Building performance software rises to the challenge

How you design more sustainable, energy efficient buildings is probably the main challenge facing the global construction industry today. Throughout the world climate change and environmental issues are making front page news and with buildings accounting for 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions the pressure is on.
Only recently the British Government proposed a draft Climate Change bill which aims to set legally binding carbon reduction targets for the country. This is on top of major changes to Part L of the Building Regulations designed to meet the requirements of the European Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), and the introduction of a whole raft of sustainable building codes and ratings. What’s more this is probably only the start of increasingly stringent requirements.

Unsurprisingly, developed nations are disproportionably responsible for carbon emissions and in the UK buildings account for more than 50% of energy consumption. Technology today means it is relatively easy to design buildings which will consume over 50% less energy. While, in the future building owners will expect their designers to be capable of delivering evidence of low carbon building design. Therefore, the need to minimise and demonstrate energy consumption and carbon emissions in both new and existing buildings is significant. However, a large proportion of professionals working within the building community still lack understanding and experience in how to approach these challenges.

Good energy efficient design requires an understanding of how the building will perform. Many key decisions that affect a development’s sustainability credentials, such as orientation, layout and form, are taken right at the very early stages of the project. Therefore, considering and understanding the affect these factors have on performance is essential in the decision making process. Traditionally, sustainability, if considered at all, was looked at by the building services engineer during the later phase of the design process, but in order to make significant reductions in energy use it needs to be a key factor right from the earliest stages.

The incorporation of such detailed performance analysis at this early concept stage requires a major shift in perception and approach by everyone involved in the design process. The introduction of a more holistic rather than elemental approach to compliance with Part L2 (2006) of the Building Regulations for England and Wales has been a major catalyst in kick-starting such a shift. Gradually the realisation is spreading across the industry that what is required is an integrated understanding of how different elements affect each other and the overall performance. This is combined with the fact that compliance must be considered at an early stage to negate the possibility of expensive redesign later in the project.

Predicting how a building and all its different elements will integrate and perform necessitates the use of computer based simulation tools. Such software can easily assess the affect of changes to form, orientation, materials, building services systems, interior layout and occupancy for example, providing a powerful tool by which to consider the relative advantages of alternative design options. It can also ensure that good occupant comfort is always achieved. For years the use of such building simulation software to assist in the design of energy efficient buildings has been available. However, it has predominately been a specialist undertaking and only used by the early adopters of sustainable design, until recently.

Today with compliance for Part L2 (2006) of the Building Regulations requiring the use of computer simulation, and with an increased emphasis on truly sustainable design, the use of such software is becoming widespread. Building designers must now quantify and be accountable for what they are doing to ensure energy efficiency, and building simulation software offers the tools to allow this. As an alternative to the SBEM engine, CLG approved thermal simulation software, such as IES’s, offers building designers a more comprehensive route for assessing Part L2 compliance for complex and simple buildings.

However, the delay of processing any new applications for competent persons schemes by the CLG in 2006 could not have come at a worse time for the full integration of the new Part L and for energy efficient building. For the most complex of building regulations there is still currently no formally approved government scheme to recognise the competence of designers and give clients or building control officers the assurance that a building complies with the 2006 conservation of fuel requirements.

In the absence of such a scheme, the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) Register of Low Carbon Consultants offers confidence and is gaining recognition in the market place. Using a consultant from the Register will be highly beneficial if you want a new building designed to Part L (2006) or a building that exceeds minimum standards of energy performance and produces significant savings in running costs. Undertaking refurbishment of an existing building will also benefit from the engagement of a consultant on the Register. Low Carbon Consultants specialise in low carbon design principles, and can also liaise with Local Authority Building Control to ensure that your plans, and later on your building comply with Part L of the Building Regulations.

For those who want to benefit from becoming a Low Carbon Consultant, there are three different categories. The Design side of the Register is for suitably qualified professionals able to sign off compliance of new buildings and major refurbishments with Part L, but does not involve calculations. The Building Operation section of the Register focuses on the skills required to improve the energy performance of existing buildings and anticipates the requirements for energy assessors under the EU Energy Performance in Buildings Directive. The recently launched Simulation aspect offers recognition for those trained and examined in their competence of one of the simulation packages used to perform the calculations associated with Part L.

The launch of the Low Carbon Consultants (Simulation) Register provides the first scheme to offer independent accreditation for consultants to prove their competence on CLG approved thermal simulation software, as well as other Part L software. This is of particular importance in helping the construction industry as it gets to grips with the recent complex changes to the Building Regulations and the need to improve sustainability and reduce energy both in design and operation. Integrated Environmental Solutions (IES) Limited will be carrying out the training and examinations which enable successful candidates to apply to this aspect of the Register.

Any built environment professional with experience in energy can apply to become a Low Carbon Consultant under the scheme. Their initial knowledge is tested through an examination, and ongoing competence is demonstrated by ‘carbon returns’ where the consultant submits a record of the carbon emissions their designs or modifications to a building have achieved. There is plenty of guidance on the IES and LCC website about the level of knowledge suggested before candidates present themselves for the exam and there is a supporting training package which all candidates are advised to take before sitting the exam.

There has already been positive feedback from a number of consultants who successfully passed the exams and made it onto the register. With the addition of the Simulation aspect, the scheme offers a truly comprehensive route for building design professionals to demonstrate their knowledge and experience in this field. It is a positive step for the future of sustainable, energy efficient building design.

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