Time to pull up a chair

As the UK experiences its hottest September day since 1949, the Government signs a major new emissions target and nations begin to ratify the Paris Agreement, the focus on climate change has never been higher. As part of our look at how different built environment professions can improve building performance Geoff Prudence, Chair of the CIBSE Facilities Management Group, looks at what building performance means to FMs 

The UK Government recently approved its 5th Carbon Budget, committing the UK to reducing its emissions by 57% relative to 1990 levels by 2030. This is an encouragingly ambitious target, but the Government knows it needs to stick to all its current measures, and introduce new ones, to stand a chance of being successful. Most of the hard work so far has been done by cutting carbon emissions from power generation, and the Committee on Climate Change has singled out the built environment as an area that needs to pull its weight.

This will come as no surprise to those working in the built environment, especially facilities managers, who have to deal with the cost and performance implications of inefficient buildings on a daily basis. In fact, the energy consumption of commercial buildings is estimated to be between 15 and 30 per cent higher than was anticipated at the design stage. Sometimes even more. The problem facing facilities managers in this situation is that, while much can be achieved by implementing energy efficient policies within an existing building, a large amount of the fault can rest in the building’s fabric and design. In cases like this, there are many reasons why a building may not be performing to the original specifications laid out by the client.

Countries across the world are signing up to the Paris Agreement to keep
global temperatures less than 2C above pre-industrial levels
First and foremost is poor communication of objectives and a lack of shared vision between the client and the contractors responsible for designing and constructing the finished building. While the performance gap is a known and recognised problem within the industry, there is no party with clear responsibility for ensuring that designers, whether architects or engineers, are all pulling together to prioritise the energy efficiency of the building over its life.

More than just an issue of profit margins, the performance gap has implications for consumer confidence in the entire building services industry. Such large differences between the expectations and the delivered product would not be acceptable in other businesses, and are damaging to the perception of the industry as a whole. As demands on buildings from the users, the climate and from Government increase, it is only going to become more necessary that building services professionals work together to tackle the issue.

A second issue is the problem of exactly how the performance gap is defined and measured: Should the performance of the building be measured against the estimates at the design stage, or should it be measured against the more detailed plans produced when the tendering process is complete? The latter may give more accurate estimates based on the exact design of the structure and the materials to be used, but it also has the potential to reduce ambition and allow the designers to be too conservative, sacrificing performance for cost.

Measuring performance based on plan can allow
designers to get away with being too conservative
Within this issue, there is also the problem of exactly how to measure building performance in the first place, from the conceptual stage all the way up to the finished product. There is no universally agreed way to measure and correct the observation of energy performance for factors like design change, occupant behaviour, changing weather conditions and simple wear and tear. These can all impact the performance of the building over and above its design, but must be estimated before a more accurate measurement is taken, which can create a wide discrepancy with actual performance.

The root of these issues is really that the ‘performance gap’ is just a handy phrase for summing up a whole series of different problems that occur with many different aspects of a project, including lighting, ventilation and energy performance. Without a clear model with defined metrics from which predictions can be made, and results tested against, it is difficult to create a definitive solution for disappointing performance.

Another aspect of the performance gap is that what is designed may be changed during the construction and installation stage. Products can be substituted, installation details may not be fully correct and systems may not be fully commissioned.

The services plant, from boilers to air conditioning units, requires constant maintenance to keep at peak condition. Focusing on a building’s performance at its design stage neglects the importance of measuring performance over its entire life-span. To achieve this, there needs to be both a common thread of individuals collecting this data and continuously monitoring the building’s performance, as well as the framework in which to store this information for it to be retrieved by future users.

Without this, the building’s performance will slowly degrade as elements are gradually replaced by cost equivalents without reference to the original performance targets set at the building’s design. Only by ensuring that changes and maintenance keep the building’s energy performance within acceptable standards, subject to proper testing of new elements in comparison with the old, can the performance gap be addressed in the long term.

Maintenance is just as important as the building's designed performance
in measuring whole-life performance
So what is the role of the Facilities Manager in making sure that buildings are able to perform as required? The answer requires a much more hands-on approach on the part of Facilities Managers, even before the first ground is broken on a new project.

As the people running the building in the many years to come after it is finished and handed over, Facilities Managers are the perfect choice to be the guardians of its performance throughout the life of the project. There is a tendency for the many parties involved in the design and construction of a project to see the shiny new school, apartment block or hospital as the objective, when for the client it is merely the start of a long relationship. The FM knows the management strategies they favour to get the most out of a building, so they should be implementing these at the very start of a project rather than working around what already exists when they move in. There need to be examples of FM and Systems thinking implemented directly into the design process.

A fantastic tool that can be used to make this dream a reality is Building Information Modelling (BIM). Its application in the design and construction sectors is already much appreciated, but the real potential behind the technology lies in helping a building maintain peak performance end-to-end throughout its lifecycle. Nobody knows the day-to-day realities of running a building better than Facilities Managers, so they should be pushing to have much more input into the building’s model – making sure it is designed for every day of the next 60 years, and not just for handover.

Facilities Managers should have input into the creation of the original BIM model
Facilities Managers need to ensure that the information being fed into models is what they need, for example standard classifications for plant items and the maintenance that they require. This all contributes to the idea of the FM as the thread of continuity running through the life of the building, knowing what systems are in place, why they exist and how to maintain them correctly. In this role, the use of BIM would back up the decisions of the FM with actual data, which could be used to inform changes to the complex, interdependent and ever-changing needs of the building. The most important thing is to get Facilities Managers up and engaged with the need for this, because if you don’t then you won’t get a seat at the table.

However, the adoption of the BIM model as an efficiency enabler is just the start of a wider FM revolution that could make it a firm part of the design process. The vision is a building and it’s design around use and business impact, being constantly monitored for greater efficiencies. The practical application of all this data can then find its way into every aspect of the building’s operation, from the O&M manual to Commissioning Codes.

A different approach to design could see FMs
present from design through to delivery
Without a proper evidence base behind them, commissioning a system is effectively guesswork based on estimates which we have already seen have the potential to be flawed. While it is a legal requirement to prove that commissioning has taken place on systems installed in a building, there is no set commissioning cycle that the installation team has to follow – good commissioning and bad commissioning are the same in the eyes of the law. With the aid of a robust data set to inform decisions, a hand in construction from the start, proven Commissioning Codes and effective maintenance based on CIBSE Guide M, it is possible to ensure that all of the building’s systems are set up to be as efficient and cost-effective as possible.

The ‘performance gap’ remains one of the greatest challenges facing the building services industry today, particularly to the facilities managers who have to face the everyday reality of a poorly performing building in the form of spiralling energy bills and missed targets. As climate change becomes a more urgent issue in the built environment, and the pressure to crack down on waste increases, it is only going to become harder to meet more and more stringent requirements with buildings that are just not up to the job. This is why it is more important than ever that the influence of the facilities manager grows to influence the design and construction of the building from beginning to end of life, and act as the informed cheerleader for better performance.


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