Leader: Is our energy rating system sustainable?

6 March 2012

Elaine Knutt, CM editor

The fact that energy performance in use often fails to match up to energy performance predictions is an uncomfortable truth for the industry. A large part of the problem is lack of data and lack of incentive to uncover it: there’s rarely an effective feedback loop between the design and construction team and the occupier paying the energy bills.

But these days, it’s easier to assess the operational performance of public buildings by looking at mandatory Display Energy Certificates. When Roderic Bunn of BSRIA gathered this publicly available information on recently completed secondary schools, the gap between actual energy consumption and design predictions set out in the Energy Performance Certificates — and backed up by BREEAM excellent or very good scores — was often embarrassingly wide.

BREEAM is, of course, in the spotlight, given that education secretary Michael Gove is apparently planning to remove the requirement for new or refurbished schools to achieve top ratings. Of course, BREEAM covers far more than energy performance — it measures sustainability holistically, from energy to materials and rainwater policy to cycle sheds. Nevertheless, from the Department for Education’s point of view, it’s clear that schools’ ongoing running costs and operational carbon footprints are the main issues, and the results of Bunn’s desktop study suggest that top BREEAM scores are hardly a reliable indicator of future energy performance.

No one wants to see BREEAM disappear from the schools sector, or public buildings in general. But if today is all about efficiency and doing what works — for the clients’ needs in 20 years and not just for the obligatory BREEAM press release — then surely the standard needs to be more closely aligned with energy performance and revalidated post-occupation. And fast.

Situation normal...

Projects finished on time, defect free and exceeding clients’ expectations. Out-turn costs shrunk by 15%, lean thinking embedded in the delivery process. Disputes and litigation running well below historic levels. The industry finally unlocking the pent-up potential of BIM. Are we in a construction nirvana? No, it’s just that we’ve arrived at the New Normal.

Today’s prevailing conditions have turned many of the industry’s long-held aspirations into reality. Of course, it has been achieved at an extremely high price: thousands made redundant, thousands of firms in insolvency. But we’re in this climate now for at least another two years, if not longer. That provides the industry ample chance to consolidate some of the efficiency improvements it is chalking up and gear up to meet new challenges ahead fitter and leaner.

Feedback: comments posted on CM's website in the past month

In response to new SUDs requirements adding £2,500 to the cost of building a home

From Chris Blythe

Will it really add up to £2,500 per new house, how is this calculated? I suspect new homeowners would prefer to have a house which is floodproof than either have to pay a fortune in insurance or not even get insurance.

From Bob Irving

Building a proper SUDs scheme into each development would save them connecting to the rest of the storm drain system. Would that not save developers money?

On the comment piece from Mukesh Kashyap suggesting the CIOB leave qualifications up to universities

From John Williamson

Please find me a university that I can attend, in the evenings to advance from HNC to BSc (Hons) within the Greater Manchester area? I bet you can’t.

Keith Skelton FCIOB

I would like to see a greater growth in courses for young people who can become the next tradespeople, foremen, site supervisors, site managers, estimators and the like .

We need to encompass the core requirement in the new plan going forward. If not the CIOB then who will provide the training and expand the future CIOB membership?

From Michael John Davies

When you say you are conducting your own exams what are these exams? Are you still conducting your own Part 1 and 2 exams in construction followed by the Project Evaluation and Development thesis? This could be another option for younger people who cannot afford to go to university because of the increase in fees. Once they had passed all of the above and had the relevant experience they could sit the professional review interview to gain MCIOB status.

In response to construction's "lost decade"

Stephen Findlay

The general topic of conversation and concerns from the government and construction industry appear to be around the lack of opportunities for young people who might be convinced to enter the construction industry.

The industry already has a wealth of talent from the young but more so the older professional, tradesmen or qualified managers, yet nothing appears to be being done to retain them! The old saying “that you don’t know what you have until it’s to late” might be the long-term cry from the construction industry once the recession is over and experienced personnel previously in the industry are no longer available because they have secured alternative employment in another industry or gone abroad.

Vox pop

What does the New Normal mean for you and your business?

Canute Simpson, Director, Smart Objectives

I’m a self-employed business improvement facilitator, and the nature of the work I’m doing has changed. I used to run two-day business strategy events for construction professionals at a big country house in Kent. The first day was dedicated to fun team-building activities — we had groups competing to erect a structure on the lawn, good conversation over dinner in the evening, followed by drinking until 1am in the morning! On the second day, we got down to business.

But it’s all changed now — the companies want to get straight into the business session because their main focus is on improving efficiency and performance to survive the recession. They don’t have the time or money for non-core activities.

Vance Babbage, Director, B&M Babbage

The bottom line is I don’t stop working, I worked straight through last weekend. I’m behind my desk at least by 7am every morning and past 6pm every night.

It means my personal life is being squeezed out of the picture as it has become more important to keep the job than have additional leisure time.

Normally I’d take a two-week summer holiday but this year it will be cut to one week, I’m more cautious with my money so frivolous purchases go out the window. I’m not saying the pleasure has gone out of life — I’m much more cheerful than that — but it does take the gloss off of things.

Phil Hall MCIOB, Managing director, Hall Construction

I’m working harder and at least 20% more hours a week than I was three years ago to keep the business turning over. I work most Saturdays, and occasionally I’ll be in on a Sunday morning so I have much less free time.

I spend more time working on marketing the business and also spend a few hours a week with a local training company to improve our sales techniques. It’s hard work, but in the long term there must be benefits in rethinking how you operate. I’m also trying to develop a secondary income through buying up properties for sales and letting as a fallback should the industry come crashing down.

Geoff Wilkinson, Managing director, Wilkinson Construction Consultants

Increased work pressure means there just isn’t enough time in the day, so I find myself relying heavily on social media to network and build client relationships in the evening.

It’s not unusual to be on Facebook or tweeting at nine or 10 o’clock at night. Last week a client posted a Twitter query at 11.30pm and was surprised when I posted an answer shortly after, which would never have happened prior to the downturn.

Our business actually started up at the beginning of the recession, which meant we adopted a very different business model, utilising temporary short-term lease office accommodation, taking on part-time rather than full-time staff and scaling back benefits packages. For example, we have a car mileage allowance instead of offering company cars. We’re grown turnover by 20% over the past year, so these efforts seem to be paying off.

Tim Lewis MCIOB, Contracts manager, IB Construction

The recession has meant peoples’ roles within the company have evolved into other areas that might previously have been outsourced. I’m a contracts manager by background, but now I’m also the sustainability and environment officer, which has meant some retraining.

The role itself came out of the recession, with the market shrinking and the need to diversify into other areas. Taking on the extra work has meant increased pressure and more hours, but thankfully I enjoy it and because we’re a small workforce and a close-knit team I don’t mind going that extra yard to help the company out.

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