WELL, WELL, WELL By Darren Evans, Managing Director, Darren Evans Assessments

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Sustainability has been at the top of the agenda for many years but I have an ever-increasing feeling that much of the industry is missing the next step. Over recent years we have been placing our emphasis on the environmental and economic parts of sustainability, but we shouldn’t forget the fact that we are creating buildings for people and the well-being of these people should be the priority. So the question is: Are we putting buildings before people? Is it now time to place greater emphasis on people?

When you look at costs in relation to buildings, we freely talk about energy savings but our biggest cost is the people within them and this figure is an astonishing 90% of that overall cost. In addition it has been claimed that we spend over 90% of our time indoors and in an office environment. So why has the focus been put firmly on creating better buildings when, in fact, we should be creating buildings to make the occupants feel better, and in turn, happier and more productive? Imagine what we could achieve if we were able to increase productivity in an office by just 1% simply through creating a better working environment? Well, I have a feeling this is all about to change.

A couple of months ago it was alluded to in an article in Building magazine that the WELL Building Standard could soon be aligned with global sustainability standard BREEAM. The WELL Standard, created by US-based consultants Delos, measures human health and wellness using evidence-based medical and scientific research to help inform better design of buildings. To quote Delos founder Paul Scialla and Building magazine: “Delos are in talks with BRE about pairing the WELL Standard with BREEAM.” This could be a major step forward to aligning the performance of buildings with the wellness of its occupants as reinforced by Scialla who stated that he realised 7 years ago there was a “huge gap in regard to not enough understanding of how the built environment really is impacting biological sustainability as opposed to just environmental.”

BREEAM has long been the ‘go to’ standard to help deliver sustainable buildings. Used in more than 70 countries and with 24,000 projects around the world, and more than 2.2 million buildings and communities registered for certification, it is clear to understand the value that the built environment places on BREEAM. Whilst BREEAM does encourage occupier and building owners to continually monitor performance, it doesn’t go as far as looking and measuring occupier behaviours and well-being. Surely this is the next natural step? And, as if on cue, we have WELL.

Whilst the WELL Standard has been in existence for some years now – most actively in the USA – it is relatively new to Europe. However, Studio Ben Allen Architects’ One Carter Lane project is on course to receive the accreditation. One Carter Lane, the new London headquarters of engineers Cundall, is a 15,400ft² Cat-A office fit-out. The fit-out provides new workspaces for up to 180 employees and attained a BREEAM Excellent rating and SKA Gold certification.

The WELL Building Standard defines a set of compliance requirements that cover seven key areas: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind. It looks at driving change towards more personal criteria such as stating that 30% of staff must have space to eat lunch together; materials such as desks and storage must use natural materials; and that the volatile organic compound (VOC) rating of all materials must be between negligible and zero, thus ensuring that office fixtures, fittings and fabric do not expel harmful chemical or organic emissions.

So how does all this help to improve well-being and, whilst we can measure productivity, how do we actually measure emotions such as happiness and the direct effect this has on outputs? And the big question is: What cost does this add to a project? According to Cundall it has added around 3% to the project value which equates to just £200 per head.

There are elements of WELL that will need to be addressed if it is to become mainstream in the UK, in much the same way that BREEAM has. For example, in the UK and many other European countries, certain standards are higher than those within WELL. A comparative base line will need to be created so we are not rewarding for going backwards. Also the business case will be different. In the US there is no NHS, instead private healthcare is provided by employers. As such there is a clear reason for US employers to adopt WELL to increase productivity and reduce their healthcare costs. We may need to look at incentives for UK employers.

In the case of the success of One Carter Lane, time will tell, but the initial reports do indicate that a working environment that promotes happiness, well-being, positivity and improved productivity has been created. The challenge is how do we adopt wellness in the same way that we have embraced sustainability?

For me, wellbeing is a vital part of every building – whether it is a school, a hospital, an office or a home. Buildings that make us feel comfortable, happy and calm are essential. With so much of our time spent indoors, and with illness costing UK businesses on average £550 per employee per year (a total of about £30bn, according to the Chartered Institute of Professional Development) it’s something that we all need to embrace – after all we build buildings for people.

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HOME QUALITY MARK HERALDS NEW ERA OF QUALITY IN HOUSEBUILDING – BUT IT’S A WORK IN PROGRESS – Ben Wallbridge, Energy & Sustainability Assessor, Darren Evans Assessments

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The Home Quality Mark (HQM) has now officially joined the highly successful BREEAM family of quality and sustainability standards, stepping into the shoes of the now defunct Code for Sustainable Homes as a voluntary national housebuilding rating scheme which pretty much covers all of the bases. This comprehensive new standard incorporates elements of BREEAM and the Code but in its nascent and still developing form how workable is it?

The scheme was soft launched as a beta version last October which is a fully functioning standard but with the industry being actively encouraged by BRE to feedback from their experience of using it in practice to help hone the final version. This very open developmental approach is welcome however it does mean that the Mark as it stands is still something of a work in progress.

Developing a simple star system which makes sense to the two key audiences of consumers and housebuilders is laudable, but behind the ratings are a complex matrix of criteria for gaining credits which go way beyond the building itself to provide wide-ranging detail on a house’s credentials. These range from wellbeing issues such as air quality, transport and amenities to resilience, energy costs and post-construction fabric testing.

The layout and methodology of the HQM Technical Manual will feel familiar to assessors who have worked with the CfSH or BREEAM but seems even more intuitive and informative with three overarching sections: ‘Our surroundings’, ‘My home’ and ‘Knowledge Sharing’. For each there are indicators graphically represented with their importance in the scheme and the credits awarded – the indicators being cost, health & wellbeing and environmental footprint. These feed into the final certificate which informs the end user about their home.

Numerous study sites have been initiated by BRE which are informing the technical and operational feedback into the scheme although the number of HQM registered sites under the beta launch has not been released. The fact that registrations are free for six months should help encourage forward-thinking developers and clients to get involved.

Although the beta version of HQM is a fully functioning scheme, the BRE are welcoming feedback on all levels. While it is unlikely that the fundamental mechanisms and layout of the scheme will change drastically, it’s possible the first non-beta edition of the Technical Manual will have slight differences in terms of elements such as credit weightings, evidence requirements, or section wordings.

The initiative was launched nearly a year ago at EcoBuild 2015 and will have a strong presence at Ecobuild 2016 including sponsoring the first day of the event which focuses on housing. This will keep the new scheme in the forefront of the industry’s mind and help everyone to become more familiar and more knowledgeable about HQM going forward.

At HQM’s launch at last year’s Ecobuild Tony Barton, Executive Chair of consultant Sustainable Homes proclaimed that he “expected it to fly off the shelves, because we know the demand is there.” It may take time for it to usher in a new era of quality in housebuilding with builders using a star rating as a differentiator in the marketplace and housebuyers benefitting from an independent guarantee that their new home is not only well designed and built, cheaper to run, healthier and more sustainable. It is an exciting initiative with a lot of potential but with only 59 assessors currently qualified to use it in practice, it is a case of watch this space.

AN ASSESSMENT OF THE YEAR – Darren Evans, Managing Director, Darren Evans Assessments

year in review2015 has flown by but as we look back at the year a lot has happened externally in the industry both good and bad while we have seen to see a continuing stream of clients seeking sustainability-based building assessments. A somewhat nervous start to the year with the industry wondering what sort of Government would emerge from the Election saw a slowdown in housebuilding but this was balanced with a rise in commercial activity – which we bore witness to working on a number of new projects.

Although Help to Buy was helping to sustain consumer confidence, tighter regulations on mortgage lending kept housebuyers subdued in the lead-up to the Conservatives’ win in May. However the sector has started to pick up since the summer, bolstered further commitments from Government to build 400,000 homes by 2020 including 200,000 starter homes, backed by a hefty £2.3bn to help developers build them.

Housing Associations on the other hand remain worried, as the Government continues on its path to extend Right to Buy for more social housing tenants, which reduces HAs’ ability to build based on the traditional model of borrowing against projected rental income. However in more positive news towards the latter half of the year, the London housing and economic ‘bubble’ which had been holding the market up began to spread across the UK during the year, with other major urban areas seeing positive figures on housebuilding.

It has to be said that 2015 will be remembered in the sustainability community as the year the Zero Carbon Homes project died, with the Government deciding to cull the 2016 target post-Election, which would have given housebuilders one less hurdle to jump through. The ending of Green Deal funding from Government was probably less of a shock, but we remain interested to see what the BRE’s Peter Bonfield will come up with as an alternative following his major consumer-focused review of Government energy efficiency policies which is due to report early in 2016. From what we hear he has taken the fairly clever step of putting the ball back in the industry’s court to develop appropriate schemes, rather than wait for a top-down approach from Government, as that isn’t likely to happen.

Talking of the BRE, we celebrated the 25th birthday of BREEAM in 2015 within our regular series of blogs, realising that the world-beating sustainability assessment tool is now being used in an amazing 72 countries to bring teams together and achieve better buildings. We are glad to see it continuing to fire on all cylinders and evolve over time, as a key weapon in our armoury as assessors. Part of the industry-driven quality improvement that we may see in 2016 may come from the Home Quality Mark, which is an important offshoot of BREEAM hoped by BRE to replace the Code for Sustainable Homes and incentivise consumers as well as housebuilders to demand better houses across a huge range of criteria. This star-rating stamp of quality has yet to fully emerge but it should be one to watch in 2016.

From a staff prospective, we have had a productive and fun year, with one member of staff giving birth to a baby boy, staff members triumphing in our company karting race, and raising over £4,000 for charities from including Children With Cancer. We also had two more staff certified as BREEAM Assessors, taking our team delivering BREEAM assessments to a total of four.

Over the year our blog posts have covered a variety of topics relevant to the positive impact of sustainability in construction, from the growth of district heating and what that means for UK towns, to what needs to be done to ensure responsible timber sourcing. We look forward to bringing you more topical and interesting blogs in 2016, and with the UK signing up with the rest to the binding Paris COP21 commitments on limiting global warming, the momentum for sustainability in construction is going to continue, giving us ample fodder for comment.

It only remains for me to wish all readers a happy festive season and a sustainably prosperous New Year – see you in 2016!

THE NEED FOR BEST PRACTICE IN EVIDENCE GATHERING FOR POST-CONSTRUCTION BREEAM ASSESSMENTS Harry Hazell, Sustainability Consultant, Darren Evans Assessments

harryAs BREEAM assessors we are required to gather a wide variety of evidence from project teams in post-construction assessments but due to the quality of evidence required this can be a time-consuming process. Information needs to be exact, robust and show compliance with relevant criteria as it will be used for the final verification of a building in order to gain certification.

With greater robustness needed than in design stage assessments which can focus more on commitments to deliver certain performance, it is crucial that teams have a plan in place to deliver that evidence promptly and efficiently to ensure that their building gets its certificate on time. So what are the best practice methods for collating evidence in post-construction BREEAM assessments?

The first priority for assessors is to meet and engage with contractors, project managers and clients as early as possible and throughout the assessment process in order to build and maintain a positive relationship. Keep in regular contact so as to have a handle on the project at all times. Evidence gathering itself needs to start as early as possible, as soon as the design stage assessment is complete if one is taking place, to ensure adequate planning time to achieve an effective process.

Secondly, client and contractor need to be clearly informed of the requirements for evidence in an easily understood way for all involved. Use of a central tracker document is a practical tool for keeping tabs on what evidence has been received, and who supplied it, and the current overall score of the assessment. It will also show the evidence still outstanding, who is responsible for it and when it is due.

Clear roles and responsibilities need to be assigned for each specific element of evidence, for example the M&E contractor providing as-built drawings and product specifications. Commitment has to be given from individuals on deadlines for delivering evidence including individual accountability for sending it. An up to date schedule of works should be obtained so the assessor can determine the stage of the building and therefore when certain evidence will be available.

A site inspection by a registered assessor will normally also be required for a post-construction BREEAM assessment to validate the evidence, which is further reason to streamline the rest of the process. BRE Global administers BREEAM endeavours to ensure that all information required will already be in existence in any normal design and procurement process, but collaborative working across the team and using these best practice pointers will make providing it as efficient as possible.  This way the building gets its project credits and certificate sooner, and delays to final handover are less likely.

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.

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.

How can we help you? An overview of our services

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In recent months, we’ve spread the news about the Green Deal as much as possible. But did you know that Darren Evans Assessments has a huge range of energy efficiency services for domestic and non-domestic properties?

With years of comprehensive experience in all areas of sustainability assessment, we aim to offer a hassle-free, in-house service. We’ll take care of everything you need to meet legislation, with minimal inconvenience to you. We work hard to make sure the solutions we recommend are individually tailored to suit your project, and the most cost-effective on the market.

If you’re a landlord, housing developer, non-domestic property owner or just looking to renovate or extend your property, we can help.

Here are just a few of the top services we offer:

Standard Assessment Procedure (SAP) calculations

These measure the energy efficiency of buildings in compliance with Part L legislation. We work on all sizes of project, from new build homes and flats, to renovations and extensions. We provide free EPCs, can offer tailored feedback on how dwellings can pass Part L1A and L1B legislation, and have a cooperative approach to compliance and a turnaround time of only five working days.

Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs)

An assessment of energy efficiency and environmental impact, EPCs are a legal requirement for all property for sale, lease or rent in the UK. Your property receives a rating from A-G: the closer the building scores to an A, the more environmentally friendly it is. Our clients include social and private landlords, commercial and domestic letting, estate agents and home information pack providers. Call us if this includes you!

Code for Sustainable Homes (CSH) assessments

Since 1 May 2008, all new homes in England must have a CSH rating of at least 3 in order to receive planning consent. The CSH rating measures a decrease in carbon emissions and an increase in sustainability standards. To date, we have successfully certificated hundreds of dwellings under CSH level 3 and 4 and can help guide any customer through the process to successful certification. We offer a one-stop-shop CSH package that incorporates all the calculations, assessments and certificates you’ll need, and includes free site lodgement and free EPCs.

BREEAM assessment

BREEAM assessment measures a building’s energy efficiency, water usage, construction materials, water runoff and other sustainability factors. Most local authorities now require at least a BREEAM pre-assessment to be submitted at planning stage. Thanks to our wide-ranging experience, we are certified to help you with all aspects of BREEAM certification, and will go the extra mile to make the process as straightforward for you as possible.

Water calculations

Since 6 April 2010, all new homes and conversions are required to meet water efficiency targets. Building Control require proof that no more than 125 litres of potable (drinkable) water are used per person, per day. We can conduct the formal calculations required, as well as provide guidance on amendments that could be made to meet specifications. These might include installing rainwater-harvesting systems, reduced-flow taps and showers, more efficient toilets, dishwashers and washing machines, and smaller baths if necessary.

Thermal Bridging calculations

As building restrictions become stricter, calculation and assessment of thermal bridges throughout a building can have a significant impact on final certification. Our expert service will assist in meeting regulations by helping to maximise fuel efficiency and use less energy, and could replace or reduce the need for expensive renewable technology. We believe that thermal bridging calculations will become increasingly important as sustainability requirements increase, and will happily guide you through the process with no jargon and no hassle.

SBEM calculations

The Simplified Building Energy Model (SBEM) calculation checks the compliance of a new build commercial property with Part L regulations. We assess building materials; heating, lighting and power; and the use of renewable energy sources. We can make calculations for all sizes of project and will provide detailed feedback until regulations are met. We’ll also prepare your EPCs for free.

For a full list of our services, visit www.darren-evans.co.uk/index.php/our-services. Or contact us directly, any time, on 01454 317940 or enquiries@darren-evans.co.uk.