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Contractor Focus: Achieving the best possible building performance for life

High performance buildings are cost effective in design, delivery and operation; are sustainable, and place a premium on safety and security. But how do they impact on our sector? A recent debate hosted by hvac systems giant Trane contributed to our understanding of the concept.
If you have a Gold Standard why apply any other measure? This, for Andrew Eastwell, chief executive of research organisation BSRIA, is what makes the creation of high performance buildings something of a no-brainer. As he says: 'Why would anyone want a low performance building?'

BSRIA's chief executive Andrew Eastwell and Andy Ford, CIBSE president

The high performance building (HPB) concept is not new, having been around in the US since the late 1990s. According to Louis Ronsivalli Jr, HPB expert and director at hvac manufacturing giant Trane: 'A decade later, high performance building principles are being applied worldwide in nearly every type of structure, from schools and municipal buildings to hospitals, technology centres, industrial plants and other kinds of facilities.'

What constitutes a high performance building is the source of continuing debate, but the United States Energy Independence and Security Act 2007 offers a definition that is as good as any: 'A building that integrates and optimises on a lifecycle basis all major high performance attributes, including energy [and water] conservation, environment, safety, security, durability, accessibility, cost-benefit, productivity, sustainability, functionality and operational considerations.'

This description can easily be applied to larger structures such as corporate HQ offices, airports and hospitals.

However, not all HPBs are big, as BSRIA's Mr Eastwell told delegates at a recent conference in London on the subject organised by Trane. He was keen to talk about 'the little guys', including schools, clinics, small and medium-sized enterprise offices and smaller retail outlets. People working in these sorts of properties don't always understand how their actions impact on global warming and energy shortages, says Mr Eastwell. Utility bills can be opaque, especially to people running smaller businesses.

And the current system doesn't help, he adds: 'We are encouraged to change our gas and electricity supplier. However, if we do that, we lose all the history we might have had supplied by the utility company.'

But there are also other reasons for widespread confusion over energy efficiency: 'If you want to talk to chief financial officers, there is only one language to use - money; it's all about how much money you make.

As an industry, I think we are very poor at monetarising some of the issues we talk about such as productivity and client satisfaction; we are poor at turning that into a bottom line figure by saying 'if you do this, then this is the money you'll make'.'

Indeed, understanding the business value of the propositions that building services companies offer - whether in new or existing buildings - is critical for success. For Mr Eastwell, involving staff in the energy efficiency of a customer's premises is important, but staff also need to be given the wherewithal to enable them to have an impact: 'You have to engage people, but you also have to give them the tools [for example, thermostats and other controls] through which they can employ that engagement.'

Of course, buildings themselves don't use energy until they are called upon to do something. That 'something' tends to be keeping the occupants comfortable.

And that is what makes the building services sector so important - it is right at the centre of energy saving efforts in buildings.

CIBSE president Andy Ford says that, until fairly recently, it has not been necessary to offer feedback on energy and demonstrate how much energy is being used because we were more interested in whether or not building occupants were comfortable.

He adds: 'Life is changing and those calculations that CIBSE members have been doing over the years need to be spread around and other people need to understand them so we can alter the construction process so that we use less energy.'

Mr Ford believes high performance buildings are a logical place to go. He told Trane HPB conference delegates: 'I think back to the 1970s when I drove around in my dad's car - it would break down at regular intervals and used vast amounts of fuel. Today, I drive around in a small car and I don't even think about it... it just works.

Not just the exemplars

'That is where we have got to get to with buildings. I don't mean just the exemplars. Our target in this country is an 80 per cent reduction in carbon.

That does mean we don't want to have new buildings still leaking carbon. But there are not many buildings - even exemplars - that achieve an 80 per cent reduction at the moment. That needs to change; they will all have to. Achieving that means engaging everybody in the process.'

In line with the theme of his CIBSE presidential year - 'Think, Share, Do' - Mr Ford has called for a continuous cycle of action: 'We have learned over the past few years how to think, share and do. For example we've thought a great deal about where CO2 comes from in the creation of buildings. We shared that knowledge widely - with architects, designers, civil servants, legislators and politicians.

'Then we followed through with our support for the Royal Academy of Engineering's campaign to embed professors of building engineering physics into all built environment courses. 'Then we built some 'low carbon' buildings. Now we have started the cycle again - examining our low carbon buildings to see how low carbon they actually were. We are learning a great deal and now we have some more work to do.

'This cycle of think, share and do is a powerful model for continuous improvement, it must involve all in the design, construction and operation of buildings.'

Mr Ford believes that, by putting in place efficient methods of disseminating knowledge gained such as its Knowledge Portal (www.cibseknowledgeportal.co.uk), CIBSE will enable its members to lodge new, localised information. This, in turn, will help them achieve two things - stay ahead as new knowledge is created in the countries where construction continues apace and attract the key adjacent professionals.


Designing and constructing a high performance building represents between 5 and 10 per cent of the total lifecycle cost of a typical building. Acquisition, renewal and disposal costs are typically between 5 and 35 per cent of lifecycle costs. Operating a building throughout its decades-long occupied life accounts for the largest share by far, representing between 60 and 85 per cent of total lifecycle costs.


Achieving peak performance

Attributes of high performance buildings include energy efficiency, sustainability, lifecycle performance and occupant productivity, according to global hvac systems supplier Trane.

The company adds: 'High performance buildings take a wholebuilding approach to performance while creating spaces that are comfortable, safe, healthy and efficient.'

The company adds: 'Because every building is unique in its purpose, there is no uniform set of standards for high performance buildings. Generally speaking, they meet specific standards for energy and water consumption, system reliability and uptime, environmental compliance and indoor air quality. All standards are set to deliver established outcomes that help building owners and occupants achieve their business mission.'

The company says it is able to help create high performance buildings using its own methodology combining operating and energy analysis with specialised service offers. 'To sustain efficiency throughout their lifecycles, high performance buildings use strategic service and maintenance programs that transcend traditional 'fix or fail' models. Instead, they employ preventative maintenance models that use state-of-the-art technologies to monitor building systems and diagnose problems before costly failures can occur.'

A selection of quotes from Trane's High Performance Buildings Conference held in London earlier this year:

Paul Huggins, head of capital allowance at The Carbon Trust
'By 2020 we are looking for a 34 per cent reduction and by 2050 an 80 per cent reduction. If we are to achieve the 34 per cent reduction by 2020, from research we have done on buildings it is quite clear that every recommendation the Carbon Trust has ever made to a customer needs to be implemented and that same concept needs to be rolled across the whole of industry. That means we have to go from a position where currently we generally get a 40 per cent implementation rate up to 90 or 100 per cent.'

Martin Townsend, director of BREEAM
'We don't build buildings to make them more efficient. We build buildings because we want people to live and work in them and we want them to be successful when they work in those spaces. We need to look at buildings across their lifecycle, but I would argue that we need to go further than just looking at the new build and refurbishment. We need to start at the planning phase.'

Jim White, UK operations manager, Norland-Morgan Stanley
'An easy way to make a big impact when we are changing our kit for energy efficient kit is to make sure that, at the end of the project, it is handed over and commissioned correctly and the staff - the engineers in particular - are brought in as part of that because so many times I see that projects are running out of time and the commissioning time is eaten into at the end. Lots of money has been spent on efficient equipment, but they don't know how to operate it. You might as well throw your money down the drain without proper training.'
8 December 2011

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