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Sustainablility undermined by 'historic' design guides

Building services designers are not designing truly sustainable buildings because their design guides are backward-looking, according to a leading consulting engineer.

Speaking at the Heating and Ventilating Contractors’ Association (HVCA) specialist group’s  annual general meeting in London, Faber Maunsell director Ant Wilson said that building services engineers would have to become “futurologists” to be able to deal with the changing design challenges created by climate change.

He pointed out that average winter temperatures in the South East of England were now 2.7 deg C higher than they were in the early 1960s and in London that figure can be as much as 6 deg C higher due to the ‘temperature island effect’.

“We are getting a lot of things wrong at the moment because our design guides are historic in nature,” Mr Wilson told HVCA members and guests at Trinity House. “A lot of the things we do now will not exist as we adapt to climate change. Should we still be training people to weld and braze when in the future all our fittings could be push-fit? And what about gas boilers – will we still be installing those?”

But there will also be lots of opportunities for the industry, he said. “We are going to need more air conditioning because natural ventilation will not work if it gets too warm outside. I also see a big opportunity for ductwork firms as we will need larger ducts to move greater quantities of ventilation air, but at lower fan pressures to reduce energy consumption.”

Heat recovery, variable speed pumps, demand-controlled ventilation, new ways of cooling and services that integrate with the fabric of buildings were areas Mr Wilson identified as critical to tackling climate change.

“The issue is not thermal mass, but thermal capacity via phase change materials like solarwall,” he added. “We must make our buildings airtight and U-values will have to improve dramatically. We will need to use more offsite prefabrication and also design our buildings for de-commissioning.”

He said the industry would also be expected to deal with water conservation issues, which were key elements in new building legislation. However, he said tackling the performance of existing buildings must be the priority and this was where HVCA members would have a crucial role.

“New-build rates are only 0.7 per cent in the domestic sector and around 1 per cent in commercial buildings, so the focus has to be on existing buildings. This is where HVCA members are strong because you have access to homes and offices and the opportunity to replace boilers and upgrade systems.”

HVCA president John Miller added that the association’s specialist groups had been playing an important part in moving the industry forward thanks to their collaborative efforts with “like-minded” professional bodies and their work to promote training, competence and professional accreditation.

He picked out the Ductwork Group’s collaboration with ADCAS and the Service and Facilities Group’s alliance with the British Institute of Facilities Management (BIFM) as key relationships for the future.

He also congratulated the Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Group for its work in promoting professional competence within the F-Gas and Ozone Depleting Substances regulations and the Heating and Plumbing Services Group for its campaign against rogue traders and bogus technical qualifications.