Planning a building for lower costs

The capital cost of buildings is very much the tip of the iceberg. Operating and other subsequent costs are likely to be five times the capital cost of construction.
When a new building is planned, there is tremendous emphasis on minimising the cost of construction. But what about the lifetime costs of the building? These largely unconsidered costs offer much greater scope for savings, says KEVIN JONES.How much does a building cost? You will probably find someone who can tell you how much it cost to build, but that is only part of the answer, and it is not even the biggest part. In fact, studies have shown that the operating costs of a typical commercial building will, over its life, be around three times the cost of construction. Lifetime cost And even that is not the final total. The cost of maintaining the building and restructuring it as the needs of its occupants change are likely to amount to double the construction costs. In other words, the total lifetime cost of a building will be around five times the capital cost of its construction. It is not difficult to see that this is where the best opportunities for savings lie. What is the best way to capitalise on these opportunities? Careful planning of the building’s infrastructure — electrical distribution systems, data and telecommunications networks, building controls and security systems — is the key. A moment’s reflection will show why. Flexible infrastructure makes restructuring of accommodation easier and less costly. Well-planned infrastructure provides effective control over all building services, allowing energy usage to be minimised. Further, building infrastructure based on modern systems and components is reliable and easy to maintain, which means that intrinsic running costs are low. Proven expertise Unfortunately, the type of planning needed to maximise these benefits is rarely undertaken. Everyone involved in the design of a new building — right up to boardroom level — needs to collaborate closely from the earliest stages of the project, and an organisation with proven expertise in integrated building solutions should be at the table. Finally, all parties must be willing to consider as a whole many aspects of the project that are normally only considered in isolation. For example, it is quite usual for telecommunication systems to be dealt with entirely separately from building-management installations — and for both to be dealt with separately from the IT facilities. Yet, in reality, if these aspects are brought together, enormous benefits are possible. These systems can, for example, share a common network infrastructure. Not only does this mean big cost savings on the initial installation of a single network, but it is also easier and more cost effective to modify when a building is restructured. One of the main impediments to adopting this approach is the belief that full integration of disparate systems is, at present, impossible. This is probably true — but full integration is not necessary to achieve benefits from convergence. It is by no means essential for the office IT systems to inter-operate with say, the heating controls, but this does not stop them sharing the same network cabling. Realistically, convergence, rather than integration, is the aim. Transparency Even convergence, however, places some specific requirements on the installation. The most important is transparency — essentially adopting a common platform for the various services, making them easy to manage and control. A practical example is provided by Schneider Electric’s Transparent Building Integrated Systems, which are designed around cost-effective, proven and reliable Ethernet and web technologies. This allows the use of simple, readily understood user interface such as the familiar Internet Explorer web browser, as well as providing cabling which can be used for a wide variety of functions. It is not just data infrastructure, however, that benefits from the use of modern technology; opportunities also exist for building flexibility into electrical distribution systems. The key in this case is the use of busbar trunking, such as the Telemecanique Canalis, rather than conventional cabling as the basis for the installation. When trunking is used, power tap-off points can be added at any point along its length. To fit an additional point or to move an existing one, it is not even necessary to turn off the power. This allows both power and lighting installation to be quickly reconfigured without the need for costly and inconvenient rewiring. In addition, contrary to popular belief, busbar trunking is economical to install. While the material cost may be somewhat higher than that of a cable-based system, trunking is fast and easy to fit. In virtually every case, the resulting savings on labour costs easily outweigh the small extra material cost. Shifting focus Capital costs for new buildings have been squeezed almost to the limit, so the focus for cost savings is now shifting to lifetime operating costs. A transparent convergent control infrastructure, combined with a flexible electrical installation, can deliver the required savings, but only if all interested parties co-operate from the earliest planning stages, and also make full use of support from an expert supplier. Kevin Jones leads Schneider Electric’s projects and services division and will present a paper on asset efficiency optimisation at a major built environment energy conference being hosted at the IET headquarters, Savoy Place, London on 22 and 23 June 2006. To find out more on, email or visit the website below to book your place.
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