Collaboration is the key to better performance
Published: 02 February, 2017
Sacrificing a building’s controls specification to reduce costs can only lead to the building failing to perform as intended — believes Malcolm Anson of the Building Controls Industry Association.
One of the biggest issues which we as an industry face is that commercial buildings continuously fail to perform as intended. But in addressing the issue of building performance what we need to do is take a long hard look at how the industry works, because the key to better building performance lies in collaboration.
There is no such thing as a typical commercial building; each one comes with its own challenges. Despite this, many of our commercial buildings suffer from the same problem — building performance.
This issue was addressed at the 2016 Building Services Summit, where an interesting point was made regarding the commercial incentive for long-term building performance — or should that be lack of it?
A common point of view seems to be that there is no commercial incentive at the design stage for long-term building performance. Designers are led by the aspirations of their clients who want a building which stands out from the rest — quite often one which makes a design statement. This is no bad thing, but it can lead to problems if the design statement comes at the cost of essential elements that keep the building working efficiently.
The Building Energy Management System (BEMS) is a classic example because although it is specified correctly at the outset, when the budget comes under scrutiny or cuts need to be made it is often one of the first things to be hit. That’s not to say that the entire BEMS is removed from the building, but questions around the number of sensors, for example, start to be asked and before long the number has been halved.
What we are left with is a building that will fail to perform as intended simply because the components to achieve this are no longer in place.
One of the key issues identified at the summit was that there is no financial incentive for the long-term performance of a building. There is an incentive for a building to be delivered on time and to budget, but once it is handed over it seems that performance is all but forgotten.
Another issue is that there is no single source responsible for the performance of everything within a building; again, once it is handed over it is the responsibility of the building owner or manager to keep everything working.
A good analogy used was that of the car industry. When you buy a car you expect it to work, and you expect to achieve the performance which was promised by the manufacturer. If anything fails, or if it doesn’t perform as intended, you simply take it back to the manufacturer. At no point will you need to contact the engine manufacturer or the company that supplied the brakes if either of those items fail because the responsibility for the long-term performance of the car as a whole lies firmly with the car manufacturer.
So why should it be so different with a commercial building? We are faced with a situation whereby if an item of plant fails we must contact the manufacturer of that item to get it fixed. Perhaps that isn’t such an onerous task unless several pieces of plant fail once handover has taken place. But if the building fails to perform as intended in the longer term who do we contact?
The simple answer is ‘no-one’, and there lies the problem because there is no single person from the original design-and-build team who is responsible for the long-term performance of the building.
There is no quick and easy solution, but what is apparent is that if we are to achieve efficient performance in the longer term then we need to work together. More importantly we need to learn from one another.
I work in the building-controls industry and am therefore fully aware of the benefits which a BEMS can bring to a commercial building. I also know what will happen if the number of sensors is reduced by half and that although this may look like a minor element to remove from the building specification it can have a massive impact on the long-term performance. There will be other people like me in other sectors of the industry, because between us we have a lot of knowledge. The answer therefore lies in education because it is only by sharing this knowledge that we can begin to take a step forward.
Collaboration will therefore be the key to improvement until such a time when there is a greater commercial incentive for building performance. While it would be great to think that we could learn from the car industry and move towards a point where there is one person responsible for the long-term performance of the building I think that might be a long way off. In the short term, we need to adopt a process of engagement and education so that the whole chain, from designer through to end user, is aware of the effect of cutting costs at the design stage of a project.
Malcolm Anson is president of the Building Controls Industry Association.