Newly constructed, or refurbished, buildings frequently have issues that can result in disputes between the building owners/operators and contractors/consultants/architects. Many existing buildings also have issues that require resolution, or sometimes a better understanding to work around the issues.
The number of instances of problems is likely to increase due to the increasing complexity of building services to provide low carbon energy efficient solutions. The performance gap between predicted and actual energy consumption has been well documented in CIBSE and other publications with consumption up to three times that predicted not uncommon.
A lot of the problems with low carbon solutions are the result of tick box engineering; incorporating plant that meets low carbon criteria without a full understanding of how it will work in practice. Biomass boilers are a typical example, with many being turned off due to ongoing problems. Biomass systems can be made to work effectively, but it is far more difficult than most other systems.
Initiatives such as Soft Landings have been launched, but these may in some cases result in disputes escalating due to ongoing monitoring of buildings.
Reports from suitably experienced and qualified independent experts are necessary to fully understand problems and potential solutions.
Typical problems reported include the following:
Problems need to be understood in context, once complaints start they often continue, even if the problem has been resolved, occupiers have been known to complain of cold draughts even when the supply air temperature is 23°C and air velocity is below recommended limits. However, sometimes problems are Intermittent, which are the most difficult to understand and resolve.
Building occupants can also be the cause of the problem, the following are some typical examples that have been observed in the recent years:
Understanding the Issues:
There are many reasons why buildings don’t perform, some are relatively easy to understand, but others are far more difficult to comprehend. Conflict between building owners/operators and contractors/consultants/architects can also result in misleading/biased viewpoints that cloud the facts.
The first stage is to examine the reported issues, design/commissioning data and initial site observations. Causes may be obvious from initial investigations but often further investigation is necessary.
There are a number of methods available to identify/quantify issues including:
Data can be analysed via spreadsheets; more sophisticated analysis via expert systems and data mining are also possible. Results will need to be analysed and conclusions derived.
Meetings with other parties may be required, dependent upon circumstances.
Controls are frequently reported as one of the most common causes of building performance problems, but the true cause may be controllability.
Graham Smith CEng FCIBSE MInstMC has been involved with identifying and resolving building performance issues, and writing expert reports, for over thirty years.
Graham was fortunate to work with a number of experts in their field in his early years and his work for large multidisciplinary consultants led to his services often being the first port of call when problems arose. He developed a successful case for the defence from a pile of 36 boxes on one occasion and took over as project manager to resolve technical and contractual issues for a multi-million pound claim on multidisciplinary services that was successfully resolved on another occasion.
Many issues cross boundaries between disciplines and Graham has managed cases involving structural and architectural issues, roofs seeming to be the most frequent problem.
Contractual responsibilities must be considered as well as technical issues. On one occasion a consultant carried out surveys that were possibly inadequate to define requirements. However, under the terms of the contract the surveys were another party’s responsibility, so there was no liability.
On another occasion a consultant had been trying to find a solution to a 25% increase in energy consumption for 18 months and concluded a new BMS at a cost in excess of £60k was the only solution. Graham identified the true cause of the problem within 15 minutes of attending site. The solution for the primary problem was zero cost.
A recent problem with a chiller installation that had been installed in the same manner as existing chillers was resolved via a simple change to pipework. The existing chillers that had been underperforming for twenty years could have had their performance issues resolved in a similar manner, although modern chillers are far more efficient and replacement was recommended.
Graham has reported on a wide range of building performance issues including:
Graham has a wide range of experience, from controls engineer to running building services, multidisciplinary and energy teams. He has also been multidisciplinary project manager for projects including replacement of wind damaged 50m hospital flues whilst keeping all services running, GCHQ Bude Training and Development Centre, Charles Cross Police Station Refurbishment, specialist government buildings, framework contracts, etc.
He undertook many projects for BRE including BMS user experience studies and has undertaken controllability reviews and resolved building performance and control/controllability issues for over thirty years including recent projects in the Middle East and Germany.
Graham has been involved in the following publications: