Sunday, 24 August 2014

Green Buildings - Business as usual?


Building High Performance Buildings - Perhaps we need to look at a different approach?

As a individual we often make decisions based on efficiency and long term ownership. Value for money in the initial purchase and running costs is often the main reasons for major purchases.  A good example might be found in certain sectors of car industry.

A car company aims to design and manufacture a vehicle that will be cost effective to buy and use, they align internal departments to these targets and spend huge amounts on R+D and advertising aligning this ---- For the simple fact they know that many of there potential customers will use these measurable monetary facts and figures to assess and influence their purchase. If they dont do this, they may well go out of business. (you can even buy a hybrid Ferrari)

Ford would not get very far bringing a family car to market that was hugely inefficient with fuel consumption and expensive to maintain.. It may be one of the reason why the 6 wheeled car never really took off.

Contrast this approach with the building industry I know... We somehow forget these personal life lessons as soon as we are faced with a building project and end up paying a lot of money for something that will cost a small fortune to run. A building - The gift that keeps on taking...

So why is that? Well for a start not many people really know how much there real estate assets cost to own and run - Not in Singapore anyway, and those that do know aren't telling anyone - Some things are best to keep off the bosses radar...aren't they? To add to the fog, industry benchmarks seem almost nonexistent so comparison is rather tough, so we don't even know how much its supposed to cost to run - (at this point it is easy to imagine the secret meetings amongst Facilities managers in smokey bars conspiring to maintain the status quo :)) post occupancy surveys, feedback and accountability to designers based on performance figures are rare.

Design teams work in established silos of expertise with clear purpose but no real responsibility overlap.

Explained in simple terms - Architects design the building, Mechanical and Electrical (M+E) engineers design the lights, air conditioning and the other myriad of complex systems in a modern building, the structural engineer makes sure it doesn't fall down and the quantity surveyor works on the cost. Everyone tries to reduce the risk to themselves so concentrates on their systems and traditionally these teams are paid by a percentage of the money they manage to spend on the building as part of the overall project cost.

This approach has been successfully adopted for generations. These multidisciplinary team structures build most of the buildings we live and work in today.Obviously the system works.....

Sort of...

When you decide you want to build a high performance green building that costs less to build and less to operate, the traditional team systems and process starts to look like a sub plot from the emperor with his new clothes.

For you to be able to really squeeze out the savings, I would recommend an integrated and systems linked design approach. Despite the complex jargon, its thankfully mostly common sense.

A building is of course a complex interlinked system. Actions taken on aspect of the building are very likely to have a ripple (if not a wave!) effect on other parts of the building. The current traditional system of building cannot easily take advantage of the ripple effect between disciplines without strong leadership from the owner or the project leads.

Let me give you some examples of current practice cobbled together from projects I have seen, this contains many sweeping generalisations but I am sure will ring a few bells of those that have been exposed to this process:

The Architect designs the facade- they want the building to look great as that is what they do, however we all know (don't we?)  that orientation, facade design, selection of materials will ultimately affect the heat of the internal spaces.  Here in Singapore we need to buy air-conditioning systems to take this heat away. This is designed by the M+E consultant and is expensive to buy and will use up at least 60% of the electrical consumed by the final building. The owner may focus his comments the look of the building based on its aesthetics rather than its orientation in relation to the sun. Often the owner is just a landlord who may not really mind what the bills of future tenants are.

Once the architect has finished with the masterpiece he passes it to the M+E engineers who designs the systems.  For this work they will often use a combination of series of rule of thumb calculations, recommendation of  equipment suppliers, the last few projects they did,  the knowledge that he does not want to be liable on the finished building to fix a design issue that causes poor functionality, an estimation of redundancy needed and usage patterns and also the knowledge of the fact that he is ultimately paid for the fiscal quantity of their work.

The owner doesn't tell anyone the anticipated operating patterns and uses of the spaces passed the most basic information as he has paid the consultant team to do that for him hasn't he? (He wonders if Is a lab in a school the same as a research one? He doesn't realize a school is often shut for half the year and not often used at night, he wonders what sort of redundancy of systems does a school really? How many people are actually going to be in that specific room, What are the critical systems in a school ?)

Without this information  in a school context, the team search there minds for reminders from their own school experiences many decades ago to fill in the gaps and make assumptions of needs.( Somewhat dangerous if you went to a school like mine!)  Or possibly use figures from other spaces in other types of buildings thought to be similar.

The end product - A successfully delivered, great looking building for the next 40 years, perhaps with a high level of green building certification and a happy owner and consultant team ........but under the surface large amounts of redundant overcapacity and high fixed and operating costs...and of course missed opportunities..
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Now lets look at a simplified example of day in the life of a project that uses systems thinking to create green, high performance building..........

The building owners realises that current orientation of building and design of facade means the building will be very hot in the afternoon..decides function is more important than form - Phones the architect...

The Architect then works his magic and changes design of facade to minimize heat gain and reorients the building for maximum passive shading effect.  The result of his work is that most of the inside spaces can retain an ambient temperature and some of the windows now no longer need expensive aluminum sun shading and special heat rejecting glass...It also has the added advantages of allowing many of the spaces to now use daylight without the fear of glare and heat.

The M+E consultant sees this effort on reducing the internal temperature of the building and increasing the daylighting levels and works to reduces the capacity of the original air conditioning design by 30%.

The owner points out that the school is not often used at night for classes but loves maximum daylight in the day as it is linked to better performance of students,  the lighting design is then reduced by 20% (saving capital and operating costs)

As the air conditioning was such power hungry system, this orientation change decision ripples through the design. He also sees another linked opportunity - As he has cut the air con design by 30%, he can then reduce the electrical supply infrastructure accordingly, reducing distribution board capacity and ultimately getting get rid of a transformer. (again reducing capital and operating costs) The architect thanks him for the reduction in equipment and quickly turns the now redundant machine room into a car park saving valuable GFA.

The structural engineer notices this efforts and rather than being left out and reduces the structures and design of the roof as there is no longer any need for a big beam to hold up that heavy cooling tower that has just been eliminated from the roof.

The M+E consultant then sees another opportunity with the extra space gained back on the roof and reorients the cooling towers to maxmise air flow over them, making them more efficient and saving operating costs in water and power.

The Facilities Manger sees this overall electrical reduction and not wanting to be forgotten quickly goes back to the power company and re- negotiates a downsizing in the standing supply capacity they rent from the electrical supply company and reduce the extent of anticipated maintenance contracts with the air conditioning equipment suppliers...

The quantity surveyor watches it all and wonders why this method isn't used all the time.

The  project team report the significant saving in project budget that has been realised without any "value engineering" of the functionality (and safe in the fact that there fee is fixed) and the owner looks forward to reduced operating costs and in the case of not for profit schools, spending more money on education and not buildings..

If only it worked like that somewhere in the real world......

Perhaps it does :)

Track the green features of our building here