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Closing the performance gap

By Niall Gibson on Tuesday 11 November 2014

IES recently hosted one of its Faculty events in London on Closing the Performance Gap. Over 40 representatives from companies across the UK including, Arup and Buro Happold, came together to discuss where the Performance Gap comes from and how the industry can minimise it through better understanding of design analysis and learning from buildings in operation. IES Faculty is a series of free events for building professionals to discuss and debate current topics among likeminded people. Niall Gibson, Business Development Manager at IES gives a run-down of the event and some of the key issues that were discussed…

Over the years the green agenda within building design has become increasingly important. It’s only recently that designers have had the technology and know-how to validate how our buildings are performing in real-terms, in comparison to what was expected from the design stage. The results prove interesting with a common thread, often the building isn’t performing as predicted. Invariably the divergence in results show the real building performing far worse than expected. We can see this in simple terms, by comparing a buildings Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) against its energy bills and Display Energy Certificate (DEC). Why is this?

The Carbon Trust published a report, ‘Closing the Gap’, in April 2012. One of the key findings is the confusion that Compliance models should somehow suffice for design analysis and in some cases mistakenly be used as a form of operational energy prediction. The compliance model is simply a benchmark exercise and omits key elements within the building in its calculation. For example, unregulated loads such as plug loads, server rooms, external lighting and so on. This is ultimately why the EPC, currently, won’t align with the DEC, however your Design model could, and a growing number within our industry would say should.

Understanding our analysis at Design Stage is only one half of this challenge, the other is understanding how buildings are operating and learning from them. Historically we’ve periodically undertaken volume benchmarking of buildings, i.e. CIBSE Guide F (table 20.1 is one I personally remember well, from design days of past). This approach requires a huge amount of effort and quickly becomes dated.  We have had recent attempts to create independent formats for example ‘Lessons’ and ‘CarbonBuzz’. While these appear to be robust platforms with good intentions, designers & building owners are reluctant to post predicted and operational building performance key indicators on a public forum. The feedback from the Faculty suggested the lack of a driver. Why would designers commit to their design performance so publicly?

Interestingly the BREEAM assessment Version 2014 includes the reward of credits for submitting building performance metrics. However there seemed to be a difference of opinion at the faculty on this, with some hesitant to share any information, whilst others happy to comply for credit attainment. There is a need to learn more from our buildings in operation. It’s all well and good believing a building is sustainable because it appears to do so at design, but how sustainable is it in reality? How do we know if we aren’t checking? We need to quantify the Performance Gap in the same level of detail in which we analyse buildings in simulation software.

No-one knows better than the designers who design the building, how that building should operate. However, we currently give very poor handovers from the design team, to the construction team, and as one Faculty attendee shouted out, don’t forget the handover to the FM team. Using the new IES Ergon service designers now have the ability to extend their services beyond the traditional handover. Using the same technology they are used to for design, they can now feedback valuable information to the commissioning team and FM team. As pointed out in the Faculty, a service contract with building owners to provide annual health checks, could be another opportunity.

It’s a very interesting and exciting time we live in with the advancement of smart building technology evolving at speed. Only a couple of years ago the only thing connected to your home broadband was your laptop. Now with the movement of the Internet of everything (IoE), all manner of devices are connected. It’s easy to question the value of having your fridge or washing machine connected to the internet, but the popularity of being able to control and analyse your home technology from your smart phone is hard to argue with. Just look at NEST’s smarts smoke alarm and their smart thermostat. Ok, it’s great to turn your heating on or off from the office and to check your house isn’t on fire but the real benefit comes from a sub benefit of the products being connected to the IoE. i.e. if the smoke alarm senses Carbon Monoxide it can tell the thermostat to turn the boiler off.

The evolution within the domestic sector is clear but what about the potential of the non-domestic sector? It’s an exciting time and with all the development being carried out in various Smart cities projects around the world, were only at the beginning. It’s hard not to be distracted by this; but our first step must be to close the Performance Gap.

IES’s next Faculty session topic is on BIM and is due to take place this December. Keep an eye out for more details coming soon on the IES website, www.iesve.com.


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