Commentary

Closing the performance gap in buildings

As an industry, we must have a clear aim – to maximise the efficiency of our buildings, writes Gareth Owens of KJ Tait.

The duty to reduce carbon emissions and decarbonise heating systems is a complicated one, particularly when considering the life of existing heating, ventilation, and air conditioning plant and the feasible alternatives to a traditional boiler system that runs at high temperatures. In an attempt to ensure buildings remove gas heating systems, the UK Government is expected to increase the MEES level to EPC ‘B’.

Future initiatives like NABERS in use that assess buildings for their primary energy usage, may in time also assist in ensuring that building owners remove gas heating. The final date will be the Net Zero Carbon legislation in 2050. By this date, no gas boilers should be in operation.

Outside of a legislative context, many building owners see the value in reducing the carbon emissions associated with their buildings through improved sustainability credentials that likely, in turn, contribute to higher yields for their properties.

In this time of the world’s climate emergency, our role as designers is becoming ever more important from an energy perspective, both in the design and in the ongoing energy efficiency of buildings.  Therefore, to have in-house energy engineers who are involved in projects from the outset and facilities engineers involved in the ongoing management of buildings is truly invaluable.

With energy prices and the cost of living on the rise, coupled with hybrid working, often meaning lower occupancy in office spaces, there has never been a more important time to ensure that all mechanical and electrical systems are operating as efficiently as possible. Whether it’s heating, cooling, ventilation or something as simple as lighting being controlled on an occupancy basis, every efficiency change made will play a part in minimising energy consumption and carbon emissions. The key to successful changes or enhancements is tying all the pieces together to ensure each individual system operates in such a way as to complement one another.

As an example, it’s not particularly uncommon to see a mixed-use below-ground car park with lighting fully operational throughout the day and night. The energy reductions that can be made using energy efficient LED lighting with localised, or even individual presence detection, are staggering. In a recent project, the replacement of circa 200 light fittings in an underground car park is so far showing us to be achieving an energy reduction of around 75% which, if continued, will see a return on investment in under two years.

Let’s also touch on whole-life carbon. This is extremely important to consider and will likely become more prevalent as the impact manufacturing and transportation has on the environment is truly realised. New methods and technologies to refurbish older main plant will likely be brought to market using smaller component parts that are easier, cheaper, and more environmentally friendly to transport with less old equipment going to landfills.

Whilst Manchester has seen an enormous increase of new residential and commercial buildings over the last decade that are being guided by strict planning requirements with respect to reducing carbon emissions, it is the need to reduce carbon emissions in our existing commercial and residential building stock that will have the greatest effect when considering how far carbon emissions have reduced in the built environment.

  • Gareth Owens is associate at KJ Tait

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