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In defence of building owners (and occupiers)

Letter to CIBSE Journal date 30th July 2011


In defence of building owners (and occupiers)

I feel compelled to respond to the letter from Peter Hall in the July Journal.

The question posed was "How do we ensure a building performs in line with its designed intentions?" The benefits of doing so are obvious and the suggestion that "the carbon emissions declared on the EPC should be verified by measurement of actual energy consumption" clearly makes sense. The further opinion expressed of "penalise owners whose buildings don't perform" is however in my view the exact opposite of the real solution.

As a leading DEC assessor I am consistently producing Operational Ratings for relative new-builds which are massively worse than the Asset Rating indicated on the EPC. The building owners are desperately trying to achieve the designed efficiency and have no idea why they are not. They feel let down by the designers, builders and engineers who have lumbered them with a problem they don't know how to overcome.

To penalise the owner for failing to achieve designed efficiencies as suggested is counter-intuitive as they are already penalised by increased energy costs, increased cost of trying to get the building to perform and above all frustration. Any penalty needs to apply to the contractor(s) who have supplied the owner/occupier with a building that is under performing.

The onus has to be on commissioning to ensure the occupier is provided with a building that performs as it should, and training to instil the knowledge to keep it that way. I am seeing buildings that are not capable of achieving designed efficiencies for reasons outside the control of the occupier, and occupiers who have been given the keys to a building they have not been taught how to operate. These issues are not the fault of the occupier and the industry must not pretend that they are.

The solution is not to try and blame the occupier but instead to monitor the energy consumption for a suitable period after occupation and not complete handover until the 'experts' have actually got the building performing as designed. The occupier will need to be trained how to 'keep it working' but it is not acceptable to expect them to 'get it working'. Only then does it become reasonable to blame the occupier if they subsequently mismanage the building.


The danger in adopting this approach is that we will find the experts can get it to function to designed efficiencies either; but if that is the case we need to know about it to inform alternative approaches.

It seems odd for the original article to suggest that engineers "have the role of installing technical solutions which may be misused or not used at all". Surely the role is to install practical solutions which work and to hand them over to people who have been properly trained to keep them working?

You wouldn't deliver a car untested from the factory and expect the dealership, or worse still the customer, to get it working. Why then would a building services professional expect to hand over a building to an amateur and leave the amateur to get it working?

With respect to the rumour of biomass boilers being installed but not used, yes it happens, but again you can't just lay the blame on the building owner. If the building is handed over with the gas boilers working and the biomass boilers not commissioned what is an occupier supposed to do? The biomass boilers may only have been specified by the designer to get the BER down and not actually be a practical choice of the occupier. The occupier is then left on their own to deal with the additional challenges a biomass boiler brings such as finding a viable source for the fuel and overcoming fuel feed problems without the technical knowledge or on-site personnel.

Ian Sturt,

(HI Devon & DCHI)