Cost, clients and skills to blame for ‘performance gap’

26 February 2018

Installation of cavity wall insulation

Budget pressures, lack of client interest and poor installation skills were cited as the chief causes of the ‘performance gap’ on construction projects, a survey by CM and Recticel discovers.

The ‘performance gap’ – the difference between the designed and as-built energy performance of a building – has long vexed construction project teams, not to mention clients and occupants.

A survey by CM of nearly 200 industry professionals in partnership with insulation specialist Recticel has attempted to find the causes of the performance gap, and possible remedies.

Overwhelmingly, respondents pointed to ‘build cost pressures’ as the most significant cause. Almost 89% agreed that this was one of the main causes of the performance gap, followed by the client’s lack of knowledge or concern (75%) and poor installation and construction (also 75%).

Another 55% agreed that the architect’s design was the main cause, while advice of engineers (33%) and advice of manufacturers (29%) were seen as less important.

Performance gap causes

When attempting to address the performance gap through retrofitting, respondents again saw build cost considerations and the client as top of their priorities. Some 83% agreed that cost was the biggest influence on choice of product, ahead of client’s requirements (75%).

Asked what would help inform their choice when specifying products to address the performance gap, 92% said “more information on performance outcomes of products”, just ahead of “better training for installers and constructors at site level” (91%). Some 79% said “site visits and toolbox talks from manufacturers”.

Finally, the survey asked what the key obstacles were to solving the performance gap problem. Again, cost was considered the most important issue, according to 89% of respondents, followed by client reluctance or lack of awareness (82%), and lack of installation skills (81%).

Insufficient product information from manufacturers was considered an obstacle by 71% of respondents, just ahead of architects (68%) and government policy (66%).

Kevin Bohea, commercial director for Recticel, said: “The survey shows that cost is a major prohibitor to buildings performing as designed. It could be argued that it has never been easier to build a low-energy home, what with increasing availability of products and systems manufactured to exceed regulatory levels of thermal performance.

However, meeting the bottom line, rather than ensuring an airtight build appears to be the main consideration of developers.

“A lack of installation skills has also been cited as a major obstacle to addressing the performance gap. This shortfall of experienced insulation engineers tallies with the current skills shortage across the construction industry.

As for the aforementioned cost concerns – quality materials come at a price. However, they pay dividends in the long-term in helping create buildings whose thermal performance results in lower fuel bills and comfortable, healthy interiors for the occupants’ wellbeing.”

This survey was carried out in conjunction with Recticel


Interesting that the performance gap clauses could apply equally as causes for poor project performance generally. Why do they take so long, cost so much, and often miss their targets?...
a) Client lack of knowledge
b) Poor (= using the wrong process) project planning & control
c) Overemphasis on cost (= missing the fact that to reduce cost you need to improve the project process, not just squeeze margins)

Ian Heptinstall, 5 March 2018

Why the surprise? We are dealing with a process where the investment often enough is by those who are not the ones standing to benefit.

Given most projects (in my experience) are ruled by QS's advising clients on the cost of everything, and designers are often enough ignored or silenced when it comes to quality, there should be no surprise quality issues suffer.

Just yesterday, in not approving materials simply because the contractor has failed to demonstrate they were suitable for the project, (I work for the Contract Administrator) I was overruled by my QS boss and told I had to change the status to approve them, on the spurious grounds that someone else in the process (a specialist consultant who was ignoring their own specification requirements) had approved it, we hadn't spotted it, and now it was too late.

It also 'wasn't the way to do it'.

When I asked as a clear question, if stopping the contractor from proceeding with what may be substandard materials, of which we know little, wasn't the way, then what was?

He didn't know and couldn't tell me, but regardless 'it wasn't the way'.

It was apparently also not my problem if the contractor eventually installed substandard materials, for all I am a registered architect and in charge of managing the scope of work we were talking about!

With such clear and decisive leadership when it comes to dealing with quality issues, and a contractor's repeated failure to perform its contractual obligations, is it any wonder we end up with projects where quality has taken an obvious distance 3rd place after time and cost?

John, 6 March 2018

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