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Building bridges between FM and designApril 2006

The gap in understanding between designers and facilities managers is causing real difficulties in getting buildings to run according to the design intent. David Bleicher identifies the problems and possible solutions.

Everybody wants low CO2-emitting buildings. The upcoming changes to the Building Regulations aim to make that virtually compulsory. However, post-occupancy studies, such as the PROBE investigations carried out in the 1990s, reveal that buildings that are designed to be fuel-efficient don't always perform so well in reality.

For example, the Orchard Learning Resource Centre in Birmingham was designed in the mid-1990s as a passive solar building, with automatically-controlled high-level vents to allow night-time cooling. The night-time cooling worked a little too well: by morning the building was too cold, forcing the automatic controls to switch on the heating. By the afternoon, the building was overheated, so the vents opened again.

BSRIA believes that these sorts of problems can be alleviated if building designers were more in tune to the needs of the people who end up operating buildings. Conversely, buildings might achieve their intended energy efficiencies if their operators better understood the original intent of the designers.

BSRIA also believes manufacturers have a part to play. After all, items like building management systems (BMS), variable speed drives and combined heat and power (CHP) can bring about major reductions in energy use. However if they aren't operated correctly, they can easily increase energy consumption - the opposite of the design intention.

Building bridges

A recent Carbon Trust-funded project, Building Bridges between FM and Design, has enabled BSRIA to get feedback from building operators on how designers and contractors can do things better, and vice versa. The first part of the project involved drafting a questionnaire and piloting it with members of BSRIA's Energy and Sustainability Network.

The questionnaire went online in December 2005, and within a couple of weeks over 100 responses had been received. The results were interesting. For example, 39% of respondents weren't aware of the energy saving benefits of variable-speed drives. Even people who had them in their buildings weren't aware of the benefits.

Considering that the respondents to the questionnaire were probably at the more knowledgeable end of the facilities management spectrum, it shows that the industry needs a lot of education.

The second part of the project involved an all-day seminar which was held in central London on 21 February. A fair cross-section of the industry attended the event, including manufacturers, designers, facilities managers and clients.

Aside from giving designers, manufacturers and facilities managers a chance to meet and share views, the Building Bridges event presented some practical ideas that have the potential to save energy.

Controls

Controls are the double-edged sword of facilities management. Designed and installed appropriately, they can help the facilities manager maintain optimal running of complex hvac and lighting systems, while being simple, flexible and manageable to respond to changing needs.

Controls that are poorly specified, over-complex and badly commissioned will rapidly cause more problems than they set out to solve.

Generally, survey respondents reported that their controls were OK, but a significant number reported that their controls were poor or very poor. Even if they could get access to the controls, they were often not very intuitive to use.

This result correlated with 57% of respondents who reported that heating and cooling plant ran simultaneously. Where occupants want control over their environment, they often have no control over the HVAC systems; when controls are provided, occupants often don't understand them.

Facilities managers generally don't like the idea of delegating control of environmental systems to a building's occupants. The reasons are many and varied, but most problems boil down to a conflict between occupants wanting to be a little warmer or cooler, and facilities managers determined to maintain a specific set-point.

When facilities managers were asked what changes they would like to see in the way controls are specified, they had three main requests:

  • Control systems should be simple, and industry should adopt a standard configuration
  • Controls should be capable of manual override for short periods of time or within a range of set points.
  • Control systems should be less complicated and more intuitive to use.

As one respondent said: "Controls are very often over-specified and then only utilised to a fraction of their capability. They are too complex for the building user to understand."

Handover information

Buy pretty much any consumer product, say a digital camera, and it will come with instructions that will enable you to use advanced functions within minutes of opening the box. The handover information that comes with a new building is not always easy to use.

Most of the respondents to the BSRIA questionnaire reported dissatisfaction with operation and maintenance (O&M) manuals. This underperformance was reflected in [link=/bookshop/pages/pubdescrip.asp?ID=1769 caption=BSRIA's 2005 Key Performance Indicators], where the delivery of O&M manuals was still regarded as being one of the poorest aspects of service by the construction industry.

The views of many facilities managers can be summed up by a comment from one survey respondent: "O&M manuals often appear to be thrown together with no thought to how they will be used. Too often, quality is favoured over quality."

The O&M manual is only the tip of the iceberg. There are also problems with building logbooks, which are now required for new buildings but are not always kept up-to-date. Record drawings are often little more than freehand mark-ups of the construction drawings. Some buildings have a user manual for building occupants, who need to know how to turn the heating down or who to call when the lights are flickering.

The BSRIA survey showed that the specification for both O&M manuals and logbooks should address the requirements for each handover item, referencing published standards where necessary. Delivery dates should be set, allowing sufficient time for the designer and client to review the information. There should also be penalties for non-delivery, said respondents. For example, part of the construction costs could be withheld until a complete set of record drawings have been delivered and approved.

Inevitably, one gets what one asks for. When one buys a cheap electrical appliance, one shouldn't be surprised if it comes with a generic, badly-translated manual.

In the year of tighter Building Regulations and the Energy Performance in Buildings Directive, designers and facilities specialists should be asking: is this state of affairs still acceptable in a 21st century construction industry?

For more information BSRIA:

Tel: +44 (0) 1344 465600
Email bsria@bsria.co.uk

 

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