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retrofit briefing Technologhy4Change

Published by BRE Trust

Users must make BREEAM theirs to make it work


EAM workshop hears how lack of ownership can undermine BREEAM targets, and stresses value of post occupancy studies

Ownership, commitment and experience are key to getting the best out of BREEAM. Conversely, lack of ownership in pre-construction and construction, as well as discontinuity in the project team, result in struggles to hit BREEAM targets.

These findings are among the initial results of research by Dr Libby Schweber of University of Reading. The research looked in depth at eight projects ranging from £5-12m in value, mostly in the health and education sectors. It considered both the experience of BREEAM and its impact on the projects.

Schweber presented her findings at the Environmental Assessment Methods Workshop: From Buildings To Communities, at the University of Reading last week. The workshop focused on BREEAM and the Code for Sustainable Homes, which have provided a test bed and driver in advance of regulation, and a measure and certificate of good performance for building developers and owners.

The detrimental effect of lack of ownership when undertaking BREEAM was highlighted by Gordon Hudson, professor at Northumbria University and divisional director at Mott MacDonald. He said this was a particular challenge for the NHS: “Hospital trusts are not following through on BREEAM assessments in their work. They are good at putting it into their strategic business case, but then it falls away.”

Hudson also drew attention to the performance gap, pointing to research by Northumbria University looking at Central Square, a 13-year old BREEAM Excellent rated office scheme in Newcastle. Like many developments, the scheme was found not to be delivering on modelled comfort levels, and this increased focus on the performance gap and post occupancy models poses both challenges and opportunities for BREEAM.

Meanwhile in housing

Concerns about the performance gap extend both to non-domestic and domestic buildings. In the quest to improve environmental performance of new homes, developers have equipped them with technologies ranging from rainwater harvesting to biomass boilers, and the incorporation of such innovations has provided a steep learning curve for the housebuilding industry, and sometimes for occupants themselves.

Barry Goodchild, professor at Sheffield Hallam University, asked whether the Code for Sustainable Homes ought to be taking into account the usability and reliability of technologies. Goodchild continued: “There has been a dearth of post occupancy evaluation in high level Code homes. We need post occupancy evaluation where confidentiality is removed, so that people can see what is going wrong.”

Martin Sexton, professor at University of Reading, has carried out research looking at how major housebuilders reconcile their business model, which is based on standardisation, with the innovation involved in attaining higher levels of the Code. “There are examples of explorative innovation, but volume housebuilders mainly resorted to a narrow range of low and zero carbon solutions,” he said.

Housebuilders are also driven by the market and the demands of their customers, and Rob Pannell, director of Zero Carbon Hub set out what the customer wanted. “A survey by a major housebuilder found energy bills came eighth in a list of buyer priorities. It’s just not a demand at the moment.” However, housebuilder Skanska has found that the Code level 4 homes it has developed at Great Kneighton in Cambridge have been well received by the market. “We are developing level 4 with enhanced energy efficiency, in response to demand from customers,” said Glyn Mutton, development manager with Skanska Residential Development UK. Jake Brodetsky, senior major ventures manager at affordable housing provider Network Housing Group summed up the dilemma, “Those in our older properties would value energy efficiency improvements, while many buyers aren’t looking at it.”

The workshop also explored the use of environmental methods at the community level, with presentations by Tim Dixon, professor at University of Reading, on the increasing importance of social sustainability, and Helen Pineo, BREEAM Communities manager of BRE, on future masterplanning approaches.

Standards for good

In the course of the debate, some participants suggested that BREEAM or the Code might have run their course. However, Wendy McClure of Synergy Building Services Solutions disagreed, saying that there was increasing interest from clients in building to such standards. Chris Cousins, local government liaison manager of BRE, also challenged the suggestion, saying, “We’re developing new products that are being enthusiastically received both within the UK, such as BREEAM Domestic Refurbishment, and overseas, notably BREEAM Communities in Sweden. We are updating existing standards, with BREEAM New Construction 2014 on the way. We’re always keen to work with others and to listen to suggestions for improvements.”

He drew attention to the fact that both BREEAM and the Code have played a key role in driving sustainable design and construction in the UK, helping to nurture the low carbon goods and services sector which last year accounted for 8% of UK GDP and 30% of GDP growth, outperforming most other sectors of the economy.

Click here for the presentations from the event.

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