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Look and learn

Despite the time and costs involved, wider acceptance of monitoring is gaining momentum. Hattie Hartman and Laura Mark report

Solving the building performance gap – the discrepancy between how buildings are designed to perform and how they actually perform in use – is at the top of the agenda for delivering a greener built environment. So why don’t we, as the Nike dictum goes, ‘Just do it?’

The answer is that good monitoring is complex, time-consuming and expensive. It requires what Sheffield University’s Fionn Stevenson refers to as ‘socio-technical’ understanding of how buildings work. This often means traipsing through plant rooms to read meters and then a lot of head-scratching to make sense of inconsistent data. It also means talking to occupants to find out exactly what works and what doesn’t.

To date, most in-depth monitoring has been either government-funded or university-based research, and many architects in practice have viewed this work as someone else’s affair. This is partly because monitoring is quite technical and involves interpreting complex numerical data, which architects aren’t generally trained for. Yet some proactive architects are now reclaiming monitoring as a service they can offer.

Proactive architects are now reclaiming monitoring as a service they can offer

According to Matt Colmer, the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) lead technologist responsible for the current tranche of Building Performance Evaluation (BPE) funding, the average cost of a two-year study for a non-domestic building is £60,000. 

Stevenson points out that, although this represents just 1 per cent of the budget on a £6 million project, ‘the biggest sticking point for BPE is cost’. Clients want the magical £5,000 version, which Bill Bordass and Adrian Leaman [of the Usable Buildings Trust] have long promoted, but this is only a first stab. If early results from this type of BPE ‘lite’ study show problems, then further investigation can become expensive.

For practices that have been involved with monitoring for some time – Architype, Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios and bere:architects, to name three, understanding how their buildings operate in use is integral to the way they work and part and parcel of their USP. Bere:architects’ Sarah Lewis observes:  ‘One of the benefits of being so hands-on with monitoring is that … we have built up sufficient skills in house. Monitoring is an essential part of evaluating our completed projects and learning what elements are working well, where any issues are arising and how we can further improve our buildings in the future.’

Monitoring is an essential part of evaluating our completed projects

Like bere:architects, Black Architecture sees post-occupancy engagement with a project as essential. At its CAFOD project offices for a Catholic charity in Southwark, Black compiled a graphic user guide and ran briefing events for all staff. It also worked closely with ‘floor champions’ to ensure that they understood the mixed mode conditioning strategy and inappropriate opening of windows was addressed. Black’s Paul Hinkin explains: ‘The most important thing that we do is to visit the building regularly and talk to users, including the facilities manager. We are there about once a month and we combine our visit with marketing tours for potential clients.’ This basic level of service should not be beyond the reach of most practices.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, 5th Studio’s ongoing work at New Court at Trinity College, Cambridge sets a new standard for pre-occupancy monitoring to establish a baseline for how any proposed interventions will impact performance. ‘You have to get to know your building; you can’t just rely on a desktop study,’ says 5th Studio director Oliver Smith. ‘You need to know whether moisture is a result of students drying laundry, a leaking rainwater pipe or something else.’ Scrutinised by an interdisciplinary team, which included Max Fordham, Bill Bordass, sustainability consultant Bill Gething, timber specialist Brian Ridout and Neil May of Natural Building Technologies, three years of detailed surveying, monitoring and modelling took in several rounds of thermal imaging, airtightness, in-situ U-value calculations, core samples, interstitial hydrothermal monitoring and more. The team also employed WUFI, a modelling programme developed by the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany, as a heat and moisture simulation tool for assessing condensation and mould risk in walls. North estimates that in future the time could be cut to a year, thanks to the team’s steep learning curve at New Court. A minimum of a full year is necessary to allow monitoring through all seasons.

In addition to these individual projects, numerous concurrent industry initiatives suggest that wider acceptance of monitoring is gaining momentum. Arup acquired the intellectual property rights to the Building Use Studies (BUS) Methodology in 2009 and is launching it as a website for industry use at Ecobuild. Survey results will be benchmarked using a database of more than 700 buildings. According to Arup’s Darren Wright, the new BUS Methodology website will engage with a network of licensed partners including consultants, contractors, architects and end-clients. Partners will have their own branded web pages and will be able to create surveys and receive results against the benchmark data set through the website. Another Arup initiative, which will be launched in April during Open City’s Green Sky Thinking Week, is detailed monitoring of its own offices at 8 Fitzroy Road, London.

Also at Ecobuild, the Retrofit for the Future project is releasing its initial findings. A summary report will identify the energy and carbon emission performance of each RfF project, explore whether this has been achieved at the expense of other factors such as occupant satisfaction, and identify lessons from the programme. Meanwhile, at Sheffield School of Architecture, a two-year monitoring programme that will compare Urban Splash’s Saxton Gardens in Leeds to White Design’s LILAC Co-Housing development will be under way shortly.

Numerous architects are participating in the current round of TSB BPE funding, which includes 49 non-domestic and 58 new-build residential projects that will be monitored until 2014. Of the 49 non-domestic project teams, more than a quarter are led by architects. A workshop at the University of Coventry in late January gathered representatives of 36 of the 49 non-domestic teams to share progress. The data from the TSB projects will eventually be incorporated in the CarbonBuzz platform, which will be relaunched this spring. Such initiatives help to build a community of practice around the emerging art of performance monitoring.

The savviest practices are already making waves with post-occupancy research

Stevenson acknowledges that BPE is unlikely to ever become mainstream unless it is legislated for. Government Soft Landings, which will take effect from 2016, is a first step. ‘Soft Landings automatically carries a two-year BPE study with it, and so we have BPE by the back door,’ says Stevenson. In terms of architectural education, Stevenson’s view is that ‘until learning about BPE is a standard requirement of the RIBA Validation Criteria, we will continue to produce architects who do not understand the consequences of their actions’.

The savviest practices are already making waves with post-occupancy research. By refining their own approach, writing it into contracts from the beginning of projects and through funding it themselves, new ways of working are being developed. Findings from this work feed into future projects and can only make buildings perform better. And isn’t that what we all want – sustainable architecture that performs as designed?

Architects leading the way – Technology Strategy Board building performance evaluation projects led by architects

Architype Bessemer Grange Primary School and Children’s Centre

Aedas Loxford School, Brine Leas Sixth Form School (top right), Pool Innovation Centre and Tremough Innovation

Richards Partington Architects Greenfields Community Housing Headquarters

Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios Woodland Trust Headquarters (top left), Woodland Trust Concrete Radiator Performance Analysis

ECD Architects Castle Hill Primary School, Morrison Bowmore Distillers

bere:architects Mayville Community Centre (bottom left)

White Design Rogiet Primary School, Oakham CofE Primary School

Quattro Design Architects Coleford Community Centre

Woodland Trust Headquarters by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios

FCBStudios Woodland Trust

Completed October 2010
Building type Office space for 200 in a cross-laminated timber structure
Dates of monitoring June 2011 – June 2013
Cost of monitoring NA – funded by Technology Strategy Board

Scope of monitoring

  • Infra-red thermographic survey plus smoke pencil investigations of selected areas
  • Metering of gas, water and electricity with sub-metering by end use
  • Internal temperature and CO2
  • External temperature and wind speed
  • Commissioning checks of services and systems
  • BUS occupant survey (90 per cent response rate)
  • Discussions with the facilities and IT managers
  • Evaluation of natural ventilation, lighting and low energy ICT strategy
  • Monitoring of chiller performance
  • Comparison of predicted performance with actual performance

Main findings

The BUS Occupant Survey was positive overall but highlighted problems such as noise in open plan spaces and difficulties implementing the natural ventilation strategy, caused by problems with the BMS and the need for finer control.

Annual CO2 emissions from regulated loads for the first year were approximately 21kg/m2. Energy use by ICT and server room air conditioning accounts for 70 per cent of electricity use. The team, which includes Max Fordham and Bill Bordass, is working with an ICT consultant and the chiller manufacturer to see whether further reductions can be made.

CAFOD by Black Architecture

Black Cafod

Completed April 2010
Building type Office headquarters for international relief charity (250 staff currently with maximum occupancy of 350)
Dates of monitoring May 2010 – ongoing
Cost of monitoring Shared internally by project team: client, architect, services engineer, and contractor

Scope of monitoring

All data was logged via BMS. Data transfer was difficult and time-consuming because  data had to be manually processed because the BMS did not have an interface with standard spreadsheet software. This was undertaken by the client’s facilities manager and reviewed by the architect, services engineer KingShaw and contractor Volker Fitzpatrick.

  • Total electricity usage
  • Floor by floor sub-metering
  • Lighting sub-metering
  • Gas and water use
  • Rainwater harvested

Occupant satisfaction was measured through staff surveys in prior premises at briefing stage and after occupation.

Main findings

Any excessive energy usage was identified and rectified, and lessons learned were disseminated to staff by ‘floor’ champions. In terms of CO2 emissions, initial analysis suggests that mixed mode buildings with higher occupation densities can deliver lower emissions per workstation than fully passive alternatives and that the construction cost per workstation is also lower.

Satisfaction survey findings indicate that users really value their new working environment and when asked informally say that the building has transformed the way they work.

Princedale Road by Paul Davis + Partners

100 Princedale Road by Paul Davis + Partners

Completed November 2011
Building type Three London terraced houses (solid brick wall construction): one certified Passivhaus retrofit, one Decent Homes Plus house, one unrefurbished
Dates of monitoring June 2011 – May 2012
Cost of monitoring NA – funded by Technology Strategy Board

Scope of monitoring

  • Temperature
  • Relative humidity
  • CO2 concentration
  • Energy demand
  • Utility bills

Main findings

The monitoring compared the three different homes in order to assess the benefits of retrofitting to different standards, looking at both costs and energy consumption.

Passivhaus standard retrofit: 

  • Primary energy demand reduced by 68 per cent
  • CO2 emissions reduced 70 per cent
  • Payback period:  27 years

Decent Home Plus dwelling:

  • Primary energy demand reduced by 35 per cent
  • CO2 emissions reduced by 37 per cent
  • Payback period: 15 years

The study also examined the implications of fuel poverty, a key driver for energy efficiency upgrades. Fuel poverty was found likely to become an issue within the typical house by as soon as 2021 and in the decent homes plus by 2030.

Camden Passivhaus by bere:architects

Camden Passivhaus by bere:architects

Completed Spring 2010
Building type Timber framed two-bed house
Dates of monitoring March 2011 – late 2013
Cost of monitoring £91,000 from Technology Strategy Board (staff resources not included)

Scope of monitoring

  • Co-heating testing, including air permeability tests, infra-red thermography, in-situ u-value measurement, and a smoke-based air leakage test
  • Commissioning checks of services and systems
  • Occupant surveys
  • Metering of gas, electricity, water and solar thermal with sub-metering according to use
  • Performance and energy use of MVHR
  • Monitoring of internal temperature, humidity and CO2
  • Monitoring external temperature
  • Analysis of occupant window usage
  • Measuring indoor air quality
  • Comparison of predicted performance with actual performance

Main findings

The Camden Passivhaus is outperforming its design data.

Specific space heating demand:

  • Designed – 13.7 kWh/m2
  • Measured – 12.1 kWh/m2

Total primary energy demand:

  • Designed – 120kWh/m2
  • Measured – 113 kWh/m2

Surveyed residents said: ‘The house works in a very efficient manner, requiring very little heating, even when it’s sub-zero outside. So it proves the Passivhaus concept works – in reality.’

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