#43 Active Building Protocol Progress

This week I have been progressing my Active Building Protocol, which will detail the steps SPECIFIC have taken to enabling the construction industry to adopt new technologies and  the Active Building concept, outlining the enabling methods used and providing information that can be utilised to enable the adoption of any new concept or technology.

The Protocol documents the journey from SPECIFIC’s origins in functional coatings to its current work in developing Active Building demonstrator projects. It’s been good to look back and review the process the centre has been through and it is clear to see how crucial building demonstrators have been to the furthering of research around technologies that would eventually be used in building projects. Without the buildings, it would not have been possible to test how new technologies would perform once embedded into building fabric and connected to control systems and other more conventional building services.

The Protocol is set out in 6 sections, related to the strands discussed in previous blogs:

SectionStrandDescription
1FoundationsEstablishment of the IKC, setting aims and objectives, targets, a project plan and building a team
2KnowledgeDeveloping material to share with industry and academic partners, building owners, building design and delivery teams, general public
3EngagementEngaging with internal and external stakeholders to share knowledge, research and experience
4TrainingCapturing data from emerging technologies and building demonstrators and using this data to learn from and to train others in designing, delivering and operating Active Buildings
5ComplianceDeveloping ways to measure compliance with the Active Building concept through following checklists, setting standards and through certification schemes
6Implementation & ReviewImplementing the Active Protocol, reviewing progress and using feedback to further develop the protocol and make future improvements

It was interesting looking back on how SPECIFIC has evolved since it was established in 2011. Whilst the evolution seemingly took place in an unstructured manner, setting it out in a structured document shows how the progression from developing individual technologies (based on fundamental research) to developing full-scale building demonstrators and assessing building performance has occurred naturally over time. The progression has actually been very logical and has taken place in an iterative way, where key learnings are consistently fed back into the investigation of technologies, including learning how these can be integrated effectively into buildings. I think this is mainly due to the fact that most of the researchers at SPECIFIC have a scientific background and are hence used to learning from their experiments, which in our case are buildings – their background influences their behaviour and their ability to see buildings as experiments. This is key to building performance evaluation and is something that is often (usually) missing from building projects.

The performance gap is well-documented and to date has been rarely addressed because we just don’t collect enough data from buildings. And when data monitoring is in place, it is rarely analysed and even more rarely used to optimise building performance and to learn from when embarking on the next building project. As we have progressed through our building demonstrator programme, the need for robust data and analytics in buildings has become ever more apparent in our bid to reduce the energy consumption of buildings. In our Active Office, for example, due to data capture and use of that data to optimise performance, we were able to reduce our energy consumption by 3MWh (or 12%) from the first year of occupancy to the second. Some of the interventions made to enable this were quite straightforward – the main contributing factors to issues we experienced were with the heating and ventilation systems, where most of the savings were made. The contributing factors to performance issues included:

  • Mechanical and Electrical Design
  • Commissioning Errors
  • Equipment Failure
  • Lack of rigour in checking equipment supplied against specifications, e.g. 10kW of heating from 45⁰C heat source = Design; 10kW of heating from 80⁰C heat source = As installed
  • Use of different subcontractors for a holistic building services strategy

Writing the protocol has also highlighted to me the importance of a multi-disciplinary team. For the first two years of SPECIFIC’s operation, the team didn’t include anyone with construction industry knowledge and expertise, and also included only limited marketing and communications experience. These were clear gaps, but perhaps weren’t needed in the early days. As the centre gained traction and technologies developed, an Architect (me) and people with communications expertise were employed – both of which were instrumental in advancing the centre and establishing what was needed in order to engage with the construction industry. From my point of view, it was clear we needed facts about performance of technologies and how they perform in a building, not just in isolation. Therefore, we needed a building, where we could test technologies in a real world situation and how they integrated into building systems. Once we had at least one building, we could then start to gather performance data and develop case studies to provide evidence on their performance and share key learnings.

The final section of the protocol – implementation and review – really describes my doctoral research project, where I have reviewed the level of information we currently have, and the engagement activities that currently take place; identified challenges, such as the need for data, lack of awareness, perceived risk and maintenance worries, etc; and examined “enablers of change”, such as compliance tools, more knowledge and training. The development of an Active Building Toolkit is my proposed solution to addressing challenges identified and providing a suite of clear documentation and tools to aid the conception, design, delivery and operation of Active Buildings. This brings together much of the work SPECIFIC has already been doing, but sets it out in a clear, structured way.

Published by jorclarke

I am an Architect, currently working at SPECIFIC Innovation and Knowledge Centre, Swansea University, and studying for a Doctorate in Sustainable Built Environment (D.SBE), which is focused on developing an Active Building Design Guide.

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