Environmentally friendly building

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Why do many environmentally friendly office buildings fail to meet occupier expectations and how a sustainable buildings code would address issues.

Having studied in an environmentally friendly building in Bristol and noting several problems encountered by the occupants, it is the purpose of this essay to investigate further, issues surrounding 'green buildings' with particular reference to office buildings.

The associated problems occupants have with environmentally friendly office buildings will be analysed, drawing upon examples taken from previous research and examining the process in which user expectations are created and measured, and how they can subsequently fall short. The discussion will also focus on the possible application of a CSB (Code for Sustainable Buildings) and assess its likely impact on occupier expectations derived from POE.

The government wish to cut overall carbon emissions by 80% by 2050 and in order to do so have set a target for all new buildings to be carbon neutral by 2019. The CSB has been proposed by the UK Green Building Council (UK-GBC) in order to meet these government targets. It aims to create a user friendly, industry wide framework, which incorporates standards and targets for the construction industry to adhere to.

There is criticism that the task group comprised a high proportion of private industry representatives that could dilute the implications to favor their business needs. This opinion relies on the premise that the construction industry wants to prevent the sustainability change and costs that would be incurred by themselves and stakeholders.

An example of a task group member is the Managing Director of Prologis, which is a company that owns and manages 20 million square feet of buildings that would come under the code. Although they claim to be promoting sustainability it would incur costs for them as a business to adapt/construct buildings to meet the code, although it maybe argued that the buildings lower running costs could motivate them. It is estimated to gain a good standard of sustainable accreditation an extra 5 - 7.5% of construction cost is incurred (CBRE, 2009).

The code aims to be future proofed, however changes in technology etc. will undoubtedly happen and a sensible approach to updating the code should be employed so as to not overcomplicate the system. It has recently been announced that there will soon be a consultation on a revision to the 'Code for Sustainable Homes' to incorporate new technologies, streamlined processes and a more user friendly approach. Although a voluntary code, this provides an ideal benchmark, where lessons learnt can be incorporated into the CSB.

One criticism that is echoed from the Egan report is the fragmented nature of the construction industry, a compounded system that incorporates all the recommendations and links in with the sustainable accreditation (e.g. BREEAM) and Building Regs rather than overlap them is required. There are many private companies that have cashed in on the drive for sustainability. A more streamlined mechanism provided by a code will have negative consequences for some of those concerned which may lead to a monopoly of larger organisations that can deal with the code instead of the smaller often consultancy based practices. It may well be the smaller firms that are impacted the most as there is often a direct link between the size of a firm and the levels of knowledge, expertise and awareness.

There should be a drive by professional bodies such as RIBA, CIAT, RICS etc to provide free CPD training on topics of such importance, which should be funded by membership fees. The existing system of CPD requires companies to pay for training events or as is common to get training free from commercial companies selling products. The implementation and training of the code is critical for uptake and resultant success.

Another key issue that the CSB touches on is education and training of occupants. A sustainable building should not be limited to the building itself, but encompass the occupants as well. The CSB report identifies the need for training across the industry itself, but the end users should be given mandatory training to demonstrate how to run a building in the most environmentally friendly way. ISO 14001 attempts to do this but from experience is often left to one person in the office to undertake. The loss of commercial output from one days training should be compensated on savings made. Given that energy represents around 30% of operating expenses of a typical office building, any savings made will be taken right off bottom line costs.

Cyclical POE should be used in order to gain evidence-based building performance from factual, easily quantifiable data such as energy use to more subjective data such as thermal comfort to occupants. If a standardized system is not a component of the CSB then the system of POE employed for a particular building should be assessed when using the CSB to rate a building. As this demonstrates the willingness to learn and innovate to overcome problems in the future. This can also lead to minor adjustments to the building which will result in reduced energy, costs and therefore carbon.

Environmentally friendly buildings are buildings that have been awarded a green certification; this certification takes into account the buildings efficiency, focusing on criteria such as energy efficiency, choice of materials and location, indoor air quality, water usage and emissions. There are several rating systems across the world but the most recognised are, in the US, LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) and the UK BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method). In the UK Almost 100,000 buildings in the UK are now BREEAM accredited.

In recent years the development of environmentally friendly buildings has grown due to raised awareness and an increasing sense of responsibility towards the environment (Woolley, 2005). There are many benefits to a company investing in such buildings, which can be measured in terms of environmental, economic and social impacts. The main aim for companies is to improve occupant performance with resulting benefits such as reduced absenteeism, decreased staff turnover and increased productivity. Differences between comfortable and uncomfortable staff productivity can be as high as 25 per cent (CABE BCO, 2005 cited in Capper et al 2008). Primarily benefit is to the occupants; landlords and investors benefit is less conclusive due to the limited data available (UKGBC, 2009).

Currently the public sector is driving the sustainable buildings market by local authorities and central government specify that a minimum BREEAM rating be achieved for the buildings they occupy. Apart from the responsible and ethical companies many rely on simple economics are require commercial evidence to be enticed by the sustainable ethic. Due to limited (but growing) evidence, legislative steps are required to force development of sustainable buildings.

Dixon et al (2009) have studied UK business relocation to quantify the demand for BREEAM rated buildings and discovered mainly businesses with strong environmental and corporate responsibility policies relocated to BREEAM rated buildings, but the overriding factors of location and availability overrode the requirement of a sustainable rated building in the final decision of selecting a building. CBRE (2009) state that rental premium of between 2-6% can be achieved for green buildings. The current economic downturn may well affect rental premium, which has yet to be investigated, however the long term savings of using such a building will still be attractive to purely economically driven companies.

The technical working group for the CSB report, support the inclusion of 'in operation' aspects of the code, however seem to somewhat sidestep the detail of this important issue. The report discusses both, proving the value and the business case for sustainable buildings and yet seemingly ignores applying the code to methods and practices for quantifying occupancy satisfaction. An 'in use' section would quantify all the standard parameters such as water use, energy use etc but should also encompass occupier satisfaction. Aside from the economic aspect of sustainable buildings, employers should be looking at the satisfaction of occupants as a key influencing factor when selecting a building to occupy in order to gain greatest productivity from staff.

Occupier expectations are what the inhabitants of a building anticipate it to be like. The expectations of a building are often higher than the realistic outcome of the projects, this can be partially attributed to the flaws in the prediction and assessment of the building performance. Prediction and assessment is carried out in the design process, inaccurate prediction and assessment can lead to buildings that do not perform (Papamichael, 2000). It should be noted that some buildings can also perform better than expected such as the CRGBC (Cascadia Region Green Building Council) POE findings, discussed further on.

Expectations of occupants are forged from information they have been supplied with from designers and contractors. Occupiers are understandably disappointed when the actual outcome strays from the projected outcome. Expectations are derived from the prediction results; therefore it is critical that the prediction and evaluation process is reliable. The accuracy of prediction depends on the type of computing models used and the accuracy of the inputted dataset, this relies heavily on the data inputter whose understanding of how buildings are managed and used by occupants is critical to an accurate outcome (Papamichael, 2000 and Jackman, 1991). One of the key issues raised in 'the code for sustainable buildings' is that variations in prediction results will be a regular occurrence when employing different computer simulation models with varying capabilities.

A method of evaluating the relative success of a building design is to carry out Post Occupancy Evaluations (POEs). A POE is a formal and comprehensive examination and evaluation of a building. It has been defined as "the examination of the effectiveness of designed environments for human users" (Zimring and Reinstein 1980, as cited in Denison, 2006). There are a number of different techniques that can be employed when conducting a POE, which can be carried out anytime after the building has been constructed to assess the buildings strengths and weaknesses from the perspective of the occupants. POEs are particularly valuable in evaluating new technologies which exist in environmentally friendly buildings such as innovations in resource conservation, natural ventilation, use of daylight, and photovoltaics (The American Institute of Architects, 2004).

In the UK, Probe reports have been employed to assess building performance by combining user surveys with technical and energy studies. The Probe process provides feedback covering standardised criteria that makes them easier to compare and contrast (Cohen et al 2001).

POE however does have its limitations; because of its subjective nature, factors such as the time of year could have an impact on the thermal comfort results gained (Preiser et al, 1988). The questionnaires are often building-specific making comparison between buildings more difficult to quantify. These limitations must be realised in order to make best use of any findings. A possible method for overcoming these limitations would be to standardise all POE procedures making comparisons for the future more attainable, this could be using a standard matrix and should be detailed in any future CSB.

Some of the established findings from POE's are quite surprising, such as the lack of correlation between energy use and occupant comfort. Findings also suggest that simple buildings often work better than complicated buildings, which can often have unmanageable complexity (The American Institute of Architects, 2004).

Examples where the outcome was significantly different to the predicted results can be seen from the CRGBC post occupancy evaluation of 10 LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified buildings. This study found that 60% of the 10 buildings that used 'design-phase' energy modeling, used an average 30% less energy than the models predicted. One building however, used three times more energy than it was projected to use, with the remaining three buildings using on average 27% more energy than their projections (Auerbach and Boehland, 2006).

The energy findings were generally positive although inadequately accurate, this is in contrast to the probe reports which found that energy use was higher than predicted especially in the buildings and areas with high levels of servicing; the water efficiency findings however were even more significantly erroneous. Of the 7 buildings with design projections for water use, 6 of them used more water than expected, by an average of 33%. This was thought to be a consequence of wrong usage assumptions rather than fixture performance. CGBC also included a survey to determine occupant satisfaction and reported that the main cause of dissatisfaction was acoustics.

Previous research from Abbaszadeh et al (2006) has shown that on average occupants are more satisfied with certain criteria of green buildings such as; office furnishings, thermal comfort, air quality, cleaning and maintenance, and overall, satisfied with workspace and building.

In the past, dissatisfaction for indoor environmental quality (IEQ) has always been greatest for thermal comfort, but due to improvements in heating systems and insulation techniques, this has now been superceded by noise, which is viewed by many as the most prevalent problem affecting office workers (Huizenga et al 2006).

Abbaszadeh et al (2006) established most discomfort fell into the lighting and acoustic categories, which can be confirmed by using extracts taken from an interview conducted by Dye (1997) regarding the problems encountered by occupants of an environmentally friendly building (The Rivermead Learning Centre Anglia Polytechnic University). The first concern raised is the acoustic problems encountered:

'...it's very noisy. Atriums are noisy - it has a cathedral effect, and we have the administrative staff based on the top floor so the noise travels from them'

Acoustics are an important characteristic of commercial office building design, Noise is probably the most prevalent annoyance source in offices (Jensen et al 2005). According to the probe reports (Bordass et al, 2001), this can be attributed to factors such as:

  • Increased occupancy densities and open-plan working
  • More verbal communication
  • More intrusive equipment noises
  • Less noise absorbent surfaces

This can lead to increased stress for occupants and therefore reduce productivity. Another factor to consider with acoustics is acoustical privacy, which is seen as a more important factor than general noise. However acoustics often receive significantly less design attention compared to other design characteristics such as thermal, ventilation and other architectural and engineering considerations (Salter et al. 2003). In order to make the case for sustainable buildings, it is vital that accredited buildings perform well on these issues, otherwise it could detract from an essentially green building. The CSB could be the tool needed to not only highlight the problems to designers but also suggest the way to overcome such problems.

Another concern raised by the interviewee is that of usability:

'It's too dry and everything is controlled by computers.'

This highlights the usability issue, which is only recently becoming recognised as essential to good building performance. The problem lies in quantifying usability, because when people are forced to intervene to change the Indoor environmental quality (IEQ), then their effectiveness as workers decreases, however if people do not have the opportunity to change things to their liking then the consequences are even worse. It is striking the happy median that designers need to focus on, however this is often missed due to designers oversimplifying real behavior and use patterns. As mentioned previously, complexity influences occupants' satisfaction, usability also encompasses the time taken to understand and operate the facilities therefore simpler control interfaces are often preferred.

Good usability is described by Leaman (2000) as a combination of three requirements:

  1. Situations where they need to intervene to change things only occasionally, with predictable 'normal' states which they can utilize habitually, and, for most situations, forget about
  2. Opportunities to act quickly to make corrections or interventions if conditions alter
  3. The ability to carry out interventions quickly and effectively

'There is supposed to be night cooling - particularly in summer the windows will open at night and air will circulate. It feels cool first thing in the morning but it doesn't stay that way because of all the glass.'

Thermal comfort has a large impact on our health and productivity. According to studies by Leaman (2004) thermal comfort is the most important factor affecting human performance. Buildings with highest dissatisfaction tend to be naturally ventilated which can cause peaks in temperatures instead of producing stable temperature environment. The buildings rated highest by occupants are those that are as comfortable in the summer as the winter. These usually have a mix of natural ventilation and air conditioning, this also ties in with user controls. Thermal comfort can be a problem especially in large areas such as atriums due to the large areas of glass, which can rapidly heat up an area in summer and keep the area too cold in winter; the lag time in heating these large areas also creates dissatisfaction.

Also worth mentioning is lighting. This had a limited influence on occupants comfort levels and is only significant when the lighting is either very good or very poor (Leaman and Bordass, 2000). Occupants prefer natural light due to it providing a connection to the outside world (Leaman, 2005). Natural light is often integrated into a building for energy saving but also as an architectural statement (Smith, 2005). The unpredictability of natural light can cause problems if the lighting system cannot strike a constant balance between the natural and artificial light, which can lead to dissatisfaction of the occupants.

In conclusion, designers should be careful not to overlook the fundamentals of a building in order to create a greater public impression that may not benefit the occupants-for example solar panels are an expensive means of energy conservation which maybe better spent on improved insulation. Any building will have its critics due to the subjective nature of design; therefore a conservative approach using proven energy-saving techniques may be the best option for office buildings. This essay has briefly touched on the problems encountered in the prediction/assessment stages of building and has revealed the extent to which predication can differ from the actual outcome of a building.

Occupants comments have also highlighted the areas of noise and usability as the two most prevalent problems facing occupants in environmentally friendly buildings. It has become clear that a standardised system of POE such as the Probe process could help designers compare buildings which would aid future designs and should be incorporated into the CSB. The increased accuracy of prediction/assessment will minimise the risk of failures and occupant discomfort. It is recognised that we are experiencing a critical opportunity which should be harnessed to secure the future of sustainable building in the UK for the government to reach the targets of 2019. As with any new policy there will be the inherent resistance to change in the first rollout stages however the benefits of such a code should be seen relatively quickly.

Crucially, by boosting the availability of commercial evidence and reducing the need for developers to make a "leap of faith", this will increasingly encourage the development and occupation of sustainable buildings.

http://catcher.sandiego.edu/items/business/Productivity_paper_with_CBRE_and_USD_Aug_2009-Miller_Pogue.pdf very good use


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