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Soft Landings procurement and budgetsSeptember 2012

A three-year period of aftercare is a core part of Soft Landings. But who pays for this - construction clients, or the building industry? Roderic Bunn ponders the options.

All clients want high-performing buildings, but are they prepared to pay more for them? You want us to take on more work and more risk, says the building industry, then you pay for it.

Clients take a slightly more robust view, which roughly translates as: we're already paying you to deliver a building that performs according to your design estimates and lives up to its BREEAM rating, why should we fork out more to ensure it does?

This standoff won't resolve itself without some easing of tensions. On the one side the professions need to acknowledge that design ambitions don't guarantee anything. A fixation with design estimations, environmental labelling schemes, and outputs from complex thermal models aren't closing the performance gap.

In return, clients need to recognise that they've long been encouraging the industry to build things quickly and cheaply, get paid, and walk away at the very point the occupiers are trying to understand what they've inherited.

More fundamentally, both sides of the contractual fence need to accept that buildings can only be considered high-performing once they are proven to be so. And that means troubleshooting them and fine-tuning them way beyond resolving snags and defects.

All of which means a longer term of engagement for the project team. But this commitment can't come for free, which begs a question of where the costs lie, and what they amount to.

Table 1: Activities and nominal prices for implementing Soft Landings on a project

Tendering and procurement

It's no surprise that an increasing number of clients are including Soft Landings in competition documents and employers' requirements. From documentation seen by BSRIA, clients tend to cover everything with a one-liner in their requirements, such as "this will be a Soft Landings project" or "there will be a Soft Landings approach to handover". This isn't really good enough.

Clients should weave Soft Landings throughout their project documentation rather than distill it into a one-liner, as the latter will only serve to put the ball into the court of the main contractor. Some documentation seen by BSRIA even does this explicitly by stating "The contractor shall ensure that..."

Clearly, these clients want the supply chain to respond with detailed Soft Landings proposals. They are treating Soft Landings as something the supply chain delivers, rather than a process where the client itself also takes on additional roles and responsibilities.

Treating Soft Landings as just another contractual deliverable is not necessarily in the client's interest. For a start the lead contractor might capture most if not all Soft Landings activities for itself as the single point of delivery agent, and not involve the architects and engineers. There's also a strong chance that Soft Landings activities might be simply sub-contracted down the chain rather than be carefully considered.

These two reactions need controlling, primarily because it doesn't foster collaborative working, and
Second, because it creates the conditions for Soft Landings costs to spiral before there's been any discussion on how specific Soft Landings activities might be applied on the project.

In the absence of a detailed steer from the client, who can blame contracts managers in bidding teams individually itemising their Soft Landings activities stage by stage, and costing them out at full labour rate? The tender returns for Soft Landings activities could be four or five times what the client was expecting.

A much better approach is for the client to think about Soft Landings activities before going out to tender, and work out what a reasonable budget might be. But where to start?

Early experience with Soft Landings strongly suggests that first four stages of Soft Landings (inception to handover) should not involve appreciable additional cost. The additional fees and costs will mostly be in the post-handover aftercare stages, to pay for independent post occupancy evaluation for example. On basis a reasonable budget - a place to start rather than a fixed sum - is 0.1 per cent of the total contract value. On a small project the percentage might be higher, on a large project, smaller. The funded activities can be weighted to the initial eight weeks and the first year, tailing off thereafter.

For example, on a £30 million project £30,000 will buy a lot of aftercare during a three year period of support. On a primary school project, somewhere around £12,000 - 15,000 can be set aside for a bit of handholding by the build team.

That said, a Soft Landings budget will be less related to floor area or total contract value, and more related to a project's level of complexity and the degree of technical innovation. Some buildings will need more aftercare support and fine-tuning than others.

Once an outline budget has been set aside, the client's bid documentation needs to elicit two key responses from bidders: a willingness to adopt Soft Landings, and evidence that they understand what Soft Landings entails. The second of these requires the invitation-to-tender process to score
responses based on bidders' knowledge of Soft Landings processes, and the tools of building performance evaluation, such as CIBSE TM22 for energy analysis and the Building Use Studies method of assessing occupant satisfaction.

Once the client has got to preferred bidder stage, that's the time to sit down and discuss how the (notional) budget will be apportioned, agree who will do what, and for how much. If the budget proves inadequate for the client's ambitions, then those ambitions either need to be scaled back, or the budget increased. But there should also be an open discussion on charge-out rates.

Arguably, all parties to the aftercare process stand to gain from the lessons learned, so it is in their professional interest to meet the client halfway. Clients should certainly not have to pay extra for aftercare meetings within the 12 month defect period, for example.

Certain activities will involve fixed costs, such as the formal post-occupancy evaluations (POE) at months 12 and 24, which are best done by independent organisations. As will be argued later, the costs of conducting these POEs can be reduced by getting the design team to create spreadsheets and other reporting processes early in the project which makes the process much easier (and cheaper) later on.

Project inception

Soft Landings requires the client and scheme designers to conduct feedback analysis to inform the design. If the client has a property portfolio, then much can be learned from conducting some studies of those buildings to find out what worked and what needed more attention.

Arguably, the cost of this work should be outside the Soft Landings budget, but if time (and budget) allows, the designers could be asked to conduct desk research of similar buildings to inform their design deliberations. Designers might well do this as part of their professional service, but it's vital that time and space is found for a discussion on the findings, and to decide how the design might change in the light of the information.

Design and construction

As design develops, the project team can be considering what support activities might be needed during aftercare. A ground-source heat pump or biomass boiler, for example, will need more aftercare than a conventional gas boiler. Again, this is another reason for treating the Soft Landings budget as 'work in progress' rather than fixing a price at tender stage.

Soft Landings calls for project teams to regularly reality-check innovative or risky aspects of design all the way through the project. There are three cost aspects to this: the cost of an independent facilitator to ensure the meetings generate worthwhile outputs, the hire of a neutral venue (often overlooked as a pre-requisite for getting people to speak up) and attendance at meetings themselves. While the costs are modest, itemising reality checking as a separate cost item tells the project team that the client is serious about the process. Attendance is also more likely if parties are paid to turn up.

Ultimately it's the client's judgment call as to whether to fund the reality checking meetings from the Soft Landings budget. Some project teams will do it as part of their professional services, but others - such as key subcontractors - might need to charge for their attendance.

The additional cost of all this is very small, and the benefits potentially high. All other progress meetings and Soft Landings activities should be easily absorbed within the contract budget.

Initial and long-term aftercare

The three-year aftercare period definitely needs a budget. More important the budget needs to be apportioned among people on the aftercare team who have forensic skills, can troubleshoot, and who can suggest fine-tuning adjustments. These roles and responsibilities will only surface through a discussion with the appointed project team.

Aftercare services might be offered pro bono by an architect or consulting engineer, but clients need to be wary about accepting this without question. On the surface this might seem a good deal, but a client that thinks all members of the project team should work for free should not be surprised when contractors, particularly, decide not to remain involved, either because they are asked to take on risks and duties to no advantage, or simply because it's more lucrative to reassign people to a new project.

The Soft Landings Framework (see all Soft Landings free to download guidance) recommends that design representatives take up residency in the building for a short period after handover. If the office space enables them to work effectively for their employer, then this service could be provided at a minimal or no cost to the Soft Landings budget.

Energy use and systems analysis are still specialist activities, particularly when it comes to troubleshooting systems that are under-performing. Clients might need to buy in that expertise if it's not available within the team, but arguably those skills should have been identified at the prequalification stage of the contract.

A clear additional cost is for an independent building performance evaluator to carry out the energy analyses and occupant satisfaction surveys, and to report the results to the building owner and the aftercare team.

However, the costs of doing this can be significantly reduced if, in their terms of appointment, the m&e designers are required to create an energy model based on a spreadsheet tool like CIBSE's TM22. Initially this can be based on notional equipment loads and run times, then periodically updated as systems turn into actual products, and when information on hours of occupation becomes known.

If the spreadsheet becomes a standard item at project gateways, and is part of the operational risk register for example, then the model can also be refined during the initial occupation phase by the aftercare team.

This means that the formal assessment of energy use will be far simpler and cheaper than paying for an independent assessor to build a model from scratch at months 12 and 24.

So how much will the POE cost? If the difficult stuff is done earlier, then a POE could be no more than £12,000 depending on the size and complexity of the building, including an energy survey, a forensic walkthrough, and an occupant satisfaction survey. If a survey system like the Building Use Studies method is used, then the costs of the survey licence, time on site, keystroking and reporting time will be between three and five days. This could be well within £5000.

So, overall, does the 0.1 per cent rule hold true? By and large it's a good place to start. Clients need to get their project teams around the table and apportion the budget sensibly and fairly.

Soft Landings augments many existing project activities. The trick is to spot the commonalities and make use of them, then identify any additional activities. Clients then need to decide what are reasonable labour rates, what can be done pro bono, and what independent expertise needs to be purchased for performance analysis.

What clients should not do is foist all this onto the delivery team at the point of competitive tender. The client needs to show leadership and be part of the process, rather than expect the supply chain to do all the heavy lifting at tender stage without any clear direction on budget availability.

Roderic Bunn leads the Soft Landings initiative at BSRIA. For more information on Soft Landings, and BSRIA's Soft Landings support services, contact

Soft Landings guides

Soft Landings guides including Framework and Core Principles (free download for BSRIA Members)