BREEAM Is Looking Good At 25, But Needs To Share The Love – Darren Evans, Managing Director, Darren Evans Assessments

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This week BREEAM turns 25, and it has been a great quarter century of setting the standard for sustainability globally, with well over half a million buildings now certified in 70 countries and a robust and comprehensive assessment system. The question is whether enough people know it is much more than just a tick-box standard, and is in fact a realistic way of galvanising a whole project team and building users towards sustainability goals.

BRE has just launched a new all-singing and all-dancing website to coincide with its birthday breeam.com, and it features a nifty ticker counting the buildings currently covered. At the time of writing, it’s an impressive 531,644 certificates issued which is a lot of buildings worldwide, which are demonstrably better on sustainability across nine criteria, whether the emphasis is on health and wellbeing of occupants, responsibly sourced materials or robust project management of sustainability. Perhaps the most important and effective part about BREEAM is the way it can drive the focus on reaching the targets throughout a project team and in the client to help everyone push towards the same goal; this also fosters substantial pride among users in their buildings post-completion.

With 2.2 million buildings in total registered to be assessed, there is a lot to come, making this truly a global movement and one in which we are key UK players as sustainable building assessors regularly using BREEAM. BRE has made a very strong case that high quality buildings don’t have to be prohibitively more expensive, showing that it is possible to get a Good rating with no extra cost, whatever the site, and Excellent adds only an extra 2.5% to the capital cost. Making BREEAM realistic in this way has helped to broaden sustainable building across many areas of the UK. Even the higher level Outstanding schemes which add more to the capital cost only have a payback of a few years in lower energy and water bills, so investing in BREEAM makes financial sense, especially when you look at the higher value placed on such buildings for example by commercial tenants.

BREEAM is also about to fully launch The Home Quality Mark as national standard for new homes, pared down slightly from the previous version after its industry consultation. This could, if embraced by both homeowners and as a result the housebuilding sector, be a worthy and more all-encompassing successor to the Code for Sustainable Homes.

However, it’s not all good news, despite the many schemes which have become part of the BREEAM family, there are many non-believers out there, who believe that BREEAM is too bureaucratic, too inflexible, or focuses on a tick-box approach to achieving credits which might not take a truly holistic view of a building or the design solutions being proposed. These beliefs are probably the result of a lack of awareness of what BREEAM is or how it currently works, and an indication that there is a lot more to do to engage with the wider construction community to clearly explain what it is all about.

Complaints have been aired that BREEAM can focus too much on prescribed elements within a building to obtain credits, and it’s arguable that BRE could be more transparent on the calculation methods it uses in order to help reassure people and bust some of the myths. It could also disseminate more widely how the ‘innovation credits’ which BRE introduced can enable project teams to produce solutions which may not be in the prescribed list, but which can still gain credits because of their fitness for purpose, meaning they don’t in fact have to ‘tick all of the boxes.’

BRE needs also to do more to simply advertise the benefits of BREEAM to the construction industry, to ensure that it is not simply seen as a technical standard for the sustainability community, but is for everyone and has particular benefits for building occupiers whether they are major corporates or homeowners. BRE knows that property owners are able to rent their commercial space out faster if they have a BREEAM certificate, and this story needs to be told to back up the case for investing in the certification. It also needs to communicate the fact that it has a developed a crucial Refurbishment and Fit-Out version of BREEAM, which will reward good sustainability for performance for the many existing buildings we need to address.

Despite the fantastic achievements of BREEAM there are a great many people out there in the industry who do not yet understand it or the benefits it can bring. For example, under the GLA’s London Plan all boroughs are required to BREEAM assess all new developments, and many individuals tasked with doing so will be on a steep learning curve to a full understanding of the benefits as well as the broad scope of the assessment.

I wish BREEAM a very happy 25th birthday and remain a strong supporter. Maybe as part of the ongoing celebrations BRE could focus on disseminating the value proposition which BREEAM offers as widely as possible in the UK to bring everyone into the party.

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An Unforgettable Night at Wembley

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On Tuesday night, two of Darren Evans’ twitter followers were among the crowd of 71,223 at Wembley Stadium after winning tickets to England vs France. Seated in the Club Wembley section, Emily Colvin and Danny Bishop were at a hugely important event which was also attended by Prime Minister David Cameron, FA president Prince William, and FA chairman Greg Dyke.

After simply retweeting a Darren Evans message on the day of the game, both lucky winners can now say “we were there” on a poignant night in Wembley – just four days after terrorists killed 129 people in Paris. With the famous arch lit up in red, white and blue and the French motto “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” beamed onto the side of the stadium, both nations stood side by side to send a profound message to the watching world.

Before kick-off, the impeccably observed minute’s silence and rousing rendition of La Marseillaise – sung or hummed by over 70,000 in the stadium – provided a perfect start to what was far more than just a football match. Tweeting a picture of the crowd from the stadium, Danny Bishop said: “Awesome from the Wembley crowd tonight #EngvFra”, while Emily Colvin echoed these thoughts: “Proud to have been at Wembley this evening”.

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The match itself understandably lacked some intensity, particularly from the subdued French team, but both prize winners will have certainly enjoyed Dele Alli’s first England goal. Loyal Tottenham Hotspur fans, they would also have been delighted to witness the emergence of Eric Dier onto the international scene and the continued improvement of Harry Kane.

As a hugely entertaining and emotional occasion, Danny and Emily will not forget their night at Wembley Stadium when England and France stood in a moment of solidarity that will live long in the memory of the global football community.

District Heating: It’s Becoming Centrally Important – Marcus Eves, Darren Evans Assessments

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There is an old saying that there is nothing new under the sun and district heating certainly isn’t a new idea. The concept, also known as community heating, has been around for decades and has been implemented successfully throughout the world, particularly in urban environments and other areas of high building density.

District heating is a straightforward idea which can bring fantastic efficiencies and while its uptake in the UK has been relatively slow, the agenda to combat fuel poverty may mean this is about to change. Simply put, heat and hot water are supplied to a number of buildings from a central energy source via a network of insulated pipes. Heat exchangers in each of the buildings deliver the heat to them, removing the need for individual boilers or other heat source, with the network acting as a normal wet system.

The drivers for district heating in the UK are also well established. Regional and national targets for energy saving and carbon reductions are forcing councils to implement as many sustainable strategies as they can think of. You will not read a Core Strategy or Local Development Plan without coming across the phrases ‘sustainable communities’ or ‘district heating.’

Many UK local authorities are taking a keen interest in district heating following the success that has been seen in some nearby European cities. Copenhagen for one has had a network since the 1970s, and today this delivers 98% of the city’s heating needs. London and the rest of the UK have come a little late to the party however and will view this figure as an impossible goal. There are currently not enough heat networks so retrofitting to meet demand is a certain challenge on the infrastructure.

Local and Regional policies are however pushing for the need to future proof. The beauty of heat networks is that once an insulated network of pipes is laid, what is connected at the end to produce the heat can change and adapt as the environment around it changes or a technological development is achieved. This could involve replacing fossil fuel plant with renewables such as biomass or tapping into waste energy, such as the scheme currently being considered to utilise the 25°C air which is vented all year round from the London Underground.

If you are building a major development within the confinements of the London Plan (the GLA’s overall strategic plan) it is mandatory to consider decentralised generation of heat and power. The expectation is, where appropriate, that the developer’s proposals should seek the follow a hierarchy as follows: 1. connecting to an existing heating or cooling network, 2: implementing a site-wide CHP network, 3. installing a communal heating and cooling network. Any system should be future-proofed and designed to connect to a district network if one becomes available.

When designing the layout of the site, thought should be given to its density and optimising installation of a system. This will include understanding the energy demand of the site, identifying locations suitable for heating plant and associated hot water storage as well as internal layouts for the risers required to move the water around the building.

There are a number or online tools which can help developers maximise the potential savings available for implementing community and district heating. Arup for example has developed a Carbon Calculation Tool which allows developers to estimate CO2 savings for new and existing district heating schemes with different sources of heating. Another useful resource is the London Heat Map which has been developed as an interactive map which identifies where existing heat networks are located and areas outlined as having potential for decentralised energy.

Where a site has been identified as suitable for a community heating system, consideration must be given to the use of Combined Heat and Power. This is a well-known approach to simultaneously producing electricity and heat onsite increasing energy security. Further to simple environmental benefits, the introduction of CHP can bring both social and economic benefits in the form of low cost electricity and affordable warmth, lower life cycle costs and lower management/maintenance costs. The system must be sized adequately in order to ensure a constant operation which will maximize the potential savings.

With stricter regulations on installation, regulation, maintenance and control the installation of a district or community scheme enables the efficient transportation and use of heat for a wide variety of users. There are unrivalled opportunities to allow a broad range of energy generation technologies to work together to meet demand for heat enabling fuel flexibility. Although capital cost can be high, the whole life cost benefit from infrastructure which can be expected to last much longer provides a means of securing significant reduction in CO2 emissions through the optimisation of heat supply.

The opportunity for improved local fuel security via district heating must be seen as key to helping to provide a long term method of tackling fuel poverty.

Reasons To Buy Into Breeam – Michael Brogden, Director, Darren Evans Assessments

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BREEAM was developed 25 years ago by the Building Research Establishment as a comprehensive assessment tool for demonstrating a building’s sustainability against a wide range of criteria. During its lifetime it has grown to become an internationally respected system of established benchmarks and industry recognised measures for evaluating the specification, design, construction and use of buildings. However, what are the key reasons that you might consider implementing BREEAM on their project?

If you are an architect or a specifier, one of the best reasons to choose BREEAM is that the broad range of environmental criteria which it covers enables you to demonstrate your firm’s variety of skills in delivering environmentally friendly as well as energy efficient buildings. The process of achieving the credits required within each of the relevant categories within BREEAM encourages designers and contractors to seek innovative ways of delivering projects and to consider environmental aspects at a much earlier point in a project than might normally be the case.

The certification demonstrates that reducing environmental impact is high on the agenda of the whole product team, and that the design team has managed to deliver on that agenda. Buildings certified under BREEAM will have lower running costs, lower water and energy consumption and less waste, and often incorporate passive design principles, renewable energy and responsibly sourced building products with lower embodied energy. Therefore, it is a sign that a more thoughtful approach has been taken throughout the project.

For building owners BREEAM is the recognised badge that shows they have maximised the sustainability potential of their building. In addition, the rigorous way that BREEAM rated projects are audited and run provides a credibility which gives confidence in the ratings which are produced at the end of the process, whether the building is Very Good, Excellent or Outstanding. This plus the wide and growing awareness of BREEAM across all sectors of the industry enables buildings to be differentiated in the marketplace and command a higher degree of desirability. This is crucial in the commercial sector for example where BREEAM rated buildings are typically rented faster to tenants.

For contractors, BREEAM enables firms to demonstrate best practice when it comes to delivering sustainable construction which for example diverts as much waste from landfill as possible and reuses materials. In addition, certification shows that they are able to reduce ecological damage caused by construction, and are focused on increasing ecological value on sites where possible. Successful BREEAM projects mitigate pollution incidents, minimise impact on neighbours and increase biodiversity, as well as use of local suppliers. Achieving all of these benefits is assisted by the fact that the process of undergoing BREEAM helps improve monitoring of these factors.

Some other compelling reasons to adopt BREEAM:

  • The assessment tool tends to encourage buildings to be designed for longevity and future adaptation, making them more resilient
  • Certification shows that the build reduces ecological damage from construction and adds value to the local community
  • BREEAM helps to create buildings that are fit for purpose for the client via the consultation approach which is inherent to achieving the certification
  • BREEAM buildings provide a healthier environment for users with increased holistic benefits such as natural light and ventilation
  • BREEAM demonstrates that reducing environmental impact is top of the agenda for building owners, architects, contractors, developers and end users.

As it celebrates its 25th birthday, BREEAM is without doubt a success story for the construction industry, helping raise the bar for sustainability in the UK and internationally with a robust assessment system which adds tangible value. With over 425,000 buildings having been assessed so far, that means a lot of projects which are offering healthier, better environments for employees plus a good image for construction’s ability to achieve measurable sustainability improvements.