Darren Finley, National Sales Director for Ideal Commercial Boilers, looks at how BIM can help designers specify the best products to meet building efficiency legislation and what boiler manufacturers can or should be doing to play their part.
April’s amends to the Building Regulations include the requirement for non-domestic buildings to be 9% more energy efficient compared to the levels required under current regulations. Although the efficiency increase is not quite as dramatic as some government advisors predicted or even hoped for, the new legislation will certainly put further pressure on building designers and engineers to ensure they specify the most energy efficient appliances and systems available that will meet a building’s heating and hot water requirements.
Along with an increased demand for overall building efficiency, there are also planned amendments to Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) and Display Energy Certificates (DECs), which operate as a means of assessing whether buildings are actually complying with the building regulations and will be able to do as legislation continues to grow more stringent. These amends are a result of changes to the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), which came into force in January 2013, and state amongst other amends that public buildings above 500sqm now require a DEC and are to display an EPC where one has been previously issued. This emphasises the increasing demand for building engineers, managers or owners to prove they are being proactive in reducing their energy use.
Although challenging for the industry, the increasing emphasis on whole building efficiency can also be seen as a catalyst for encouraging the change to a more collaborative approach to construction, with all parts of the supply chain working towards achieving this end goal. There are numerous aspects to consider when designing a heating system that will actually meet the efficiency requirements dictated by the new Building Regulations. Up until recently, however, it hasn’t always been easy for building engineers or system designers to gather the finer details in one place that would enable them to make important, precise calculations prior to build work. That was, before BIM was introduced.
Building Information Modelling (BIM) brings into play the common sense factor that many feel has been lacking from the traditional approach to construction, which has focused more on competitive tendering and short term cost savings rather than sharing vital information.
This is perhaps surprising considering that the creation of a building or the incorporation of a new system within an existing framework must, by necessity, be an act of collaboration between people in often widely differing areas of expertise, including architects, engineers, designers, manufacturers and facilities managers. BIM is heralded as the first truly workable model that has been created, a claim that is validated by the Government who intend to make it compulsory on all public sector projects by 2016 and is currently phasing it in via a series of ‘levels’ on all government projects.
BIM is not just a software solution but a whole systems approach, and the expertise and information that can be provided by manufacturers plays a major part. After all, nobody knows the functionality of products better than the company responsible for designing and building these appliances in the first place.
BIM components for boilers
BIM components allow the designer to place a virtual boiler in a virtual plant room so they can immediately view how well it fits, which can highlight any possible installation issues such as low or sloping ceilings, unusual floor plans, boiler connection outlets and door frame widths, as well as the boiler’s clearance zone which includes service access. Each component can usually be downloaded from the manufacturer’s website or from dedicated hosting sites such as bimstore.co.uk.
For manufacturers who are able to supply wall mounted boilers on dedicated frame and header kits, corresponding components will also be available so that the designer can see wall hung boilers installed in cascade as they would look in the finished installation and will be able to place this in the virtual plant room to check the width, height and positioning. They could even test whether it would be more appropriate to install the boilers in-line or back-to-back. Ideally, boiler manufacturers will be able to offer flexible installation options, such as left or right hand connections and even the option of a low height frame and header kit if, for example, an old floor standing model previously situated under a low ceiling were to be replaced with condensing wall hung replacements.
So size and space issues can be tested, but this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the ‘Information’ side of Building Information Modelling. Each 3D model is also data-enriched so that essential technical information is actually embedded within an individual BIM component. Boiler BIM components will include information such as the boiler efficiency (part load, full load, seasonal, etc.), NOx emissions, outputs, service clearance zones, pipe kit options, flue and header options, warranties and even available service packages, as well as links to the manufacturer’s website and installation manuals.
Efficient information sharing
To help the system designer calculate whether the boiler will operate in condensing mode on a particular system, a circumstance for which the return temperature must be 54°C or lower which is required in order for significant condensation to form in the heat exchanger, the boiler’s flow and return requirements can also be embedded in each component. This is an important consideration as the boiler’s ability to operate in condensing mode will affect overall building efficiency and might be a key factor in ensuring it meets Part L of the Building Regulations.
If the system design needs to be modified to create the required return temperature, this issue can be identified and addressed at the earliest design stage rather than towards the end of the building project, thereby avoiding a situation in which the intended energy performance of the building does not match its actual operational efficiency, a situation known as the ‘energy performance gap’.
Providing the information needed to help building engineers ensure a boiler will run in condensing mode as part of a particular system is just one of countless ways in which boiler manufacturers can use BIM to help engineers foresee possible issues and ensure their products will work at optimum efficiency, contributing to a higher overall building efficiency.
Manufacturing a collaborative solution
BIM is still in its infancy and its very creation is requiring the input of all sectors of the building industry to ensure interoperability through open standards – a fact that is pleasingly congruent with BIM’s main objective which is to improve collaboration in order to more efficiently meet the objectives for all building projects.
Manufacturers like Ideal Commercial Boilers are already working alongside recognised industry bodies to help generate an industry document detailing exactly what information should be included for each BIM component and the most effective format to use, so that all information submitted to the Construction Operations Building Information Exchange (COBie) – the Government’s formal system for organising and sharing information – is standardised, thereby enabling clear structured data collection now and in the future.
The increasingly stringent energy efficiency legislation is certainly proving a challenge to all those in the building services industry but, as with any challenge, it is also proving to be an effective catalyst for innovation, and manufacturers certainly have plenty of opportunities to play their part.
The emerging integrated approach to building services as modelled by the BIM approach is ultimately going to help ensure the highest energy efficiency potential is achieved for each building project, which in addition to reducing carbon emissions will also reduce the time and cost of construction projects, thereby contributing to industry growth. Whatever one’s perspective, this can only be a positive way forward.