Challenges start at day one

At a recent conference a number of findings from the Carbon Trust’s Low Carbon Buildings Programme were highlighted. This extensive research looked into reducing carbon emissions from non-domestic buildings, based on a number of real-life case studies. One of the main findings was that good building control systems are a key driver to achieving low carbon buildings in operation.

Of course the BCIA would agree wholeheartedly with this conclusion as it is something that we have been saying for many years. However, the LCBP and its partner project the Low Carbon Buildings Accelerator (LCBA) also identified a number of challenges for providers of controls and users.

Challenges start at the contractual stage. It is here that customers need to be encouraged and educated to think about their controls from day one. Control systems tend not to include energy efficiency features where the choice of controls is led by a performance specification or a design-and-build contractor. 

Building owners and operators need to understand that in order to end up with a control system that ensures energy efficient (and low carbon) building operation, they have to make this objective clear from the start. Long-term thinking is required in order to ensure that energy efficient controls features are not value engineered out of the project. While the industry can do its best to educate, only those paying the bills can really make this happen.

Another important point to bear in mind is that building controls are regarded as a must-have in most commercial buildings. This means that controls are ubiquitous, but because they are everywhere, no one really sees them. People expect to have them in a building yet there seems to be little interest in anyone taking ownership to ensure that controls deliver low carbon outcomes.

This seems like a small point, but it highlights an important issue in training and handover. Even if the control system in a new building is explained extensively to the facilities manager at handover, staff changes mean that this knowledge can easily slip out of a business. The challenge is not the training itself, but selling the idea that this training has a value to business managers who may not always see the point of it.

However, the LCBP/LCBA clearly showed that where controls were considered successful by customers there was always an individual who understood controls and was motivated to use them. Finding this person, and perhaps others who can also be trained on the system, is the key to the successful use of controls for low-energy building operation in the long term.