Costing for life

CIBSE, whole life costs, SFG20, CIBSE Guide M
Reducing whole-life costs — Hywel Davies.

Hywel Davies of CIBSE sees a positive climate for whole-life costing emerging with the requirement for mandatory emissions reporting and the Carbon Reduction Commitment.

The RSPCA used to run adverts reminding us that ‘a dog is for life, not just for Christmas’. It tried to counter the enthusiasm to think short term and make a commitment without thinking about the consequences further in the future. It was, and is, good advice. Somehow, though, advising a building owner or occupier that ‘an air conditioning system isn’t just for the grand opening, but for life’, lacks the same ring.

Yet consider the costs of operation and maintenance, with statutory F gas and air-conditioning system inspections and maintenance by competent refrigerant handlers — on top of the day to day energy to run it. The operating costs over a 15-year life can quickly stack up.

And it’s not just air conditioning systems.

Many energy-using systems in a building will use energy costing a good deal more than their original purchase price. So why are so many systems bought on the basis of initial capital cost? Simply because current procurement practices disconnect the purchase decision from the people who end up paying the bills for much of the life. And where a landlord wants to do the responsible thing and install a system with a low life-cycle cost, they struggle to recoup any added capital costs. So they inevitably think twice before they install anything like that.

Serial builders with large portfolios and a substantial energy bill really understand the link between capital and operating costs. But they are few in number and have the capacity to ensure that they buy on a whole-life-cost basis if they wish. Meanwhile, does the average one-off client understand that the decisions that they make will affect their energy and maintenance bills for years to come?

Even if they delegate (or maybe that’s abdicate) the responsibility for selecting the luminaires and lamps or the boiler or the office equipment to someone else, they are making a decision — in this case, a decision to hand over control for a significant outgoing from their business for years to come.

Planning for maintenance — the SFG 20 maintenance specification for building services from the Building & Engineering Services Association and CIBSE Guide M’s schedules of expected service life are aligned with each other.

For years we have had a ‘Catch 22’ situation. Nobody does whole-life costing because clients don’t call for it. Clients don’t call for it because they don’t see it being done.

But now, with mandatory emissions reporting and the CRC, coupled with the ever-increasing costs of energy, more and more businesses are having to ask about whole-life cost, and increasing numbers of finance directors are asking questions about the whole-life cost of owning and operating building-services systems.

The UK Government is also looking hard at the costs of operating, as well as installing, equipment. As part of its construction strategy it is looking at the costs of running systems and how best to benchmark those costs and better manage them. So the focus on costs in use is being sharpened.

So what tools are there to help support a whole-life approach to building management?

The B&ES (formerly the HVCA) has for a number of years published a tool, now available online, called SFG 20 ‘Standard maintenance specification for building services’. It is widely regarded as the industry standard for the management, specification and delivery of maintenance for almost all of plant and services likely to be encountered within buildings. It was first developed over 15 years ago, when CIBSE and the then HVCA combined efforts to provide guidance on managing building-services maintenance.

SFG 20 provides a standard for clients to use when setting out tendering requirements and for service providers to use as the benchmark level of provision when costing work. It recommends the frequency of visits to particular plant and services installations and sets out details of the work to be undertaken in a generic format, which can be adapted for each location in which it is to be used. It also provides a structure for recording and auditing the work if required. It is continually reviewed to keep abreast of technology changes, statutory and mandatory requirements, and to reflect latest developments within the industry and how to meet client expectations. It covers more than 60 categories of equipment and 500 detailed maintenance schedules covering the most common types of heating, cooling, ventilation, controls and electrical services in buildings.

SFG 20 is aligned to the schedules of expected service life contained in CIBSE Guide M, which sets out how long the various items of plant are expected to last between replacement and what is considered to be good practice in the maintenance of those systems. Taken together, CIBSE Guide M and SFG 20 offer a good package to address and manage the whole-life costs of building services.

CIBSE Guide M is available at the URL link below.

Hywel Davies is technical director with CIBSE.

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