The gap in understanding between designers and facilities managers is causing real difficulties in getting buildings to run according to the design intent. David Bleicher identifies the problems and possible solutions.
Everybody wants low CO2-emitting buildings. The upcoming changes to the Building Regulations aim to make that virtually compulsory. However, post-occupancy studies, such as the PROBE investigations carried out in the 1990s, reveal that buildings that are designed to be fuel-efficient don't always perform so well in reality.
For example, the Orchard Learning Resource Centre in Birmingham was designed in the mid-1990s as a passive solar building, with automatically-controlled high-level vents to allow night-time cooling. The night-time cooling worked a little too well: by morning the building was too cold, forcing the automatic controls to switch on the heating. By the afternoon, the building was overheated, so the vents opened again.
BSRIA believes that these sorts of problems can be alleviated if building designers were more in tune to the needs of the people who end up operating buildings. Conversely, buildings might achieve their intended energy efficiencies if their operators better understood the original intent of the designers.
BSRIA also believes manufacturers have a part to play. After all, items like building management systems (BMS), variable speed drives and combined heat and power (CHP) can bring about major reductions in energy use. However if they aren't operated correctly, they can easily increase energy consumption - the opposite of the design intention.
A recent Carbon Trust-funded project, Building Bridges between FM and Design, has enabled BSRIA to get feedback from building operators on how designers and contractors can do things better, and vice versa. The first part of the project involved drafting a questionnaire and piloting it with members of BSRIA's Energy and Sustainability Network.
The questionnaire went online in December 2005, and within a couple of weeks over 100 responses had been received. The results were interesting. For example, 39% of respondents weren't aware of the energy saving benefits of variable-speed drives. Even people who had them in their buildings weren't aware of the benefits.
Considering that the respondents to the questionnaire were probably at the more knowledgeable end of the facilities management spectrum, it shows that the industry needs a lot of education.
The second part of the project involved an all-day seminar which was held in central London on 21 February. A fair cross-section of the industry attended the event, including manufacturers, designers, facilities managers and clients.
Aside from giving designers, manufacturers and facilities managers a chance to meet and share views, the Building Bridges event presented some practical ideas that have the potential to save energy.
Controls are the double-edged sword of facilities management. Designed and installed appropriately, they can help the facilities manager maintain optimal running of complex hvac and lighting systems, while being simple, flexible and manageable to respond to changing needs.
Controls that are poorly specified, over-complex and badly commissioned will rapidly cause more problems than they set out to solve.