The Lyncinerator on… Bathroom taps

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

Don’t get me started.  We’ve all been here.  You’re out and about, maybe having a meal, going shopping or visiting offices, and you have to use an unfamiliar bathroom.   You approach the basin to undertake that most basic of human hygiene tasks, washing your hands.  And looking around, you realise you have absolutely no idea how to turn on the tap…  and in many cases, you have absolutely no idea where the tap is.  If you are lucky, there is an obvious spout from which the water should come out.  However in many cases, the detective work starts here – the spout might not actually be in a tap, it might be be under the shelf, or embedded in the granite.  Second detective task:  getting the water to flow.  Sometimes it is a button.  Sometimes a toggle. Sometimes something to turn.  Sometimes a sensor – which sometimes works.  Let’s assume you have managed to actually get some water to use, and you can start on your third detective task – getting the temperature you want.  Often helpful “danger” notices warn you that the hot water is hot (really Sherlock??  – well, I guess putting up a notice is easier than sorting out the supply issue). Clearly many, tap designers are a fan of puzzles, and assume you are too.  No clues to indicate how to adjust temperature, no blue or red symbol to help you out.  You have to eliminate the suspects until you find a way that works.  And after the application of a lot of thought and puzzling, hopefully you get to wash your hands.

Presumably someone thought these taps look great – but ‘clean lines’ are triumphing over clean hands. Whilst this functional obfuscation is frustrating for the average user, it is nigh on impossible for people with learning disabilities, confusion or dementia, something that we can expect to see more of in an aging population. It leads me to wonder what the tap designers and those who chose the bathroom fittings were thinking about.  Probably not the user.

Why should you have to solve a series of problems in order to undertake such a basic operation as washing your hands?

Surely the purpose of designing a functional object is to get it to work, and that requires a combination of form, technology and human behaviour.  The human / technology interface is a critical element of design.  It is irritation with taps that has prompted my thinking, but it led me to wider thinking about the design of buildings and their systems, and a series of questions which maybe we should use as a checklist.

Human error is cited as one of the problems leading to poor building performance, but isn’t it really about design error?  Are we more concerned with what it looks like rather than how it will work?  Are we introducing complexity because we can, rather than because we should?  Why don’t different systems work with each other? Are we thinking about the different potential users?  Do we understand the behaviour and expectations of the people who will use the building or are we expecting them to mould to the needs of the building? Is design that confuses sections of the population acceptable?   Are we seeking to enable intuitive use or are we setting brain teasers? Do we care enough?

We should wash our hands of poor design.  But once we have washed them we have to dry them.  And you should see this hand dryer.  Don’t get me started…

Lynne Ceeney will be contributing a bi-monthly blog on key themes BSRIA is involved in over the next year. If there’s something that ‘gets you started’ let us know and we may be able to draw focus to it in another blog. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Best & Worst Practices Please!

Julia Evans, BSRIA Chief Executive

Julia Evans, BSRIA Chief Executive

BSRIA recently held a workshop on behalf of DECC identifying priorities to promote low carbon heating and cooling in non-domestic buildings as part of the development of its low carbon heat strategy.  Attendees were drawn from both the Young Engineers and Energy and Sustainability BSRIA networks.  Personal thanks to AECOM’s Ant Wilson for chairing the event.

It was a busy day.  It recognised that both new and existing buildings have a pivotal role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and by 2050 one of the key requirements will continue to be how we provide heating and cooling.

BSRIA’s Peter Tse and Ian Orme both gave excellent presentations which drew on both good and poor practices identified from more than 50 independently assessed case studies.  These, I felt, answered the questions “what does good practice look like”, as well as “what are the consequences when its not followed”.

The workshop session resulted in many suggestions as to priorities for the future.  There were a couple which caught my eye.

In response to the suggestion that one of the priorities for DECC should be identifying independently assessed best practice and developing exemplars of new technologies, a number of delegates felt that instances of “bad practice” were even more helpful.  It seemed to me that a priority for at least a part of the audience was to know what to avoid doing.  Perhaps this reflects the industry’s receptiveness to messages about risk, and that we often learn most when we make mistakes.  The emphasis on “independent assessment” also resonated.  Many have become sceptical about instances of self-identified “best practice”, and BSRIA’s independent guidance on what works, and what does not, is there to assist the industry do things better.

Another of the workshop themes was on “skills shortages”.  After many years of recession, construction companies have euphemistically “right sized”, and this means that we have lost a lot of great talent from the industry.  Now that there are green shoots of recovery in construction, there is already talk of an exacerbated “skills gap”.  This gap makes it even more challenging for the industry to deliver buildings which meet the needs of their occupiers and where innovation is required to help tackle climate change, and meet the UK’s commitment to “zero carbon” and “very low energy” buildings. This reminded me of another of BSRIA’s strengths – training provision.

BSRIA's 2014/15 Training Brochure

BSRIA’s 2014/15 Training Brochure

Finally there was an astute observation that our recent quest for low carbon buildings has meant that we have worried less about the efficient use of energy, with the net outcome that we can end up with an EPC A rating for carbon design, but a DEC G rating for energy in use.  The move to policies that move us to buildings which are both zero carbon and nearly zero energy use will hopefully remedy this, although I suspect this particular journey may contain further unintended consequences before we reach that goal.

The workshop identified many requirements if we are to create environmentally conscious buildings that meet user needs, and importantly maintain these elements over the life of the building.

BSRIA’s mission remains to “make buildings better”.  As part of my role, I’m listening to our members and the industry what they expect from BSRIA.  I’d like to extend this offer to you, so if you have ideas about BSRIA’s future role, please send them to me: Julia.evans@bsria.co.uk.

To learn more about the BSRIA workshop you can download all the presentations from our website. 

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.

Soft Landings – it’s not all about the cake!

A guest post by Stuart Thompson of Morgan Sindall

Soft Landings Workshop

Soft Landings Workshop

Following on from my previous post regarding the UEA low carbon project I’d like to share our progress with the inclusion of Soft Landings.

Last week our soft landings champions met for our fifth workshop, habitually in the cafe over some cake. Rod Bunn from BSRIA joined us this time to check that we were still on track, almost a year after he helped me to introduce the soft landings framework to our UEA project stakeholders. We are in Stage 2 of the framework and we are really getting a grasp of what it’s all about, Stage 2 focuses on design development, reviews similar projects and details how the building will work. Over the last two months we held some ‘reality checking’ workshops on various topics and have gathered some great feedback on our RIBA Stage D design. This will be used to shape the detail as we move into RIBA Stage E design.

During our soft landing gatherings, the champions are challenging ourselves with thoughts like:

  • are the BREEAM Outstanding & PHPP figures really relevant to our building users? How do we demonstrate their great value to the users?
  •  ensure that our soft landings champions are empowered, to ensure that they are accommodated by the wider project team
  • can we recognise and utilise people’s talents and abilities and identify the environment in which they function most effectively?
  • has the soft landings process captured all of the creative ideas from the wider project team? 

We are also looking to create a back-casting report on Post Occupancy Evaluation and occupancy satisfaction by the

Soft landings delivery plan

Soft landings delivery plan

next meeting. We glanced through a few examples of what the client would like to see. Thinking about this report now (that will be needed in say 2 years time), is an example of how the  progressive, forward-thinking approach of soft landings will provide benefit to the client at no additional cost.

Our soft landings meetings are productive, I look forward to these, and it’s not simply about the cake!

Have you included Soft Landings in any of your projects? What are the challenges and achievements you’ve faced?

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…

How will you invest in Soft Landings?

Budgeting for better building handover

Soft Landings is an open source process designed to overcome problems after handover. It is arguably an increasingly important part of procurement philosophy. Three year periods of aftercare are regularly being considered a core element of project plans; however, with Soft Landings comes great responsibility. The question is whose responsibility is it to include Soft Landings and ensure it gets done?

All clients want high performing buildings but are not always willing to pay additional costs for the aftercare process. On the other hand the building industry has a right to demand additional fees if they are taking on more responsibilities and higher risks. This standoff won’t resolve itself without some easing of tensions.

As an advocate of better building handover, I believe that both clients and contractors need to change their expectations. More fundamentally, both sides of the contractual fence need to recognise that although they may share an ambition for a high-performing building, it does not become such until it is proved to be. This means troubleshooting the building and fine-tuning it way beyond resolving snags and defects.

Once a client acknowledges that it wants its project to adopt Soft Landings, it needs to ensure that the methodology is expressed throughout the entire process. The client should not assume that the contractor will take responsibility for it all; BSRIA has seen a number of documents that puts the responsibility of Soft Landings completely with the contractors when it should definitely be a result of negotiations between all parties involved. A client also needs to be specific in what they expect from their consultants and sub-contractors. Therefore such a project should unquestionably be a collaborative effort with equal responsibility and realistic expectations shared by all.

However, this commitment can’t come for free, which begs a question of where the costs lie, and what they amount to.

Setting aside a budget

It is essential that clients acknowledge that a budget needs to be set aside for Soft Landings, especially if they want a three year period of aftercare. A reasonable place to start is by feeling a nominal budget and then to discuss how it can be best invested, all projects are different but BSRIA believes that 0.1% of the total contract value is a good place to start. Then comes the hardest part, how do you distribute such a budget?

The budget needs to include the three year aftercare period but also other additional Soft Landings activities required during the design and construction process, such as periodic reality-checking. It is also important for clients to note that they will have additional costs at later points if they take into consideration the need for independent building performance monitoring. So, overall, does the 0.1 per cent rule hold true? By and large it’s a good place to start.

If the budget proves inadequate for the client’s ambitions, then those ambitions either need to be scaled back, or the budget increased. Undoubtedly, all parties to the aftercare process stand to gain from the lessons learned, so it is absolutely in their professional interest to meet each other halfway. 

If an agreement and a clear plan can be put into place early then it is entirely possible for such a project to be successful.

To gain a better understanding Soft Landings procurement and budgets read the full article here:

 http://www.bsria.co.uk/news/soft-landings-budgets/

Are designers keeping up?

BS EN 12464-1, Light and Lighting, Part 1 indoor workplaces, was first published in 2002. It included a schedule of recommended minimum task illuminances for a range of industrial, institutional and commercial applications. These values were similar to those previously in the Society of Light and Lighting Code. Originally the SLL values were ‘general’ illumination for the complete floor area thus enabling equipment and workers to be positioned anywhere in the space. A convenience when electricity was cheap.

However the BS specifically refers to ‘task’ illumination, normally only a small part of the gross floor area. The rest of the room would require less illuminance and thus considerable capital and operating cost savings can be made. But where are the task areas? Often the client has no idea when the lighting design is carried out. The designer then has to revert to ‘general‘ illumination to guarantee adequate lighting of the task. However the client will pay for the over lighting of the ‘non-task’ areas.

This problem of insufficient information is compounded by the changes included in the revision to BS EN 12464-1 last year. Introduced for the first time is the requirement for mean cylindrical illuminance in the space to provide good visual communication and recognition of objects. This should be no less than 50 lux, and for areas where good visual communication is important like offices, meeting and teaching areas not less than 150 lux. Although the concept of cylindrical illumination is not new it has not been widely considered for the routine lighting of workplaces.

How do many existing lighting schemes meet these new requirements? Very few published photographs of interiors include a full complement of ‘workers’ so there is little subjective evidence of how modern lighting affects the appearance of the human face. Accurate measurement could be a problem. Added to this is the same problem outlined above, the lack of occupational information of the space.

The Standard only considers the requirements of ‘workers’ so places where customers or visitors dominate lighting requirement need to be considered separately.

Room temperature measurement

Measuring temperature in a room is one of the things we do most often as building services engineers.  It seems straightforward, but is it really as simple as it appears?

Specifications often state that a certain temperature must be maintained in a building, but what does this mean? Designers need to know what they are designing for. Contractors need to know where to put the sensors. Commissioning engineers need to know how to confirm the building meets the specification and last, but not least the occupants need to be satisfied and comfortable.

I would like to know what you think and what you do for temperature measurement….

  • Do you measure air temperature, radiant temperature, environmental temperature or something else?
  • What height do you measure it?
  • Where in the room? At desks or in the centre?
  • At the worst spot, the best spot or the average?
  • How long do you measure for?
  • Should you take the average over time, the lowest or the highest?
  • How long should you leave the system to warm up or cool down?
  • What do you use to measure temperature; liquid in glass bulb, thermistor, thermocouple or infrared?
  • How is your thermometer or temperature sensor calibrated and how often?
  • Should we really be specifying temperature at all?  It is often occupant comfort that matters most.

This might lead to a Best Practice Guide or a series of guides because we could also look at other measurements for building services such as water temperature, humidity and air flow. You can feedback using the form below or by commenting on this post.

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