BREEAM New Construction 2018: What the new framework means for sustainable development

Our sustainability expert, James Willcox, looks at how BREEAM is tackling the issue of the ‘performance gap’…

The Building Research Establishment (BRE) aims to review and update its BREEAM UK New Construction Standard every three to four years, in accordance with industry developments, technological advancements and best practice. So, when BREEAM released its draft 2018 New Construction guidance note in September, I, along with many others in the industry, awaited it with eager expectation.

Since its inception in 1990, BREEAM has provided the benchmark for sustainable developments and achieving the BREEAM ‘standard’ was a goal those working in the industry aspired and worked towards. With the BREEAM framework now fully established, the changes for the 2018 scheme are generally more technical in nature, with the BRE identifying a list of key areas for development for the foreseeable future.

Closing the ‘performance gap’

I think it came as little surprise that the main focus of the proposed guidance is tackling the issue of the performance gap. Across the sector, the gap between predicted and actual energy performance is universally acknowledged to be significant – potentially anywhere from ten to 200 per cent.

It’s certainly something we have always been very conscious of as a contractor and have actively worked to limit. One of our landmark projects (the £33m University of Leicester’s Centre for Medicine), the largest Passivhaus building in the UK and one of the largest in Europe, is BREEAM Excellent and received a DEC A rating and registered as little as a six per cent gap estimated vs. actual performance. For a building of its size and occupancy, it can be safe to say, however, that this is an exception rather than the rule.

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Above:The University of Leicester’s Centre for Medicine

Although some factors remain primarily out of the control of the designer or the contractor, such as poor building management and maintenance practices, very little has been done in the way of a ‘penalty’ for buildings completely missing the mark on its energy predictions.

The new methodology

BREEAM 2018 has undergone bold steps to tackle this issue with incentives for those willing to go above and beyond standard regulation. The aim of the BREEAM energy prediction and verification methodology is to “encourage all those involved in the building design, construction, commissioning, facilities management and operation to take steps to close the energy performance gap”. These range from undertaking more comprehensive and accurate modelling of energy use at the design stage to measuring actual energy performance on a comparable basis, with expected outcomes including a better expectation of energy efficiency earlier in the building design to advising its occupants on more productive practises.

Additional credits will be awarded for more detailed energy modelling, in conjunction with a comparable assessment made at the design and post-occupancy stages, with the intention to provide a more accurate assessment and encouraging designers to take steps to close the performance gap.

A look to the New Year

I think 2018 will certainly see a great deal more accountability in the sector with regard to sustainable development and more detailed measurement in the prediction and verification of energy usage and output.

A great opportunity exists with BREEAM 2018 to improve the framework and ensure all newly-constructed certified buildings exceed best practice and continue to strive for improved environmental performance.

With the recent completion of the consultation period in November 2017, it will be interesting to see how the thoughts and opinions of those working in the industry have shaped the guidance we aspire to achieve.