Heat Pumps and Heat Waves: How overheating complicates ending gas in the UK

by Dr Aaron Gillich | Associate Professor and Director of the BSRIA LSBU Net Zero Building Centre

We have entered what many are calling the decisive decade on climate action. Among the most critical decisions that the UK faces this decade is how it will eliminate carbon emissions from heat. Heat accounts for over a third of our emissions, and over 80% of our buildings are linked to the gas grid. There is no pathway to Net Zero that doesn’t include ending the use of gas as we know it in the UK.

Given the size of the UK gas grid, no single technology or energy vector can replace it. We will need a combination of clean electricity and carbon‐free gas such hydrogen or biogas, delivered by a range of enabling technologies such as heat pumps and heat networks. And of course an extremely ambitious retrofit agenda that reduces the demand for heat in the first place.

The UK is investing widely in low carbon heating innovation. That innovation is essential, but is also unlikely to include any blue‐sky breakthroughs that aren’t currently on the table. In other words, the menu of low carbon heating technology options is set, and this decisive decade will be about deciding what goes best where, and how to ensure a just and equitable heat transition.

Low-carbon heating options

Of all the low‐carbon heating options available, low carbon heat pumps are the most efficient and scalable option that is market ready and can respond to the urgency of climate change this decade. The UK has set a laudable target of installing 600,000 heat pumps per year by 2028. Many have criticized this figure as unrealistic, but I believe that the target is highly achievable, and represents a pace that is in line with past transitions such as ‘the Big Switch’ that put us on the gas grid in the first place.

This race to replace gas in the UK has been widely discussed. As have the many barriers that face heat pump deployment in the UK. What I’ve heard discussed far less are the links between heating in the winter and overheating in the summer. Over the next decade, the end of gas will present both a threat and an opportunity to improve both the winter and summer performance of our building stock.

The threat of climate change is clear. The end of gas increases this threat because gas has allowed the UK to obscure poor building performance, and poor building knowledge for so long. Cheap gas has enabled a ‘set it and forget it’ approach to many building systems, and allowed us to maintain reasonable standards of comfort in most buildings despite very poor fabric performance. The irony is that this poor winter performance actually helps reduce the risk of overheating in the summer, as the leaky and poorly insulated buildings can more easily shed excess heat. It has been widely reported that many newer, better insulated buildings actually face an increased risk of summer overheating.

Replacing gas with heat pumps, or any other low carbon heat source, should be accompanied by ambitious retrofit to improve energy efficiency and reduce heat loss. There are many that argue heat pumps in fact require extensive fabric retrofit in order to function in most UK buildings. This is highly debatable and will be explored in detail in follow-up writings. Regardless, demand reduction and a fabric first approach is a good idea for its own sake.

Replacing gas with heat pumps, or any other low carbon heat source, should be accompanied by ambitious retrofit to improve energy efficiency and reduce heat loss.

But reducing the heat loss in winter will likely trap heat in the summer, presenting a conflict. The UK currently experiences over 20,000 excess winter cold deaths and around 2,000 heat related deaths in summer. It was previously thought that the increased temperatures from climate change would decrease winter cold deaths, but more recent work has shown that due to the increases in extreme weather events at both ends of the spectrum, it is far more likely that winter cold deaths will remain at similar levels, and summer heat deaths will increase dramatically under climate change.

We must use the transition from gas to low carbon heating as an opportunity to better understand our buildings. Many of 600,000 heat pumps we install by 2028 will be in new build, but up to half will need to be from existing homes.

Retrofitting a heat pump is also the time to think about not only how to improve energy efficiency for the winter but how to reduce summer overheating as well. Despite much effort towards a whole‐house approach to retrofit, most work remains quite siloed. Energy efficiency and heating installations are largely in separate supply chains, and the building physics knowledge to carry out an overheating risk assessment is even less likely to sit with the same project team. Overheating is also very poorly captured by the building regulations and planning process.

A holistic approach

The last few years has seen a growing awareness of overheating risk and an emergence of increasingly easy to use assessment tools. A very small fraction of UK homes have comfort cooling. Retrofitting a comfort cooling solution typically requires costly and complex changes to distribution systems. However, there are a range of low cost options, including using local extract fans to create interzonal air movement, or using night purges and thermal mass. Blinds are also incredibly useful, but often misused in summer, and can also help reduce heat loss in winter. There are also ways to use local microclimate features such as shaded areas or the North side of the building to bring in slightly cooler air from outside and reduce peak temperatures.

Improving the air tightness and fabric performance of our buildings to address heating in the winter will change how we implement these solutions for the summer. They require not only careful thought at the design stage, but also strong communication to help end users operate them properly. Simply opening a window is unlikely to help if the outside air is warmer than inside.

A significant problem is that there are insufficient drivers to force this type of holistic approach to design, performance, and communication. It is so often said that we need stronger policies in the area of heat and retrofit, and this is no doubt true. But while we await these policies it is incumbent upon each of us in this sector to share and collaborate as widely as possible, and use whatever influence we have over a given project to encourage a fair and forward looking solution.

In summary, the availability of cheap gas has allowed us to escape having to understand our buildings in much detail. Climate change is the catalyst for an untold level of change in our lives that we are going to start to truly experience in the coming decade. Heating and overheating are coupled issues that must be solved together. We must use the end of gas as an opportunity to understand our buildings better, and implement solutions to climate change that work across seasons, or we risk trading one problem for another.

In summary, the availability of cheap gas has allowed us to escape having to understand our buildings in much detail.

Taking action on Climate Change

by Michelle Agha-Hossein, BSRIA Building Performance Lead

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steps building owners and operators can take today.

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

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

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

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

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

Post Occupancy Evaluation: operational performance of a refurbished office building

This blog was written by Dr Michelle Agha-Hossein BEng (Hons), EngD, Sustainable Building Consultant for BSRIA's Sustainable Construction Group

This blog was written by Dr Michelle Agha-Hossein BEng (Hons), EngD,
Sustainable Building Consultant for BSRIA’s Sustainable Construction Group

My Engineering Doctorate study aimed to investigate how and to what extent office building refurbishment can help to improve occupants’ satisfaction, perceived productivity and well-being while optimising building’s operational performance.

A case study approach and a “diagnostic” post-occupancy evaluation style of framework were adopted in this study to evaluate the performance of a recently refurbished 5-storey office building in detail and find opportunities to reduce the gap, if any. The study divided the workplace’s environment into three categories: ‘physical conditions’, ‘interior use of space’ and ‘indoor facilities’. Employee surveys and interviews revealed that interior use of space was the most important aspect of the building influencing occupants’ perceived productivity, well-being and enjoyment at work (happiness) while the improvement of the indoor facilities had no significant effect.

The study also concluded that issues with the physical conditions (such as noise and temperature) causes negative effects on perceived productivity but improving this aspect to a higher level than it is required would not necessarily increase perceived productivity. In contrast, improving the interior use of space aspect of a workplace would increase employees’ perceived productivity proportionally.  These results, however, should be considered with cautious as employee’s satisfaction surveys and interviews revealed that employees’ levels of expectation might have affected their levels of satisfaction with their new work environment.  This could cause some bias in the results of buildings’ performance evaluation. A potential

Old working environment

Old working environment

solution to this issue is to measure occupants’ expectations for their future workplace at the design stage to try to fulfil these expectations as much as possible. How well the new work environment met occupants’ expectations is another factor that should be measured at the post-occupancy stage.

It was also noted that the occupants density at the building was low at the time of the study (17.7m2/person) and that the space was not fully and effectively utilised and more than 50% of the workstations were often not in use. The link between improving space utilisation and the building’s energy consumption as well as its occupants’ perceived

New working environment

New working environment

productivity and well-being merits further investigation. These results are important in the projects where increasing productivity is a key and the budget is limited.

In terms of energy performance and CO2 emission, it was revealed that the actual emission of the building was three times more than the design target. Most of the low cost opportunities identified to reduce the gap were related to the building management and control as well as occupants’ behaviour. I will be doing a webinar very soon on simple energy efficiency tips related to building management and control and occupants’ behaviour. Watch BSRIA’s website for more details about this webinar. 

Emerging themes from Innovate UK’s BPE programme

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BSRIA Residential Network launch

saryu2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Design Fine Tuning?

 

Julia Evans, BSRIA Chief Executive

Julia Evans, BSRIA Chief Executive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

The Smart Response to Managing Buildings’ Energy Problems

This blog was written by BSRIA's Henry Lawson

This blog was written by BSRIA’s Henry Lawson

Issues around energy continue to dominate many of the news headlines in the UK, and are seldom far from the forefront in other developed countries. While much of the focus has been on rising domestic energy price- tariffs, the way that buildings use, and all too often waste, energy remains a huge concern. This is hardly surprising given that in both Europe and North America, buildings account for a whopping 40% of all energy consumed.

One thorny problem is the high cost of improving building energy performance, especially in a country like the UK where the building stock, especially  the residential building stock, tends to date back to an era when the principles of energy conservation were much less well understood, let alone acted on, and where the cost of improvements and renovation can be high, and the ROI correspondingly long – a daunting prospect when governments, companies and consumers are all still hurting from the financial hangover following the worst recession in decades.

All of this means that institutions, companies and households need to look at smarter ways of coping with high-cost energy in buildings that are often not ‘designed’ to be energy- efficient.  Here at BSRIA we have just completed a regular update of our report into Building Energy Management in Europe and North America, which has given us the chance to review some of the key current developments. As part of this, we looked at 17 of the leading suppliers to this market.

One immediately striking conclusion is that all of the leaders incorporate a level of analytics, in some cases as part of a wider portfolio, in others as their central specialised offering.  In one sense this is not surprising. If you want to improve a building’s performance then you can either take a direct physical approach– for example more energy-efficient construction or insulation, or cheaper or more environmentally friendly energy sources – or you can take steps to change the way the building uses that energy, which means interacting with its occupants and their requirements in an intelligent way, which in turn requires that you have all relevant information to hand. We can expect these analytics to become increasingly sophisticated, with buildings “learning” based on usage and performance over time.

This also helps to explain another striking finding:  that most of the suppliers in this sector now offer some level of on-going commissioning. Improving building energy performance is a continuous undertaking – reflecting the fact that buildings’ usage patterns and the behaviour of their occupants will themselves change over time, as processes and equipment become more, or less, efficient. In providing or supporting an on-going service, companies become less like suppliers in the “traditional” sense, and more like partners, providing consultancy as well as software or hardware. In some cases the service supports the actual procurement of energy and management of energy suppliers.

Another capability which is fast becoming a “must have” is the ability to offer a Software as a Service (SaaS) model, with all of the advantages in terms of cost model, maintenance, accessibility and flexibility.

wmi-thermostatAs buildings become increasingly integrated into the wider “smart world”, Demand Response, already well-established in parts of the USA is being taken up more seriously in Europe as well, with an increasing number of BEMS suppliers supporting  the move to automated demand response.

While the problems faced by large commercial buildings clearly differ in important ways from the light commercial sector and from residential buildings, there are likely here as elsewhere, to be important elements of crossover. Some suppliers are also providing differently scaled BEMS solutions and energy management is already one of the central elements of most “smart home” solutions.

Barring a sudden surge in cheap, readily available and environmentally friendly energy, which still sounds like a dream scenario, we can expect BEMS to continue its rapid advance in importance, increasingly integrated into related areas of Building Automation, and of Smart Grids.

To find out more about BSRIA’s updated study “BEMS Market 2013 Q4 : Developments in Europe and the USA”, please contact Steve Turner on +44 (0)1344 465610 (Steve.Turner@bsria.co.uk)

Smart metering makes BPE easy…or does it?

BSRIA's Alan Gilbert

Head of BSRIA Instrument Solutions Alan Gilbert

Building Performance Evaluation (BPE) is here to stay. With government driving towards 20% reduction in costs for its built estate and increasing unwillingness to accept design predictions as sufficient to prove outcomes, objective measurement will be key. Government Soft Landings (GSL) and the implied BPE activities attest to this. In the housing sector regulation is increasingly looking to proof of performance (airtightness for example) with a growing European focus on providing owners with objective labeling of homes. The recent announcements of the 2013 revisions of Part L have largely focused on fabric issues but it seems likely that attention will now turn to the performance of installed HVAC plant and associated controls which themselves will present a challenge in proving that combinations of low carbon technologies are indeed working properly.

All this is happening at the same time as measures to introduce smart metering are coming on-stream. With a commitment to have full implementation by 2020, smart meters should provide a powerful means to assist with BPE of both commercial and non-commercial buildings but will they really realise this objective?

Just how “smart” is smart in the context of metering? At its lowest level the smart meter simply offers a remote display of energy use (often expressed in £) so that users are sensitised to consumption. Rarely are both gas and electricity monitored and I know of no instance where water is included as well. This is a shame: water (especially hot water) is an increasing proportion of dwelling energy use and is largely ignored by householders. There is increasing evidence that this kind of visible display can have good initial impact but that users rapidly de-sensitise. Really, these meters are not smart but simply remote display devices.

More commonly “smart” means that meter readings can be transmitted to the supply company on a scheduled basis. This is the type currently planned to be used in the present roll-out. Again it is unlikely that all three services are monitored and the data is often collected at no more than half hour intervals. As an alternative to self-read or estimated billing they are undoubtedly an improvement and will help electricity companies come to terms with balancing home generation and network loading but the thorny problem of access to data remains to be overcome.

Finally there is the possibility of the “really smart” meter which will permit full two way communication between utility and user thus bringing into reality the possibility of sophisticated demand management options for the power companies. Potentially this could be a rich source of data for BPE but ownership of the protocols and access rights are likely to be a serious hurdle to potential third party users of this resource.

Even if full access to a multi-service, duplex remote metering scheme is possible it cannot provide the additional data that a proper BPE service demands. In order to interpret energy use data additional sensors are needed to enable forensic analysis. Internal temperatures, occupancy rates, casual gains from white goods and local weather, all are needed to understand and normalise energy use back to some design criteria. Even when all this is achieved there is often no substitute for “feet on the ground” to interview occupants or spot unusual behaviours.

Access to large volumes of user data is one key requirement to understanding just how the various interventions in existing dwellings or

British Gas Smart Meter

British Gas Smart Meter

the application of new regulations in the built environment sector are working. The Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) has developed a restricted access National Energy Efficiency Data-Framework (NEED) and this has proven invaluable in understanding the real impact of certain measures such as cavity fill retrofits. Unfortunately this kind of data is not readily available to the wider research community at present nor is it fed from real-time or near real-time sources. This makes it unsuitable for analysis of individual properties.

We want to really deliver truly low energy (an carbon) buildings that are also healthy, productive and comfortable to use but,until the tangle of issues associated with privacy and smart metering are resolved then there is little alternative or more of this kind of work that will not only resolve issues in individual dwellings but also create a new generation of people able to interpret complex building physics and behavioural data. Surely a good thing in itself. If however we really want to look at effects in the wider population of buildings then DECC should be encouraged to invest in NEED and roll it out to wider research community so that academics, business and industry can better identify opportunity for action in bringing UK nearer to its legal carbon commitments.

For more information about BSRIA’s involvement in BPE including a presentation defining BPE as well as information on how Soft Landings fits in click here.

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.

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