I think it’s fair to say that if the building services industry let out a collective sigh of relief now we have seen the back of 2009 it would be fully deserved.
It was only two years ago when the house building boom of the early 90’s was showing its first signs of slowing down, giving us an indication that something was on the horizon. However, at this point the new build market remained stable, with 100%, even 120% mortgages still easily obtainable, meaning consumer confidence remained high.
The reality is that no-one could have forecasted that things would have turned out the way they have.
Firstly, the fallout from the property price crash in the US had a major impact on the UK economy. The subsequent credit crunch and financial crisis in the banking system led banks to be much more cautious and cut back their lending, whether it to be home buyers, businesses or individuals with credit cards.
This, coupled with the uncertainty over interest rates, which only a year ago stood at 5.5%, was also putting increasing pressure on consumer spending and business investment.
As a result the UK is still in recession and with the European economy picking up better than the UK and US we have experienced a downward drift in Sterling affecting the cost of imported materials.
The impact has obviously been severe. The new build housing market has seen its biggest decline since World War II, with only 70,000 new homes predicted to be built this year. There have been a few glimmers of hopes though, particularly in the social housing sector and the investment made in education, particularly the Government’s Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme.
However, the consensus within the industry is that after the general election, Government funding cuts will be inevitable, impacting the public sector just when the private sector is starting to get its head above water.
The good news is that there are indications that in the final quarter of 2009, backed by the Bank of England keeping interest rates at a record low of 0.5% and its £125 billion programme, the economy is showing signs of recovery. Although official figures show the economy continuing to contract, business surveys, employment figures and consumer spending indicators paint a more encouraging picture.
Looking forward, there’s no doubt that 2010 will be another challenging year for the UK economy and building services industry in general. Personally, I am of the belief that we are in a double dip recession rather than V shaped and by that I mean it is going to take longer for the economy to bounce back than perhaps we have seen in previous times.
What’s important now is that we are prepared for growth when the economy expands.
It’s not going to surprise any of us involved in the sector that the focus once again this year is going to be on energy efficiency.
The key driver for this is legislation. It was only four years ago that the HVAC industry successfully embraced changes to the Building Regulations. Later this year we will once again need to get to grips with further revisions to Part L and Part F as the Government steps up its drive to reduce carbon emissions.
The main focus of Part L will be to cut carbon emission levels in both new homes and non-domestic dwellings by another 25% compared to 2006 levels. This will be done by ensuring the design and construction processes are subject to more rigorous control, like improving detailed design by submitting commissioning plans at the beginning of projects to ensure they perform as they are intended to satisfy building control.
In line with buildings becoming more airtight, changes to Part F are also being implemented to ensure adequate ventilation is provided. The key change in 2010 is going to be greater ventilation provisions for buildings with design air permeability tighter than or equal to 5m3/(h.sq m) at 50Pa.
Looking at the bigger picture, another legislation that is driving an energy efficient future is the Eco-Design of Energy Using Products (EuP) Directive. Whilst EuP is less talked about and might have slipped under the radar of a few, it’s still important we understand its impact.
Established by the European Commission in 2005, the directive creates a framework for legislation to provide guidance on improving the efficiency and environmental impact of a wide range of energy using products, including ventilation equipment.
In essence, the EuP Directive is designed to push the boundaries of energy efficiency based on the need to continually update products. The good news is the HVAC industry has stepped up to the plate, with a range of energy saving technologies and solutions developed for the market that meet and exceed legislation requirements.
The move towards low energy solutions not only mean the days of the AC motor are limited, but it has also resulted in the rise of the systems market, a focus on heat recovery ventilation and the introduction of a range of sophisticated control options. The growth of DC, EC and variable drive motors means that going forward systems will use less energy, last longer and will be able to respond to changes to a building’s environment much better.
At Xpelair for example, we have recently introduced a new generation of Appendix Q Eligible mechanical ventilation with heat recovery (MVHR) units. The Xcell 150 and Xcell 300 ranges offer building service engineers one of the most energy efficient MVHR units on the market, designed to raise the bar in the industry even higher.
This move from the more traditional intermittent ventilation to a solutions approach obviously has its own learning curve and highlights the importance of training to ensure new ventilation systems are fit for purpose and installed correctly, and that installers are competent and confident fitting them.
To help building service engineers achieve the highest standards, Xpelair offer a range of training courses that cover different ventilation strategies, how different systems work, planning and design and installation and commissioning guidance.
To complement this, Xpelair has a specialist division within the company that designs bespoke systems for individual site applications. The Xpelair CustomVent team of technical engineers work in conjunction with customers from the pre-planning design stages right through to installation and commissioning to ensure our solutions provide the highest performance levels, help reduce carbon emissions and comply with industry regulations.
So, while the past 12 months have seen turbulence in the economy, the changes in store for 2010 through new legislations should help stimulate the market and help us beat a path to recovery.