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BSRIA briefing mulls challenges undermining future efficiency

Simplifying building service standards and ensuring innovative heating systems can meet the needs of an ageing society were among the core considerations at association’s annual meet-up

Addressing future challenges such as sustainability within today’s buildings formed the central theme of the 2017 BSRIA Briefing event in London last week. The briefing brought together charities, building services design stalwarts and famed explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes among its speakers.

Outside of the pitfalls of unprecedented global exploration, key themes raised during the day included considering how best to adapt emerging technologies such as connected appliances into current building designs. Speakers also looked at how revised or simplified standards might allow for more holistic approaches to sustainable construction.

Chris Twinn of consultancy firm Twinn Sustainability Innovation touched upon a need for rethinking to meet key standards around performance and sustainability for building design, as well as how current UK building standards may be improved to benefit understanding for installers and manufacturers.

This included what opportunities there may be without needing to implement structural changes to ensure standards compliance. Mr Twinn looked at current models for assessing sustainability performance in systems being used in other countries to help ensure a better understandings of energy use, such as the National Australian Built Environment Rating System (NABERS).

The system condenses down energy efficiency, waste management and environment quality factors into star ratings.

“The fact is clients can go to designers and contractors and say they want a specific meter reading – its three and a half stars, or four stars and the whole of the team has to deliver that. It is quite a motivator to simplify buildings because then you can work out why it isn’t performing,” he said.

Mr Twinn argued that Australia was getting the same type of buildings as the UK, albeit with four times better energy performance on average. He claimed part of this simplified approach to sustainable could be seen in the decision to use kw/h rather than carbon as a measurable factor to improve understanding of the impacts of new systems.

Mr Twinn also discussed the potential for more efficient building service through smart devices, which are expected to be increasingly adopted with improved availability.

He claimed devices such as smart heating controls would have a dramatic effect on energy usage. Mr Twinn said that these devices should be focused around measuring output.

Ageing population

Also speaking at the event was Age UK director Jane Vass, who identified concerns in providing a broader range of buildings and services to meet the needs of an increasingly elderly population in the UK. Ms Vass said that these changing demographic would create its own challenges around technology and innovative appliances that can be clearly understood by users.

With an estimated 13 million people in the UK having some form of mobility problems, only 7 per cent of homes were understood to have the features to make them accessible, according to Age UK.

Ms Vass therefore stressed the importance of buildings that could be made more adaptable to changing mobility needs or new technologies.

She also raised concerns about cold housing and efficiency, seen by Age UK as a crucial issue national issue needing to be addressed.

“We seem over the last few years to have reached a year-on-year average of 25,000 excess winter deaths, mostly amongst older people. This is because 1.7 million older people - 60 years of age plus - are living in non-decent homes, which lack thermal efficiency.

Today’s challenges…. today

Alan Kell, managing director for I&G systems, said the briefing event’s main theme of tackling future challenges in today’s buildings was an ambitious mission statement considering the industry’s present challenges in embracing innovation and the risks involved.

“Meeting today’s challenges in today’s buildings is costly enough, so there is risk involved in looking forward,” he said.

Having spent 40 years working around innovative building design and the technology behind it, Mr Kell argued that one such challenge was how rigid prevailing views could be both in building service standards and design.

He said that after having worked with former technology powers such as Rank Xerox in the 1980’s to build a so-called ‘intelligent building’ at its UK headquarters, there was still a tension between the themes of sustainability and the role of new technologies to improve efficiency.

“I started out in IT, got into intelligent buildings going into communities and now smart cities and so on. Inevitably, I bumped into people who had other sets of language, values and behaviours. Particularly the green community, and for quite a while, and I think it still resides, these people saw technology as the problem, not the solution,” added Mr Kell.

He suggested that this may have led to views that passive buildings could negate the need for implementing new technologies into buildings to improve sustainability performance.

Mr Kell said what was needed in future was an amalgamation of different mindsets focused on sustainability through building design and passive systems alongside innovative solutions and appliances. He placed strong importance on ensuring the commercial viability of any solutions that may be developed.

Thermal comfort

Kath Fontana, technical manager director for facilities management group ISS Technical Services, told delegates that from her perspective the workplace environment and the functions of an office had changed more radically in the last five years than the previous 50.

With significant changes in work environment ongoing, she discussed how building services could cater for the changing needs of clients and users, particularly in core human needs such as thermal comfort.

“What I will say as a facilities manager is that ‘too hot’ or ‘too cold’ is the number one reactive request in any organization. Depending on the time of year, you are either too hot or too cold, and sometimes you get both,” added Ms Fontana.

She pointed to research published in 2014 by the World Green Building Council in collaboration with Syracuse University that looked at possible links between cognitive performance and green buildings. The study classed green buildings as a construction with improved air quality, noise and thermal comfort.

“in their experiment, they found a 97 per cent improvement in crisis management in good thermal conditions and good air quality; 183 per cent improvement in strategic thinking and 172 per cent in information management,” Ms Fontana said of the key three indicators of higher cognitive functions.

“Overall, in a green building there was a 61 per cent improvement across the board in cognitive performance and in a green building with additional improvements in ventilation there was a 101 per cent improvement in cognitive performance.”

Ms Fontana said that there was demonstrable link between building services and the cognitive functions of human beings and that a host of new technologies would bring significant changes to how buildings function to ensure comfort and productivity.

Aside from sensor technology that was already being implemented, she pointed to opportunities for apps, internet of things technologies, AI, cognitive intelligence and blockchain’s potential impact on the transfer and monitoring of funds as representing massive changes coming to how buildings function and heating services may function.

“I think we’re turning into technology businesses that deliver professional building services,” said Ms Fontana.

“One of my customers has started talking to me about their data lakes, so I have just got used to cloud warehouses and now I’m having to start thinking about data lakes and how they are using information they hold about their businesses to influence our business. So that fluidity of data between different sectors is going to be very interesting.”

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