The value of control

Building controls add long-term value to commercial buildings, but only if clients are prepared to give a clear brief to specifiers – and stick to it explains Ian Ellis, BCIA president.

The demise of office working has been greatly exaggerated. The vision of a revolution that would see most of us working remotely from home via broadband and video conference, has never really taken off. And research carried out by the British Council for Offices (BCO) and the Investment Property Forum (IPF) bears this out.

The research, launched in June this year, shows that only two per cent of UK employees work from home. Instead, occupiers are demanding more of the home comforts in their office space. Employers who want to win and retain valuable and productive staff are increasingly expected to offer facilities such as restaurants, leisure space and even healthcare within the workplace. Far from moving away from the office, workers in the 21st century are planning to spend a lot more quality time there.

The implication for energy use is fairly obvious: with on-site kitchens, gymnasiums, and surgeries, building energy use can only rise. This leads to another important finding of the BCO/IPD research. Those involved in the commercial property sector agree that building design and operation will continue to be shaped by “increasingly rigorous environmental legislation”.  As a result, respondents to the survey commented that, “demand would increase for low- and zero-carbon offices.”

Clearly, controlling energy use is going to be a major preoccupation of building owners and managers for many years to come. There is another concern in the property sector: As legislation on carbon emissions and energy use tightens, existing building stock is increasingly in danger of becoming obsolete.

Building controls offer a great deal of energy-saving potential. Regular readers of this column will know the BCIA recommends that specifiers and clients use the British Standard BS EN 15232 to identify the type of control system they require, based on the level of energy saving they are seeking. The Standard was introduced in 2007, but is currently undergoing a review with an update due in 2011.

BS EN 15232 defines the minimum levels of building controls required to achieve different levels of energy efficiency in a number of building types including offices, retail and educational buildings. The Standard was developed to support the European Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) which sets the targets used in Part L of the Building Regulations.

For anyone specifying controls, the EN15232 offers a straightforward way for clients to decide what exactly they want the controls system in their building to achieve, and to ensure that contractors deliver what is required. It is a useful communication tool, that clarifies technical issues for non-engineers, but also offers a level of detail that engineers require.

There has never been a more important time for clients to ensure that their brief is met. With the growing concern in legislation with actual energy use (as opposed to the theoretical energy use of a designed building) building controls should be central to achieving energy efficient performance in buildings as they are used.

The current review of EN 15232 recognises this, not only by supplying an easy-to-use specification tool for building management systems, but also offering guidance on maintaining the efficiency of those systems.

Buildings are constantly changing environments. Operational practices can alter; occupiers move on and new ones take their place; building services equipment can drift in performance due to maintenance (or lack of it). The Standard recommends a minimum of annual reviews of the performance of the building controls. This could include checking the operation or positioning of sensors.

Annual training for users of the system is also considered vital to ensure long-term efficient operation. Like IT, building controls cannot contribute to building or business efficiency if users can’t use them correctly.

EN 15232 also offers a method for deciding on how to approach the upgrade of an existing system. As the BCO/IPF research points out, buildings can quickly become obsolete if they cannot keep up with energy-based legislation. Ensuring that the building is future-proofed should be regarded as an important business function, if the building is to hold its commercial value.