Tall order

Brymec, Paul Wightman, IEA, carbon emissions
Paul Wightman

Paul Wightman sets out how communication before commissioning can deliver more energy efficient tall buildings

Tall building projects are dominating the UK construction sector as our cities continue to see an influx of people drawn to major urban centres for work and living.

Space on these developments is always at a premium which places great pressure on the architects and M&E Consultants designing infrastructure systems such as water supply and water drainage, as well as heating and electrical supply to deliver efficient, well-running systems that do not dominate floor space or use excessive energy.

According to the International Energy Authority (IEA), the building construction sector is responsible for 36% of global final energy consumption and nearly 40% of total direct and indirect CO2 emissions. The organisation has set a target to improve efficiency by 43% between now and 2040, compared with 25% improvement since 2000.

The IEA goes on to point out that key measures to achieve this target include improved efficiency for water heating equipment including the increased deployment of efficient heat pumps.

The UK already has a carbon emissions net zero target meaning an 80% reduction by 2050 and one of the important aspects of this will be innovation and collaboration in the construction sector.

We can achieve this with a holistic and forward-thinking approach to ensure that the building is energy-efficient for the length of a service contract at least. We need to be thinking about the next 20, 30 even 50 years of operations.

Generating power through renewable sources and facilitating their use through building services on a structure will help to address the above targets, but to achieve the potential energy and cost savings it is important that each project includes an appropriate strategy to install components that complement every ‘link in the chain’ to maximise efficiencies during the full life of service.

The savings in running costs and in energy consumption will mean better buildings for the occupants, for the owners and, ultimately, for the future of the planet.

One of the key elements of this holistic approach is the need for better, early communication at the design implementation stage. What we don’t want is a situation where a lack of communication and conflicting priorities leads to the commissioning and infrastructure elements being relegated very far down the list as there is a laser-sharp focus on aesthetics.

With compromise and balance it is possible to get this right up front, providing the communication and close working relationships are there. Designers and consultants who get the communication and building project planning in place at the outset see benefits in the long term, by supplying the eventual tall building owner with a property asset that is efficient, with clearly specified systems designed for an extended life cycle.

Early planning will also lead to better specification of products and systems. Modern products won’t necessarily cost more than traditional components but the savings on installation and commissioning time, and ultimately energy saving costs over the system service, will be considerable.

The key is not to just think about the project completion as the endgame. We hope to create buildings that will be used for decades to come and it is paramount that we optimise the energy costs for the entirety of the building’s life cycle.

If the industry as a whole started to design in the ‘commissionability’ element of the work consultants and contractors can save considerable costs at the later stages of the project. If it is easier to complete commissioning nobody is wasting valuable time and money trying to make sections of building M&E services work in a way that they aren’t designed and specified to do.

What often happens is the commissioning time gets squeezed as there is a desperate rush to try to get the building complete. This can present obstacles that haven’t been considered early in the process and can have a detrimental effect on the efficient running of the building.

The façade of the building is, of course, extremely important for many reasons and the amount of internal space is a saleable asset. This means we have narrow, thin-skinned tall buildings with maximised space inside - but you have to have heating, cooling, water, toilets and drainage. These facilities are essential to the lives within the building and you need to coordinate at the right stage and communicate effectively then there will be fewer obstacles down the line.

With high rise buildings the challenge for commissioning is considerable and the need for variable volume pumps systems to maintain the building’s efficient water supplies has never been greater.

Fundamentally, you have to put the right systems in place. Variable volume applications will modify performance to use less energy, which makes a whole system more energy efficient and effective, especially if the commissioning is carefully completed. In a tall building without a variable volume system the energy wastage creates a massive inefficiency and increases the cost of running the overall building.

M&E contractors should ask for help and advice from their building services specialists. There may be an element of mistrust in the design culture when dealing with supply firms due to the commercial relationship. But we believe in what we do and we will always provide the best advice for the client. Brymec is the building services supplier designed for the era of smart construction and we will find the most efficient solutions for our customers with the long-term performance of the building at the heart of our advice.

Building services companies are asked to supply products that go into traditionally designed systems that have the capability to be variable volume. Ideally, if a consultant is refurbishing and replacing a system it makes good business sense to replace it with a more up-to-date and efficient system. A building services specialist will be able to advise on the best systems for the project to get the best results.

The industry has changed immeasurably in recent years: changes in regulations; the need for more efficient buildings and technical innovations have created a very different environment. Designers, consultants and contractors demand higher levels of service and technically advanced systems that enable them to fulfil tighter specifications, project deadlines and to manage costs. Building services suppliers have evolved as well.

The rising trend of high rise building projects has pushed all stakeholders within a project supply chain to think differently to meet the new challenges of tall structure construction. Greater collaboration and embracing of new methods of construction are reaping rewards, but there is still more that can be done.

If we can work together, using all of our experience and expertise, we can build efficient energy consumption into tall building developments at the design stage.

The result of the holistic approach will be the correct level of technical support and expertise from the initial design, through the installation and commissioning, and then the ongoing service and maintenance once the building is open. Having the ideal products and the right support will help to keep your projects running smoothly and lead to the optimal result.

Paul Wightman is product development manager at Brymec

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