Taking the long view

Published:  22 May, 2006

Dalkia
With buildings managers and owners of commercial buildings increasingly concerned with the impact of energy on the bottom line, the delivery of carefully designed, installed, operated and maintained system controls is a key issue. (Photo: Dalkia)

The building services industry has never been very good at designing for operation and maintenance. Now the latest edition of the Building Regulations means it has no choice, says MALCOLM LINSLEY.

Most people agree that the revised Building Regulations that came into force in April represent a huge step change for the building-services-engineering profession. Many think this is mainly to do with energy efficiency, but this revolution goes a lot further and affects our most fundamental design principles.

The new Part L does call for a pretty ambitious 20% improvement in energy performance compared with the 2002 version, which itself raised the bar by 22% from 1995. A 37% improvement in 10 years is some task and means we must consider every conceivable services element — including minimising heat losses through the building fabric, cutting solar gain, managing losses from pipes and ducts as well as ensuring that proper commissioning is carried out and full system controls are installed.

The revisions give credit for carrying out exercises like calculating heat loads, putting energy monitoring and targeting in place and introducing enhancements like weather compensation, so engineers now have a fighting chance of upgrading existing HVAC plant to meet the new energy targets.

However, we now have to go so much further under this new legislative framework because it seems that someone (hopefully more than one person!) at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) has recognised how much needs to be tackled in existing buildings to get the country anywhere close to its Kyoto targets.

Building-services engineers now need to look beyond the construction or refurbishment phase to how the building will perform in use. This has always been something the industry has paid lip service to, but has never fully knuckled down and got on with.

The new regulations give us no choice.

Commissioning

For a start, full and comprehensible information must be given to building users to make sure they get the full benefit from the systems we install before the work is signed off.

That means logbooks. These are supposed to be in place already, but are rarely seen. They are clearly specified in the new regulations, and woe betide anyone who does not provide them. After that, the responsibility falls on the building operator to keep them up-to-date.

Full commissioning needs to be carried out and a certificate issued. Even more fundamentally, provision must be made for regular inspection and maintenance. This is all now fully defined in the new Part L, so developers and the consulting engineers working for them know their responsibilities.

Historically, if we are honest, very few designers have compared their initial brief with the practical completion. That has always been a bit of a fudge, and the excuse used has been that inevitably changes to the design during the project have moved the goalposts.

That excuse is no longer admissible, and Part L means that a new breed of building inspector is being trained to check the work and make sure the completed design has made adequate provision for service and maintenance. Legal action could well follow if contractors and consultants have fallen short.

Commissioning engineers will be central to all this because they will be called in to put things right in far more instances. They will have to ensure building-management and lighting-control systems are properly set up, but we must still keep an eye on how these systems are managed in use to ensure performance does not slip backwards over time.

Best practice

A good starting point is the HVCA’s SFG20 standard maintenance specification for mechanical services. This describes industry best practice relating to all the principal types of heating, cooling and ventilation systems commonly used in Europe. This comprehensive CD-ROM-based maintenance resource is fully searchable across 66 service equipment headings, including all aspects of air-handling and heat generation.

If designers keep in mind the criteria detailed in the SFG20 when putting systems together, they can ensure safe, energy-efficient plant operation and be sure of complying with all current legislation.

By designing for operation and maintenance, the industry will also be able to cope with the demands of the forthcoming energy certificates for the sale and letting of buildings. These labels are required under the provisions of the EU Energy Performance of Buildings Directive. They will need to show the carbon-dioxide rating of the building, compare the performance against benchmarks and recommend improvements.

The plan is for the certificates to show both the asset rating, i.e. the ‘as built’ rating, and the operational rating showing how the building actually performs in use. The idea is to give building operators meaningful running-cost data so they can monitor and manage their assets and answer awkward questions when the utility bills start to rise.

We have heard talk of developers ignoring all this and carrying on as normal despite the stringent new requirements laid out in the Building Regulations. They argue that sustainable buildings are too difficult to achieve and too expensive to design and build, but we have to break the circle of blame between investors, developers, landlords and tenants where each blames the other for not doing the right thing.

That means we must all work together to deliver sustainable designs that stand the test of time, which means making sure a strategy is in place and the necessary technical arrangements have been made for lifelong service and maintenance to keep them in top running order.

Malcolm Linsley is chairman of the HVCA’s service and facilities group of the Heating & Ventilating Contractors’ Association.

SFG20 is available from HVCA Publications on 01768 860405 (hvcapublications@welplan.co.uk) or via the HVCA website. It costs £125 for HVCA members and £250 for non-members.



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