Two Profound Revolutions = One Exciting Profession
CIBSE Build2Perform Live's programme is now online and is designed by leading experts to equip you with a mix of case studies, in-depth technical analysis, practical take-aways and insight to keep you ahead of the curve as a modern built environment professional. Over the upcoming weeks, we will be exploring some of the sessions featured at this year’s event.
While Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg are raising the issue publically, the hard nose of corporate investment is also very clear on what is needed. Larry Fink, the CEO and Chairman of Blackrock, the world’s largest investment company forecasts ‘sustainable investment’ rising from $25bn to over $400bn in a decade. Sustainable buildings are part of that but in many countries, including the UK, there is still very poor understanding of how buildings are actually performing. And when the operational performance of a building is investigated the results are usually not great.
At the same time, each week seems to produce a new soundbite from the technological revolution: blockchain, IoT, smartbuildings, OpenSource, API, machine learning, big data, PropTech, CleanTech. There is a general understanding that these have something to offer but a lack of understanding in many industries, including ours, of what they can do and how to use them.
It’s a challenging, but exciting time to be in building services.
There is a lot of activity promoting greater transparency about operational performance. The Better Buildings Partnership is leading work from the investment and landlord community to implement more robust approaches to the design, construction and commissioning of buildings. The latest version of BREEAM includes greater scrutiny of how buildings are likely to perform. And many, including CIBSE, are advocating the planned update to Part L does the same.
We are going to need buildings that are better designed (inherently minimising heating, cooling, lighting and ventilation demands) and systems that are better sized, installed, commissioned and operated, and easier to use, if we are going to meet this challenge.
To achieve this we also need to make better use of the professions and systems that manage the day to day operation of many of our buildings: The Facilities Managers and the Building Management Systems. In complex buildings we cannot achieve operational performance without them. Facilities Managers sometimes face criticism but they have not been helped by contracts that have been based on lowest cost rather than highest value, and buildings that have not been properly commissioned and handed over, and are hard to manage.
Part of Soft Landings that I find gets less attention is engaging with users (including Facilities Manager) at the design stage. Other industries would not consider product development without user engagement. In our industry it seems to be considered an option (or even distraction). Behaviour is a consequence of motivation and ability. Ability may require new skills but it also requires better tools and interfaces too. It is essential that those involved in building design understand what more they can do to help those who operate them.
That brings us to the black box in a plant-room that is often overlooked, or even feared; the Building Management System. At a domestic, consumer level smart homes and home automation show signs of becoming mainstream. In non-residential buildings there is a lot being trialled under the banner of IoT, indoor air quality and wellbeing but this tends to ignore the sophisticated but underutilised systems that are already installed in many buildings. Before we get excited about new technologies we should make sure we are making full use of what we have. Most buildings with BMS systems could achieve significant reductions in energy use by simply tuning up their controls so they do a better job at efficiently supplying the sufficient, appropriate amount of lighting, heating, cooling and ventilation. When additional sensors are added to a building it makes sense that they are connected to the BMS too so that, for example, when increased levels of VOCs are detected the fresh air rate is temporarily increased.
Improved user interfaces with BMSs and their data will also help. Many BMSs could be made a lot easier to understand with the addition of 1 or 2 more views that give a better insight into how a building is behaving. New and add-on interfaces are enabling even easier to use, remotely accessible views on building performance.
So there is much for those involved in building services to take on. But I became an Engineer because I wanted to understand how things work and then make them work better. Though the environmental messages behind them are worrying, the challenges are empowering.
Article & image source: CIBSE Blog