risk of corrosion of the corrodible components that remain.In a steel pipework system, the dissolved oxygen in the system water will rapidly be used up as it reacts with the large area of corrodible surface but the loss of metal thickness should be insignificant. In a plastic pipework system there are few corrodible components so oxygen concentration will remain higher for longer and the corrodible materials will continue to corrode at a high rate. This means that almost all water based heating and cooling systems should have some form of water treatment to control corrosion, and it may be even more important in plastic pipework systems.

The usual construction programme for large building projects involves installation and pressure testing of pipework followed by pre-commission cleaning and commissioning several months later. During the gap between pressure testing and pre-commission cleaning the system may be both stagnant and still contaminated with manufacturing and construction residues. This is an ideal environment for the development of biofilm and corrosion.

In traditional steel pipe systems (using BS 1387:1985 or BS EN 10255:2004 medium or heavy grade pipe) this is not too much of a problem. The relatively thick pipe (at least 3.2 mm for 1 inch nominal bore and larger) can tolerate the initial corrosion due to the oxygen in the fill water and biofilm development during subsequent stagnation conditions. Provided the pre-commissioning cleaning is carried out effectively, ideally with a biocide wash prior to chemical cleaning, there should be minimal impact on the lifetime of the system.

Thin wall steel pipes and steel panel radiators may not be so fortunate. The thickness of 25 mm nominal bore thin wall carbon steel pipe is only 1.5 mm while a typical steel panel radiator is only 1.3 mm thick. If the initial corrosion was spread uniformly across the metal surface it would not be problem but what tends to happen is that small patches of the surface become anodic relative to their surroundings and are preferentially corroded leading to rapid localised pitting. If dissolved oxygen levels persist or are replenished due air ingress, continuing additions of fresh water or permeation through non-metallic materials then the pitting can progress to perforation. Components that should last 25 years can be perforated in a few months. This is one of the most frequent types of corrosion failure reported to BSRIA and can result in expensive remedial works even before the building is occupied.

Water treatment chemicals work by inhibiting the corrosion process, either by coating the surface of the metal (anodic inhibitors) or otherwise blocking the corrosion reactions (cathodic inhibitors). However, inhibitors are not the solution to poor closed system design or operational deficiencies and certainly won’t work to best effect in a dirty system i.e. one with a high level of suspended solids and/or biological contamination. Also, the system operation must allow the inhibitors and other water treatment chemical to be maintained at an effective concentration and circulated throughout the year.

In summary, the factors necessary to avoid pitting corrosion of steel components in closed systems are:

  1. Minimise the delay between first fill and pre-commission cleaning.
  2. Carry out effective pre-commission cleaning of the pipework system.
  3. Establish, monitor and maintain effective water treatment and water quality as soon as possible in the life of the system.
  4. Circulate water throughout the system on a daily basis to avoid stagnation.
  5. Avoid ingress of oxygen from inadequate pressurisation or excessive fresh water additions.
What happens in the first few weeks of the system can prevent pipe corrosion like this over the next 25 years

What happens in the first few weeks of the system can prevent pipe corrosion like this over the next 25 years

What happens in the first few weeks of the life of the system will influence its fate over the next 25 years. You can’t easily see what is going on inside a pipe but get it wrong and you could be looking at major remedial works in a tenth of that time.

A detailed discussion of corrosion and the use of inhibitors and other chemicals is contained in BSRIA BG50 Water Treatment for Closed Heating and Cooling Systems. Pre-commissioning cleaning is described in BSRIA BG29 Pre-commission cleaning of pipework systems. Guidance on the monitoring of water quality in closed systems is contained in these documents and BS 8552 Sampling and monitoring of water from building services closed systems – Code of practice.

BSRIA also runs a Pre-commission cleaning of pipework systems training course and provides independent failure investigations for all types of building plant and systems including pipweork corrosion.

This article was first published in Modern Building Services.

Who Will Rule the Smart New World?

While Analysts’ predictions of the next big developments in Technology have become as much a January tradition as are hangovers and the task of hoovering pine needles from the carpet, it is often even more illuminating to look at what is actually happening, but which may be “hidden in plain view”.

Henry latest

While BSRIA has been reporting on and working with developments in building technology for decades, two recent trends have become clear:

  • The pace of development is accelerating, as buildings move increasingly into the IT mainstream, with elements such as software becoming as important as the more ‘traditional’ electronic and mechanical aspects.
  • Other areas of smart technology are not only developing apace, but are converging, in ways that are both predictable and perhaps more surprising.

Already smart technology is ubiquitous and affordable enough to influence every area of life from home and leisure to commercial premises to infrastructure and the most basic processes used to run cities and the governments of whole countries.

Whether it is using a smart phone to adjust your home heating or to pay your local taxes, or a smart meter to indicate the cheapest time to run a load through a smart washing machine, or smart glass that lightens or darkens in response to ‘instructions’ from a building, or smart cars communicating with traffic signals, we are seeing technologies that we have always thought of as independent interact, as the Internet of Things steadily expands to becomes the Internet of Everything.

This interaction is not only convenient; it also means that the same goals can be pursued simultaneously using different smart systems. To take one example, if we want to reduce greenhouse gases, we can use smarter and more energy efficient devices and appliances, we can manage the energy consumption of our home or office through building controls (or even by using smarter building materials), or wider society can invest in smarter grids and smarter sources of energy production. The balance of the mix that brings the best result can change depending on the situation, so they need to be interconnected.

All of this opens up huge potential opportunities for companies to emerge as leaders in the smart new world. Some of the leading automation companies are already well established here. But other sometimes surprising challengers are emerging. As information and analysis becomes more central to the smart world, including the smart built world, so software and IT services companies are seeing and seizing opportunities, and other companies are also branching out.

While the “smart homes” market may initially have been slower to take off than some expected, it is telling that Honda entered the market in 2013, and Google followed, with its acquisition of  Nest Laboratories in January 2014.

Of course growth by acquisition is not in itself enough. The much more challenging task is integrating diverse offerings into a single seamless and coordinated whole. Here the advantage will go to those companies who can develop solutions that naturally fit together, and who also understand how to develop and market them in a coordinated and holistic way.

Equally, the smart new world will rest not just on technological ingenuity and innovation. Equally important will be the understanding of the world of organisations – from private companies to governments, and on the behaviour of individuals. Each of these will interact and influence the other, often in unintended and unpredictable ways. The larger the scale of the system, the more complex and unpredictable it becomes. (It is telling that it is huge projects which interact both with governments and with a myriad of individuals that are especially liable to go wrong, as witness the debacle over the roll-out of the computerised elements of the new American Health Care system – ‘Obamacare’).

The companies that do best in this environment will need to offer the soft skills, including the social, the psychological and the political, in order to prevail.

BSRIA has just published a major new Market Study Smart Evolution 2014: Convergence of Smart Technologies: Towards The Internet of Everything which considers these questions and much more, and identifies the companies who are currently best placed, and those who are set to emerge as challengers.

This blog was written by BSRIA's Henry Lawson

This blog was written by BSRIA’s Henry Lawson

It is a new world that sometimes appears as through a looking glass. As Lewis Carroll didn’t quite write:

The time has come to talk about the Internet of Things

Of BEMS and BACS and web attacks

On automated Buildings

And power from bricks and glass that thinks

And should smart cars have wings?…

To find out more about the study  Smart Evolution 2014: Convergence of Smart Technologies: Towards The Internet of Everything   or to order it , please contact:
Steve Turner Steve.turner@bsria.co.uk
T +44 (0)1344 465610

Indoor Air Quality a health and wealth issue for us all

Peter Dyment, Camfil

Peter Dyment, Air Quality and Energy Consultant – Camfil Ltd.

Indoor Air Quality is a slightly vague concept to most people. When asked they tend to adopt the Goldilocks principle. Not too hot, not too cold, not too damp, not too dry. This reflects the fact that for many generations now we have had the means to control our home and work environment with comparatively little discomfort and little attention being required.

However the golden age of low cost energy and apparently limitless resources seems to be coming to an end. Sustainability is the order of the day. We are all waking up to the real value of energy and the environmental cost involved when linked to our population growth. One cost is the realisation that in cities and near busy roads in the UK there is no longer such a thing as clean fresh air.

We all breathe air to live and if it is polluted or carries airborne diseases we can fall ill as a result. Airborne hazards such as Carbon monoxide or longer term indoor threats like Radon release are sometimes a problem but the toxic fine combustion particles mainly from traffic emissions and some power stations are the major health risk to the public at large.

Technology to the rescue, if we can’t control the weather and have trouble on a national level controlling air pollution then the solution is we can at least try is to control Indoor Air Quality. Ventilation is needed into buildings to replenish used Oxygen from the air and displace the Carbon Dioxide we all exhale.

The British and European standard that gives us the Indoor Air design parameters is the rather long titled BS EN 15251:2007 Indoor environmental input parameters for design and assessment of energy performance of buildings addressing indoor air quality, thermal environment, lighting and acoustics’. This also adds the parameters of light and sound levels which can enhance or blight an inside environment.

There has been concern expressed that in the urgent quest for energy savings in large building HVAC systems engineers have been turning off or turning down plant to save energy at the expense of poor building Indoor Air Quality.

A useful European study called Healthvent has recently produced a report that attributes the levels of Burden of Disease for Indoor Air on indoor sourced pollutants and outdoor sourced pollutants respectively. The ratio shows that approximately twice as much BOD can be shown to come from outdoor sourced pollution.

To save building energy losses it has been usual practice to make building envelopes as well sealed as possible as shown by BSRIA testing. This also has the added benefit of helping stop ingress of outside sourced air pollution into the building. Healthvent identified three strategies to reduce outdoor sourced air pollution coming into the building.
1. Optimal dilution using ventilation
2. Effective Air Filtration to reduce PM2.5 by 50%
3. Source control of pollution

Effective Air Filtration was shown to be the easiest measure to implement and give the best reduction of incoming pollution with minimum effort.

Anybody can now access through the internet information on air pollution levels in their locality. There is a national monitoring network run by DEFRA and the local authorities. The Kings College website even allows Londoners to enter their post code and directly get a map of historic readings on their doorstep(example below)

pm2 5 map bsria

The recent study by Rob Beelen and his team on PM2.5, published in The Lancet, estimates that for every increase of 5 microgrammes per cubic metre (5 µg/m3) in annual exposure to fine-particle air pollution (PM2·5), the risk of dying from natural causes rises by 7%. A simple calculation indicates a routine increase in the mortality rate in central London of over 20% as a result of high levels of PM2.5 mainly from traffic emissions.

Natural causes of death in this instance can be respiratory and cardio vascular disease and recent analysis of data by the Campaign for clean air in London has highlighted that air pollution is one of the exposure categories causing all the top four male death categories and four of the top five female death categories in London i.e. Ischaemic heart diseases; Malignant neoplasm of trachea, bronchus and lung; Chronic lower respiratory diseases; and Cerebrovascular diseases.

It can be seen that the evidence is now compelling and action is now required both at a national level and on a personal level to ensure the air we all breathe is clean and healthy.  Some measures such as effective air filtration and air sealed buildings can mitigate exposure to this air pollution in the short term.

Peter Dyment is Air Quality and Energy Consultant at Camfil Ltd (BSRIA Member). Camfil Ltd also has two other excellent sites for readers: 

BSRIA is running an event looking at living with the problems of Indoor Air Quality.  To find out more and to book onto the event got the BSRIA website.

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.

Proving the future – how to keep up with Building Regulations

"From a standing start in 2006 to today, the builders have grasped the importance of air tightness testing as a proxy for quality of construction and the contribution good airtightness makes to energy efficiency" Mike Smith, Engineering Director

“From a standing start in 2006 to today, the builders have grasped the importance of air tightness testing as a proxy for quality of construction and the contribution good airtightness makes to energy efficiency” Mike Smith, Engineering Director

The rapid adoption of airtightness testing and the ability of the industry to achieve the right result first time in 89% of tests is one of the success stories of the UK construction industry over the past decade. The BSRIA Compliance team tested over 10,000 dwellings and 720 non-dwellings in 2012 and found the average dwelling airtightness value was 4.89 m3/(hr.m2) envelope area at 50 Pa (against a maximum regulatory value of 10 m3/(hr.m2)).

From a standing start in 2006 to today, the builders have grasped the importance of airtightness testing as a proxy for quality of construction and the contribution good airtightness makes to energy efficiency. The testing itself is rigorous, robust and, arguably, now at a very low economic price. It has respectability provided by UKAS accreditation for non-dwellings testing, the training of testers and, in the case of dwelling testing, registered testers through the Airtightness Testing and Measurement Association (part of the British Institute for Non-Destructive Testing).

The mantra should be “Build tight, ventilate right”. As fabric standards improve, driven on further by the 2013 Building Regulations, the role of passive and mechanical ventilation systems increases in importance. Unfortunately in the world of unintended consequences, we are seeing dwellings achieving better airtightness values than the designer intended which of course means less air leakage (and associated energy waste), but this is only useful if the designed-in ventilation systems can cope with these outcomes. In a nutshell the infrastructure supporting domestic ventilation engineering has not developed at the same pace as the improvement in building airtightness.

There is of course significant current activity to help remedy this problem but, as is so often the case, we are now on the back foot with increasing numbers of examples of poor installations and the inevitable questioning of the value of mechanical ventilation solutions.

The systems we are talking about are not complex but they are sensitive to errors. What is missing is not so much the technology or science but the widespread creation and adoption of proper codes of practice. Mechanical ventilation (MV) systems and the more complex MV heat recovery (MVHR) systems have to be site tested to ensure they are extracting and supplying appropriate amounts of ventilation. In the course of its compliance testing BSRIA is seeing two main kinds of problems.

The first is the performance of the specified equipment in a given situation, i.e. that the fan is correctly selected to match both the actual application and the inherent system losses that the system components will introduce. In simple terms this comes down to understanding the resistance characteristics of ductwork and its routing and the resistance of terminal units both inside and out. There is a widespread misunderstanding that ventilation fan outputs are usually quoted with outputs measured in “free air”. In reality they have to overcome backpressures from fittings. Even where kits are bought we see alternative terminal units used, usually to meet architects demands for aesthetics.

The second is the actual installation of the associated ductwork where there is a very poor understanding of the dramatic effect on performance that can arise from bad workmanship.

In a recent case BSRIA found approximately one metre of flexible ductwork that had been stuffed into the cavity wall for a straight through the wall installation that is approximately 300 mm thick. An additional 100 mm dogleg had been introduced on site to match the actual positioning of a porch structure. The result was a lot of fan noise with almost zero movement. The fan, when bench tested with zero back pressure, had a performance of 22 l/s, the designed performance including the ducting was 20 l/s however the actual performance was 5 l/s.

As part of the “catch up” in dealing with the rapid rise in the use of domestic ventilation we have identified that the act of measuring MVHR performance using published guidelines will give false results if the correct equipment or correction factors are not used. There is an easy remedy but not widely used at present. The automatic volume flow meter with pressure compensation – more commonly known as a “powered diff” will provide an instantaneous and accurate value. A more common hooded anemometer will impose a back pressure on the terminal, ducting and fan under test and the readings must be corrected (post use) specifically for both the anemometer model and the actual fan under test. More detail on this can be found in BSRIA’s “Domestic Ventilation Systems – a guide to measuring airflow rates – BG46/2013”.

And all of this is compounded by a lack of thinking regarding operational needs, limited controls, and poor instructions to the user, especially on what maintenance is required to keep performance at its peak.

So, airtightness demands have led to unforeseen consequences and something of a reaction against the use of mechanical ventilation. What then can be done to avoid making the same mistakes on other systems and concepts?

With fabric issues now largely dealt with in the Building Regulations it is likely that new focus will fall on the efficiency and operation of the MEP services in dwellings. If modelling and measuring the thermodynamics of a brick wall is difficult imagine how complex a multivalent heating system is going to be! And before being put into use, these complex integrated systems will need commissioning and possibly proving as well.

The Zero Carbon Hub has recognised that we will need to devise new test methods and regimes that, for example, will evaluate how the solar thermal collector performance meets expectations when linked with the ground source heat pump system that serves hot water generation, underfloor heating and thermal storage, in concert with a biomass boiler or room heater. Before regulation stimulates the market we need to have good practice guidance and proven on-site commissioning and test processes in place. This work is urgent and needs significant central support. With the next revision of Part L expected for 2016 – this time aimed at achieving zero (or nearly) carbon homes, time is not available to embark on a protracted negotiation with innumerable and varied industrial interests. Certainly industry’s support will be available but only for a properly directed and centrally funded programme.

If we fail to put into place a mechanism to improve the on-site verification of performance of new systems we will only have ourselves to blame for the next set of well publicised “failures to launch” and the consequent set back of achieving national aims.

BSRIA provides a range of Compliance Testing services for stress-free compliance to Building Regulations including airtightness (Part L), sound insulation (Part E) and ventilation testing (Part F).

Recipe for Success

 

Ian Harman of Marflow Hydronics

Ian Harman, Technical Applications Enginner, Marflow Hydronics

Months are spent putting them together, and thousands of pounds are spent printing and promoting them, but it still seems that the wealth of documentation out in the industry, that could help users design, install and commission systems, is not always used.

No one could just pick up a pen one day and design a flawless system, whatever core skills they have.  It takes training and understanding; it takes skills that have to be developed over many years.  To support this, collected groups of people with the right knowledge and experience produce documentation that explains best practice and provide methods for success.  But in our busy industry, there isn’t always time to sit and follow best practice guidelines, sometimes you just have to use the best knowledge you have.

What if you were baking a cake, though, would you just use your best knowledge then?  You may have made a cake before, but are you really going to remember every single step, every single ingredient, every single amount to be used?  And if you did just use your memory, would you really expect the cake to turn out perfectly?  It’s highly unlikely.

So why not follow the ‘recipe’ when designing, installing and commissioning systems?

Designing Long Term

design-support-l1In my team, we’re always telling our customers to start with the end in mind.  The first step is always the design stage.  It’s vital that this is done with the complete picture in mind, keeping all the factors of how it’s going to work long term, in real life conditions, in mind.  For example, what are the best products to use?  How will seasonal commissioning take place?  How can you optimise efficiency?  It’s far easier for all contingencies to be considered up front, because if you realise you’re missing something further down the road it’s much harder to add it in later.  If we go back to the cake analogy, you wouldn’t start to bake a cake without considering what sort of cake it’s going to be.  If you later decided you wanted a chocolate sponge, it would be too late to add the cocoa after you’ve started to cook it.  Full consideration of every point needs to be done up front.

Ultimately, designers want to make sure that they design the most efficient systems possible using the simplest method.  No matter what the system, problems will always be inevitable, so designers also need to think about how systems can be troubleshooted when things do go awry that will cause limited disruption and can offer the quickest solution.

All this leads to one conclusion:  a system needs to be designed so it can work as well as it possibly can, with a few contingencies in mind.

CIBSE Commissioning Code W

CIBSE Commissioning Code W

Doing it Right

The documentation that’s been put together by collected groups of experts should provide anyone with all the information they need.  A Commissioning Code, for example, such as Code W, will provide guidance on what needs to be specified and included to make a system work; and then a BSRIA document will give all the important detail to achieve individual areas such as Pre-Commissioning.

The benefit of such guides is that they are not the opinion of just one author, they are made up of the knowledge of a group of experienced individuals who have to agree on what the best practice is, providing the greatest possible level of information.

My team at Marflow Hydronics actively encourages the use of such documentation, as getting the design, installation and commissioning of systems right, and right first time, is so important to the long term welfare of any system.

This was a guest post by Ian Harman, Technical Applications Engineer at Marflow Hydronics, BSRIA Member

Review of the BSRIA Briefing 2013 – Changing Markets, New Opportunities

“Construction is the last of the big industries to go digital”, John Tebbit, Construction Products Association

November 2013 saw another brilliant BSRIA Briefing held as always at the fantastic Brewery in London. The event was chaired by John Tebbit, Industry Affairs Director at the Construction Products Association with c400 industry professionals in attendance. The speakers this year were focusing on customer satisfaction, data centre trends, changes in building practice and design decisions, smart technology leading the industry forward and the internet of things.

Chairman John highlighted two key issues facing the industry, the Construction 2025 strategy and the move towards Low Carbon as well as the construction industry being the last industry to go digital despite a demand to do so.

Bukky Bird talked about Tesco as a continuously changing organisation by highlighting some of the company’s historical milestones. From Tesco’s founder Jack Cohen opening a market stall in 1919 to becoming a global company with just over half a million colleagues today.

Bukky also highlighted some current customer expectations and key drivers for this such as the current economic context. She emphasised the need for organisations to understand and respond to changing needs and environments.

“A green agenda is a prerequisite of what customers expect from a brand like Tesco”, Bukky Bird, Tesco

“A green agenda is a prerequisite of what customers expect from a brand like Tesco”, Bukky Bird, TescoToday’s customer is under pressure, struggling with rising costs and dealing with lifestyle changes. The focus is therefore on family and the home, with a real expectation that brands should reduce waste and save money. Responding quickly to these needs is critical for retailers like Tesco and this should therefore drive the focus through the industry supply chain.

A challenge facing our industry is how to develop true partnerships to tackle these problems. Bukky highlighted the need for flexibility, agility and the need for the industry to be willing to change. The customer is changing radically and the building industry needs to be ahead of this curve.

Historically we have been very slow to adapt, and this is an opportunity to buck that trend. Her final point was that the industry are not supplying Tesco, but Tesco’s customers – understanding the customer’s needs and developing innovative solutions to meet these is key to successful partnerships.

“Nobody ever did anything to be green, they did it to save money”, Nicola Hayes, DatacenterDynamics

 Nicola Hayes looked at a rather different sector focusing on data centre trends and energy. Datacentres Nicola argued are the buildings you do not see, the hidden side of the industry and yet becoming a central part of several industries as people relocate their data to the Cloud. Nicola discussed the fact that Datacentres may be hidden but they do suffer negative publicity mostly due to the energy usage of such buildings and the accusation from the Press that they are singlehandedly destroying the planet. When viewing the industry as a country, the industry uses a little less energy than the UK as a whole, marked at 332.9TWh which is an exceptional amount and understandably a worry for the industry and a target from the Press.

But it was the trends that Nicola was concentrating on, where the Datacentre industry has come from and the expectations of it for the future. In three years the industry has grown from $86bn to a staggering $120bn as well a doubling in space used for the buildings, growing from 15million sqm to 31million sqm. The growth of Datacentres is down to several other key industries, the rate of increase has risen for Professional Services, Energy & Utilities, Industrial & Process and Media & Telecoms. With this growth there has been a change in how Datacentres are being built and their operations. There has been a 15% increase in outsourcing for the industry since 2007 rising to nearly a quarter of the industry but IT Optimisation still remains a major investment.

For the built environment the biggest change Datacentres has had for them is the increase in energy monitoring and the storage of millions of data bits. People in the world, particularly the US, UK and Germany are starting to become more conscious of energy efficiency therefore more business is generated for the Datacentre industry through big data from energy monitoring. Nicola pointed out that this is not done for a purely ‘green’ reason but primarily to monitor costs which are why most universities do not monitoring as they are not responsible for the financial side of their energy use.

With there being such a focus on energy efficiency, the way Datacentres are being built has also been a changing trend with there being 25% increase in the number of retrofits of Datacentres while there was only a 2.1% increase in the number of new builds. Efficiency measures (to answer to the Press criticism) are also now determined from the outset. However despite Datacentre industry growing at a fast rate there are risks involved for the industry from the small scale of compliance to the large scale of terrorist attacks. With these risks comes an important debate that is happening within the industry, cost vs. risk.

“There is a market for MVHR but we need to get better at delivering it”, Nigel Ingram, Jospeh Rowntree Housing Trust

 Nigel Ingram continued with a discussion about social housing and the consideration of end users when designing buildings. The Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust currently looks after 2,500 homes in Yorkshire and Hartlepool. Nigel discussed one particular project the Housing Trust are involved in, the Derwenthorpe village which looks at the lessons learnt from past projects and how they can improve their buildings. The way the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust decided on best building practices was through experimentation over four years, they built two prototypes and used 17 different methods and as many M&E components as possible including grey water harvesting and block work systems. The aim of this experimentation was to see what worked to create the best possible building.

As well as all these design considerations Nigel also enforced the importance of the end user and their lifestyles with the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust looking at how people live in buildings and what changes in lifestyles are expected in the future and how best can the prepare buildings for that. There were three main points that made up the JRH’s strategic servicing infrastructure, the first being fibre optics. The Trust believes that with the use of technology ever increasing including internet, television packages etc. they needed to invest in a viable cabling network. However none of the big companies were prepared to discuss such a project therefore the Trust developed a joint venture with an investor to set up their own fibre optics for the estate, by doing so they satisfied the customers and set them up for any increase in connectivity in the future.

The second point the Trust considered was Communal Heating, they looked at a variety of different heating techniques for the estate such as low ground source heat pumps.  Communal Heating was decided on in 2007 from a carbon footprint point of view as at the time the Code of Sustainable Homes was announced with zero carbon targets by 2016. Communal Heating is notoriously difficult to get working efficiently, just like any heating system however after it was distilled down into the six components that worked for the Trust it was able to provide fuel security and prince control for the future residents which is what users wanted from their buildings. The system now works and is one of the only systems in the country that is successful and has been contracted for 25 yrs to a European Communal Heating group.

However Nigel wanted to point out that the Derwenthorpe village has not been completely successful, the final point in their strategic servicing infrastructure was MVHR Systems. The project has not seen any success with these systems, it has been installed in 64 houses but customer feedback has been negative and there are many issues with it. As an alternative MEV is now being used. Nigel stresses that there is a market for MVHR systems but for it to work there needs to be massive improvements in the industry in terms of commissioning, installation and maintenance. There seems to be a technology focus rather than process and this needs to change if the industry is to satisfy clients and users of buildings.

Nigel’s main focus for the Derwenthorpe project was customer satisfaction, the importance of the end user. Fibre Optics and Communal Heating was installed for the benefit of the residents of that estate as they have certain expectations of the way they live including operational and financial. The Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust has focused on the end user for their design plans rather than what should work from the industry perspective. Rigorous testing and accepting systems aren’t right has gone into making sure buildings are built as best as they can be which is important for our industry, it’s taking into consideration the mistakes made on previous building stock and learning from them and also considering the occupants and their needs.

“The Cloud is as suited to small buildings as it is to big buildings or building portfolios”, Jeremy Towler, BSRIA

 Jeremy Towler reflected on the “smart” built environment and how we get there. Jeremy highlighted that there is a lot happening and changing in our industry emphasising that we are the last industry to go digital despite there being several opportunities for digital work particularly wirelessly. BEMS will become an increasing component of buildings, modules will be built off site and therefore digital technology needs to be an important investment. Mobility will also become a more important part of the built environment, currently everyone uses a mobile but with geo-location buildings will be able to recognise everyone in buildings and respond dynamically. With this the collective voice of the occupants starts to influence the building which could be quite revolutionary.

Building Analytics are also an important step towards a “smart” built environment, increasingly buildings have sophisticated software that permits building operation and how best to optimise them. With Building Analytics becoming a more common part of our industry there has been a move towards the Cloud which has allowed data mining to reveal relationships and trends we never could have imagined. With these advances also comes the development of Smart Cities, particularly in China where there is a commitment to build at least 30. Jeremy defines smart cities as an incorporation of intelligent buildings, broadband connectivity, innovation, digital inclusion and a knowledge workforce.

But Jeremy states it’s not just smart cities we have to consider, its smart grids and smart buildings. Smart grids is an advanced power grid for the 21st century, essentially it is a decentralised multi directional model where energy and information can flow from supplier to consumer and vice versa which enables a variety of new applications for homes and businesses. Smart homes on the other hand have reached a critical mass and are due to break into the standard housing market but with this there has been an opportunity seized by the utilities who are now offering connectivity.

With smart homes becomes the internet of things and the ‘ubiquitous homes’ where sophisticated systems learn behaviour and respond accordingly, like our mobile phones that can tell us where we want to go and how we need to get there, such software will be used in our own buildings to provide our homes with the settings that we need. However the current built environment is a long way from becoming a smart industry, currently more than 75% of the building stock has no intelligent controls which is primarily to do with the age of the buildings with over 40% of total stock being built before 1960. With this in mind there is an opportunity for the industry to consider a great deal of retrofit projects but for smart technology to work to its best potential for the built environment the industry needs new skills developed through training in software and hardware analysis.

“We are now accountable for how our buildings perform “, Michael Beaven, Arup Associates

 Michael Beaven continued on this theme of the industry needing to change but instead focused on workflows. Arup has learnt that change is beneficial to the industry, adaption is necessary to meet the needs of the client. Arup have changed what they do and how they do it, learning that doing things the same way over and over again is to no benefit. However despite the need to adapt there are constants within the industry, carbon being the main issue for energy costs and emissions for companies in reputational aspects as well as the bottom line an example being Sky who are very forward looking including reducing the carbon of their set top boxes from 10 to 4 watts saving 20megawatts to the grid.

Importance of energy and efficiency is paramount but so is what we build it with. Embodied carbon is a key player in how we build our buildings now; decisions are being made on where products come from and their whole life cycle rather than primarily cost efficiency. Buildings are also being tested now, everything is monitored in our buildings so we can learn how to improve them, we are accountable for how buildings perform. From this we can learn how to design buildings that are successful for end users.

Michael also emphasised Jeremy’s point of the internet of things, how the integration of IP controls are making building betters and even the advancement of BMW considering smart transport for smart cities. Building on the interaction between traffic signals and mobile data to develop relationships between them to better control traffic, even where you park will be managed in a smart way. Another important development in terms of smart technology is that people are now connecting and sharing information on what works for a building and how best practices can be established.

One of Michael’s most important arguments was the importance of BIM and the matter that we as an industry really need to get up to speed with it. It’s client driven so we need to be on board as it is not only changing our workflows but also our business, without a grasp we lose projects. There also needs to be an acceptance that BIM is not just about 3D drawings and design but rather it should be a changing of our work streams to digital.

BSRIA Briefing panel answers questions from the audience

Michael’s final point tied in one of the key themes of the morning, customer satisfaction or rather the importance of the end user. Arup are moving towards an end user focus, designing buildings for people rather than the client or the architect. He used Sky as an example of a company championing a place for people, designing a building that understands what the user wants rather than what is considered the best design. Michael emphasised the feedback loop, empowering people to vocalise what they want in a building, what controls work for them, with that Soft Landings is critical for discovering what works and what doesn’t and resolving these issues before a project is completed.

There were a variety of thoughtful questions throughout the morning ranging from what the industry is doing to combat the UK’s power supply reducing to 2% by 2016, John Tebbit argued that the UK needs to stop investing in the UK and instead build industry abroad and import into the UK. There was also discussion on why there are so many installations problems within the industry, Nigel Ingram suggested there was too much blame placed on the end user, that there needs to be more ownership of mistakes and to learn from them if the industry is to move forward. This was the key theme throughout the morning, for the industry to move forward in any pursuit especially digitally we need to focus on trends and accept change as a good thing. But when accepting change we also need to learn from our past mistakes rather than continue to avoid them.

“Change comes from doing 100 things 1% better”, Sir Clive Woodward

Following lunch guests were treated to an afternoon speech from Sir Clive Woodward who continued the theme of change being necessary to move forward and how that worked for the England rugby team and the British Olympic team. Sir Clive’s talk looked at the 3F’s or 6F’s argument and interestingly the importance of an Australian dentist and his impact on working habits. He emphasised the effort of a whole team being behind any win and argued that talent is not enough but learning, calmness and hard work are needed to leverage it.

A special mention also goes to Chris Monson, of main sponsor Trend, who was awarded an Honorary Membership of BSRIA, becoming only the 8th person honoured. Chris accepted the award from BSRIA Chairman Leslie Smith and thanked the company as well as the industry.

A big thank you to all delegates that attended and the speakers who gave their time to the event. Also thanks to Sir Clive Woodward for being our afternoon speaker and rounding up a fantastic Briefing.

To download the presentations from the event go to BSRIA’s website.

How to procure Soft Landings

BG 45/2013 Soft Landings procurement Guide

BG 45/2013 Soft Landings procurement Guide

BSRIA has just launched its latest guidance on the Soft Landings graduated handover process.   How to Procure Soft Landings – guidance for clients, consultants and contractors is designed to help clients and their professional and building teams frame their Soft Landings requirements in a consistent and structured manner.

 The guide is a response to two clear trends in the use of Soft Landings. Primarily, clients aren’t sure what they are asking for when they call for it in tenders. Construction firms are seeing wide differences in client requirements. The initiated clients may spell it out, but for every expert client there are 20 who simply ask for Soft Landings without a clear idea of what it is.

 Many builders and contractors, particularly those not up with current thinking, are similarly clueless on how best to respond. That’s one of the downsides with an open-source protocol – the viral spread of Soft Landings is a good thing, but a lack of certification and control means that the uninitiated can easily catch a cold.

 Second, Soft Landings is being adopted by central government as a formal procurement policy. This is Government Soft Landings (otherwise known as GSL), a Cabinet Office-inspired interpretation of Soft Landings for government clients. While it’s not a million miles away from the official version published by BSRIA and the Usable Buildings Trust, GSL takes a more facilities management perspective of the process and focusses far more on getting guaranteed outcomes from the construction industry. GSL is slated to be mandated for central government projects in 2016, along with the adoption of Building Information Modelling (BIM), with which Soft Landings is well-suited.

 So what we have, then, are commercial clients still a little confused in their (voluntary) adoption of Soft Landings. On top of that is an incoming group of government clients, building anything from schools to prisons to aircraft hangers,  for whom Soft Landings is a huge unknown but who will be mandated to adopt it. BSRIA’s view is that it might be a good idea to lay out the best ways of expressing Soft Landings in client requirements, pre-qualification questionnaires, and invitations to tender, so that the clients and industry alike get greater consistency in Soft Landings projects from the very outset.  

 The procurement guide has benefited substantially from the Soft Landings User Group, a BSRIA-run team of clients, architects, consultants and contractors who have learnt from experience on Soft Landings projects what works well and what doesn’t. This learning has been used to create practical, generic requirements for Soft Landings activities that can be used in project documentation. 

 A body like the User Group is absolutely vital for the practical development of Soft Landings. BSRIA knows it doesn’t have all the answers, and in any case should not dictate how Soft Landings is put into operation on real projects. Each project has its own needs and objectives, and each form of procurement throws up its own set of opportunities and challenges. The trick is to find out what works in each context, and try and find ways round thorny issues like novation and cost-cutting for instance, both of which can compromise the best of intentions.

 The guide provides specifically-worded requirements for each step in each of the five stages of Soft Landings.  The guidance is split into three sections, with requirements worded for clients appointing professional designers, clients appointing main contractors/builders, and contractors appointing sub-contractors.  Inevitably, there is some repetition, but the guide gets round that at relevant points by referring the reader to sections in the guide where a specific requirement is more logically located. 

Stage 3 - Pre-handover

Stage 3 – Pre-handover

The example shown is typical. Energy metering installations are proving to be a major problem – they are installed to satisfy Building Regulations, but are often not set up in a way that makes them useful. Although the Soft Landings Framework calls for an energy metering strategy, the procurement guide goes a step further by spelling out what should be provided, in this case at the pre-handover stage. Each requirement is supported by explanatory text that gives the main contractor, in this instance, some background context and the reasons for the requirement.

 Some Soft Landings stages may have more than one worded requirement. Some optional requirements have also been provided, for instance in the aftercare stages where it may be important to spell out precisely who should be involved and for how long.

 For example, under the core requirements for main contractors appointing sub-contractors, contractors have the option of requiring a subcontractor to be retained to assist the client and other members of the project team during handover, and afterwards to monitor the building’s performance. Some sub-contractors may be required to be based on site full-time during the initial aftercare period to assist with end-user queries and to undertake fine-tuning of systems. This would not typically apply to a ductwork sub-contractor, but it would usually apply to a controls sub-contractor. More critically, it could apply to any contractor whose systems or components come with automatic controls, particularly those with bespoke communication protocols (seemly most of them) which can only be adjusted by the supplier after payment of a fat call-out fee. If you’re nodding at this point, you know how it is. The Soft Landings procurement guide now covers this issue, and many others like it.

 An opportunity has been taken to fill gaps in the Soft Landings Framework, published back in 2009 when practical experience was a bit thin on the ground. For example, the guide contains a generic design work stage which was not included in the Framework. The procurement guide also provides more detailed advice on principles of procurement and tendering, how to include Soft Landings in tender processes and interviews, and some advice on the best way to budget for Soft Landings.

 The timing of the guidance also coincided fortuitously with the publication of the 2013 RIBA Plan of Work, which gave BSRIA the opportunity to align Soft Landings stages against the new RIBA stages, and those published by the CIC. There’s also a public sector Soft Landings decision tree included to help government and local authority clients dovetail their procurement requirements with Soft Landings requirements.

 Building performance research is identifying many critical aspects of procurement where clients and the construction industry need to tighten up their respective acts. The commissioning manager is a critical role, and the earlier they can be appointed the better. The procurement guide offers some advice on how to do this, and what their role should be in Soft Landings.

 Soft Landings is not job in itself but a set of roles and responsibilities shared among the client and project team. However, on large jobs particularly a co-ordinator may be needed to make sure the administration is carried out. Paperwork – which could include updating operational risk registers in BIM models for example – needs to be done by someone. If this isn’t covered, Soft Landings might fail ‘for want of a nail’.

 BSRIA hopes that How to Procure Soft Landings – guidance for clients, consultants and contractors will provide all that clients and project teams need to put Soft Landings into operation.  It is a practical guide to accompany the Soft Landings Framework – still the industry bible on what Soft Landings is about, and why you should adopt it.

 With all this talk about the performance gap between design and building operation, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that the act of procuring a building and constructing it is a team enterprise. No-one goes into the process with the intention of doing a bad job.  Events, like many things in life, can conspire against it. What Soft Landings tries to do is provide toeholds for everyone involved to do a better job in the face of budgetary, time and skills pressures.  How to Procure Soft Landings – guidance for clients, consultants and contractors provides a whole load more toeholds for everyone.

 BSRIA BG45/2013 How to Procure Soft Landings – guidance for clients, consultants and contractors is available from BSRIA bookshop.

An intelligent building is one that doesn’t make its occupants look like idiots

Air conditioning controls in an office in Adelaide

I’ve spent about nearly 20 years in the post-occupancy evaluation (POE) of buildings, many of which were designed to be sustainable and low energy. Some even claimed to be intelligent buildings. If only they were. Sadly, as many working in POE will despairingly concur, unmanageable complexity is the enemy of good performance.

It’s important to remember that the term intelligent building is very much the lingua franca of the controls and building automation community. It’s not a natural phrase in architectural and engineering lexicons. You won’t find many clients using it either. It’s also a very ‘nineties’ term, like its not-so-distant relation, sick building syndrome (which, somewhat ironically, seems to have died a death). Most of the design community is now working to the ‘keep-it-simple, fabric-first’ definition of intelligence. Why? Because the high-tech approach has proved to be a mirage.

Time and time again, almost without exception, systems and technologies that rely on complex automation in order to achieve energy savings usually fail because practice doesn’t mirror design theory. Practice is a heady mix of:

  • Over-complicated design with little understanding or appreciation of what occupants really want
  • Design that is difficult to apply in the real world, leading to poor detailing, poor installation quality, inadequate commissioning, and the unwitting introduction of technical risks by contractual and product interfaces that go unnoticed until it’s too late
  • Incompatibility of components that require constant adjustment or re-work
  • Over-sensitive and/or hard to adjust controls and settings
  • Excessive need for management vigilance over systems that were assumed by designers and the supply chain to be fit-and-forget, but which become fit-and-manage in practice,
  • General lack of usability, compounded by false assumptions that occupants will take an interest in controlling and optimising the operation of building systems, where frankly they don’t want the responsibility
  • Unexpected consequences and revenge effects: systems modulating automatically annoying occupants, systems that don’t allow enough occupant override, or which people don’t understand because the controls are not intuitive to use,
  • Systems that default to an energy-saving condition rather than putting occupant expectations first (in severe cases causing a breakdown in relations between facilities managers motivated to maintain set-points come what may, exacerbated by a professional belief that things are best controlled centrally)
  • The creation of a maintenance and aftercare dependency culture, where the building owner is dependent on expensive call-outs to maintain or modify the settings of digital systems for which they do not have the expertise to maintain, nor the access rights (and software) to modify themselves.

Is all this intelligent or just stupid?

The essential question a building designer needs to answer is simply this:  what problem are you trying to solve? The solution needs to be the simplest, the most appropriate, the least costly, and the most robust and reliable.  

Designers need to understand more about what end-users actually like and dislike about buildings and their systems. Although making things simple may not be the top of every designer’s list, they need to remember that buildings are intended for people – they are a means to an end not an end in themselves. Automation, in itself, should not be a goal. Building intelligence should therefore, above all else, lead to intelligible and sensible systems. Those systems shouldn’t challenge, they shouldn’t alienate, and they shouldn’t lock building owners into an expensive maintenance dependency.

Most of all, automation mustn’t disenfranchise occupants from making decisions about their working conditions, and prevent them acting upon them. It’s important to give occupants what they actually want, not what they don’t want but what designers think they ought to have.

As the author Guy Browning said: Most problems are people problems, and most people problems are communication problems. If you want to solve a communication problem, go and give someone a damn good listening to…

COBie – it’s all about the fields

We are all becoming familiar with the 3D BIM model and the benefits it can bring to the construction process, but the challenge is to get the data it contains to the right people at the right time.  The Government has decided that COBie is going to enable us all to do this in a friendly Excel format, and as engineers, contractors and FMs are used to seeing plant performance data in schedules it should be easy to replace those with the COBie spreadsheets, right?  Well, not yet.

The idea is to complete the COBie spreadsheets and give them to the client at predetermined information exchange points, or data drops, throughout the procurement process at points where the client is required to make key decisions.  In most cases the spreadsheets can be populated by certain basic building data directly from the model.  However, the COBie UK 2012 spreadsheets do not include any fields for the performance of M&E plant or equipment – a fundamental flaw in the strategy and a serious obstacle to their widespread adoption.  Therefore, as things stand this information must be added manually at each information exchange stage, a considerable task on most projects where BIM will be used and will add significantly to the amount of effort required to deliver all the relevant data in the COBie format, as required by UKHMG.  Also, the headings used are in ‘model’ speak and not readily understood by the intended users.

Whilst the idea of producing information in a form which is readily accessible to all parties is simple, it is key that the COBie spreadsheets are easy to follow, and can be quickly understood.  To achieve this they must use a language which is familiar to construction professionals, and the right type of data needs to be included.  Unfortunately, this is not the case at present but it is hoped that feedback from the Government’s Ministry of Justice pilot projects, due to report later this year, may change this.  The key to making the construction information available ultimately to the FMs is accurate, clear, comprehensive COBie data files. A little work remains to be done to achieve this, but it should be possible.

BIM Task Group / COBIE UK 2012

COBie UK 2012 example. Building Information Modelling (BIM) Task Group

 

BSRIA Events 

Engaging with BIM http://www.bsria.co.uk/training-and-events/details/engaging-with-bim-event/ 

An introduction to BIM http://www.bsria.co.uk/training-and-events/details/an-introduction-to-bim/

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