Can you put a cost on comfort?

We can all be guilty of choosing the easy option in life from time to time. Maybe the pressure to sometimes take the ‘path of least resistance’ comes from cost, time, ease or all three. Professionally, as engineers who are designing building automation systems to perform, these decisions can be challenging and sometimes ones that we regret.

Equally, there are some reverse examples where a design has gone ‘over the top’. Sometimes by trying to be compliant, the design adds ‘cost’ but no ‘value’ in terms of how the building will perform for occupants and those funding the costs of operating the building.

We can put a ‘cost on comfort’ and both scenarios above need reviewing and engineering professionally so that the money invested in automating a building matches exactly the through-life performance requirements for that building.

When applying this philosophy in the building controls industry, a common scenario in the workplace is when a room is either too hot or cold. For instance, some building occupants may feel the room is too stuffy and decide that rather than getting up to turn the thermostat down, to lean over and simply open a window.

Without a sufficient controls system in place, there is nothing to override this from happening, therefore the heating will remain on full – wasting precious energy.Good design of controls and automation will foster a culture of good energy/comfort control by users – this is when designing for performance gets powerful.

A similar situation often occurs if the heating and air conditioning run at the same time. It may only seem a minor thing, but if this continually happens, over days, months and even years – the costs can be astronomical.

According to the Carbon Trust, heating and hot water account for 60% of the total energy use in commercial buildings while unnecessary use of ventilation can account for around 30% of heat lost. Figures such as these highlight the need for energy users to take responsibility for their actions.

This brings us nicely to the 10 80 10 rule which has been discussed a great deal of late due to the concerning numbers. For those of you not aware, the total lifetime costs of a commercial building can be split into three areas: 10% at the construction stage, 80% on the operation of the building and the remaining 10% for dismantling and demolition.

A massive 80% is spent on the day to day running of a building, most of which is accounted for by building services, such as heating and ventilation. To lower this massive figure, the lifetime running costs need to be taken into consideration from the start of the design phase in order to make a significant reduction in this area.

Therefore, it is critical for all those in the supply chain to understand the long term benefits of implementing a suitable controls system from the initial stages of construction to keep operational costs lower over the years.

It may seem like a ‘win’ to spend less at the design stage to meet the minimum ‘compliance’ requirements of the construction phase but the focus is now changing. An investment in controls at the outset is being directly linked to actual building performance – productivity, wellbeing and energy efficiency.

This is where our sector is heading, design the right building automation to get the best performance outcome. Many landlords and building owners are now targeting this ‘design for performance’ concept as the expectation for high performing, energy efficient buildings which make both commercial and environmental sense. It also drives down the costs in the 80% chunk of the 10 80 10.

Furthermore, it has a knock-on effect on the working environment. Working conditions play an integral role in the productivity of individuals and without an appropriate controls system installed, this will hinder the comfort levels of those occupying the building. Surely, this is something we must take into account if we wish to extract the best from each individual?

Collectively we need to professionally challenge both ‘short-cuts’ and ‘over-complication’ so that we design systems to perform as effectively and efficiently as possible.

Working with the whole supply chain, we can make our expertise and experience available to ensure that the systems in a building all interconnect to operate as one fully integrated ‘Building Energy Management System’. This will provide building owners and landlords the lowest possible energy bills while giving the users the environment they need.