Contracting in to sustainability

Geoffrey Robinson
The role of contractors in sustainability — HVCA president Geoffrey Robinson.
Sustainable designs do not have to be all about clever renewable technologies and blue-skies thinking. Traditional methods still have a lot to offer according to GEOFFREY ROBINSONTraditional contracting skills and existing techniques still have a lot to offer in the drive for sustainable design. Many installed systems in buildings are not working to anything like their full potential, and a basic approach to proper commissioning and optimisation can improve the energy efficiency of buildings long before engineers have to start thinking about how to integrate renewables. Important role This is where contractors can play an important part by working closely with manufacturers to ensure they can set up systems to deliver best lifetime performance. Eventually, someone will have to come up with the ‘big solution’ to fill our growing energy void. It could be a new generation of nuclear power stations, or they might finally get round to building that tidal barrage across the Severn Estuary, but in the meantime the contractor’s job is to minister to the sick patients — our existing under-performing buildings. To take the medical analogy further, we are the doctors treating cancer patients with everything we have currently at our disposal and hoping that one day the pharmaceutical developers of our world will come up with a miracle cure. Driving force Legislation will, of course, be the real driving force behind the sustainability agenda. The Government aims to deliver 25% of the country’s total carbon reduction via the new Building Regulations by 2010. It is now forcing the pace because the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) is using the regulations, and the new Part L in particular, to meet its commitments under the EU Energy Performance of Buildings Directive. The new regulations recognise that the Achilles’ heel of past attempts to address this area is the fact that buildings rarely perform ‘as built’. Poor scheduling and compressed construction timetables have led to many buildings never being properly commissioned. Air and water systems are left unbalanced when the building is occupied, which has had a disastrous effect on energy performance and occupant comfort. However, as of April this year when the new Part L comes into effect, commissioning will sit right at the heart of the new regulatory framework, and designers will be responsible for ensuring that what is built can be sustainably operated and maintained. Contractors are used to working at the ‘coal face’ when it comes to implementing designs, so we are therefore the right people to meet this brief. There is a lot more to sustainability than energy, of course, and the Heating & Ventilating Contractors’ Association (HVCA) has commissioned some detailed research to look at the key areas where its members can contribute to the drive for sustainable design. Other pieces of legislation like the F-Gas Directive and the Waste Electrical & Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive will be considered and how we can harness our skills to other drivers like the Sustainable Building Task Group Report, ‘Better buildings, better lives’ and emerging planning policy on renewables and sustainable construction. The research work will begin to bear fruit in March 2006 in time for the implementation of the new regulations in April, communicating as much good practice as we can find so that all contractors can play their part. Meet challenge The HVCA is well placed to help its members to meet these new challenges and to self certify their work through the running of a ‘competent-person scheme’. The Government wants a series of these schemes to be set up across a number of construction sectors as they are seen as key to ensuring the UK successfully implements the new requirements of the legislation. Our regime for inspection and assessment regime means HVCA members have already proved their competence to third-party assessors and so are ideally placed to join the competent person schemes. Working in partnership with other areas of the industry will also be vital. More and more consulting engineers are working for contractors because of the need to design for efficient and safe operation and maintenance over the life of the building. We need to work closely with CIBSE and other professional groups to make sure we are learning from each other, spreading good-practice information and applying the best techniques. Contractors will also increasingly find themselves in the role of building inspectors, ensuring that the equipment installed complies and delivers the intended level of energy efficiency. They are going to be key players in the post-Part L era. This is an area that should belong to contractors because we are used to the way building services are put together and how they work in practice. Inspectors Contractors may also wish to take on the role of building energy efficiency inspectors, a new requirement under the EU Directive. They will have to be multi-faceted individuals able to analyse building systems and offer detailed advice on how the buildings can be improved. The Government estimates that 10 000 will be needed, and I would urge all contractors to consider how they can improve their qualifications and knowledge to take on that role. As well as being an important contribution to sustainable design, this is an excellent business opportunity. Ultimately clients just want a building that supports their day-to-day business functions, and we must make sure anything we do is focused on that aim. Our industry is also in a position to show leadership. We can be proactive by ensuring we are able to offer a sustainable version of any design, and that must be our contribution to a healthier, sustainable future. Geoffrey Robinson is president of the Heating & Ventilating Contractors’ Association (HVCA).
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