Clients demand more

Ecobuild, Sarah Ratcliffe, Better Building Partnership, BBP, Dr Robert Cohen, Verco, Design for Performance, NABERS, Abigail Dean, BREEAM, EPC
Measures of efficiency needs to be clear and accurate

Are construction clients finally reaching the end of their collective tether when it comes to building performance? Karen Fletcher outlines the issues that are coming to a head.

At Ecobuild 2018 in one corner of the event, it seemed that a quiet revolution was underway. Clients were expressing their exasperation at the poor performance of buildings, and working together to find solutions.

‘Design for performance: securing commercial buildings’, chaired by Sarah Ratcliffe, programme director of the Better Buildings Partnership (BBP), examined the current methods of assessing building performance – and their shortcomings.

EPCs not enough

Speaker Dr Robert Cohen, technical director of Verco, said: “We are blind as to the efficiency of new commercial buildings. EPCs are a poor indicator of actual energy use. There is very little connection between an EPC and energy use in real life. It’s not a good correlation.”

Cohen is heading up a BBP project called ‘Design for Performance’ which is examining how the UK construction industry and its clients can achieve better energy efficiency outcomes. He highlighted Australia’s NABERS (National Australian Building Energy Rating Scheme) as an excellent exemplar (see our feature for full details of NABERS).

“NABERS measures actual energy use as the base for a target. In the UK we set the target; predict theoretical performance; review the design until the target is reached; and ignore operational performance altogether. In the UK we measure for compliance; in Australia they are measuring for performance,” he commented.

Cohen’s comments on methods for targeting building performance were supported by clients. Abigail Dean, head of sustainability for TH Real Estate, commented: “Performance in use is really important to us. We recognise that we are transitioning to a low carbon economy so we see that we have to reduce our energy in use.

“We want a ratings system to be able to really see what buildings are efficient – or aren’t,” she added.

One of the main problems for construction clients is that while there is some awareness that energy efficiency is important, there is no simple way for them to specify this as an outcome.

Getting what’s asked for?

“We specify BREEAM or an EPC rating of A or B, but we don’t have an accepted way to specify for performance. I think we know that sustainable buildings have lower void periods, but we can’t really measure that at the moment,” said Dean.

Andy Stanton, infrastructure and sustainability manager of Transport for London, agreed. “Energy efficiency matters to us because we pay the bill. We also see not just energy bills, but also maintenance and replacement costs.

He was passionate about the fact that clients aren’t getting what they think they’re asking for when it comes to buildings: “We think technology will fix this, but clients think they are buying something for a lot of money and effort. But we’re not getting what we asked for. We are asked ‘Well, did you ask for energy efficiency?’, which is ridiculous.”

Cohen has overseen a pilot study for the Design for Performance project. He pointed to some key findings from this:

• Client leadership is critical

• Performance outcomes need to matter to the market

• Advanced simulation modelling should drive design

• Building managers should be contracted for efficiency

• Tenant fit-out must be monitored so that it does not result in inefficiencies

• Control and constant visibility of the HVAC systems are required.

The idea that clients should take the lead is not in favour with all. Andy Stanton commented: “I don’t agree that this is the client’s responsibility. If I buy a car, I expect it to operate. I put the responsibility back with the designers. And if budgets are squeezed by contractors, the designers should walk away if they can’t achieve efficiency and Design for Performance targets.”

The seminar was a snapshot of the issues around performance in operation. Clients are forcing the issue harder, looking to the industry to provide better answers and better outcomes.

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