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Towards a performance-oriented approach

Sagar Kulkarni, Managing Director, Consistent Engineering Consultants, presents a case for a Dubai Building Index to direct the construction industry to adopt a performance-oriented approach as opposed to merely following a compliance-based approach.

| | Feb 13, 2018 | 1:13 pm
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Over the last few decades, the world has rapidly come to realise the necessity of integrating sustainable building design in construction for improving building performance and creating a holistic environment for better living. This need for sustainability is spurred by the rapid breakdown of the natural order, with climate change its most visible effect.

Though we have understood the impact of our actions on the environment, the comprehension has not brought about an overnight change in the global construction industry favouring sustainable development. It is acknowledged that the change has to be nurtured – sometimes even enforced – to help people realise that sustainability is not just an alternative, but that it has to become a way of life.
As is human nature, well-meaning intentions can take us only so far. This is where rules and regulations play an invaluable role in bringing about a transformation. There have been several important initiatives promoting sustainable development in construction and living, some of which have even been turning points. However, it is now time to look to the future, instead of merely retroactively fixing the problems, some of our doing; it is time to change our perspective.

Building performance is a dynamic idea – one that varies as per each stakeholder’s perspective. The various aspects of efficiency range from clean air control to water conservation. The construction sector in Dubai is at a very interesting juncture, as the steps we take now will have major ramifications for the future.

In that context, I believe that a few key aspects are crucial to the consistent performance of a building over its entire lifecycle. They include cooling and ventilation, use of available water and, of course, building design for maximum occupant comfort.

Global regulations for improving building performance
There have been numerous initiatives to curb energy consumption the world over. The Energy Act of 1992, the European Union Energy Efficiency Action Plans, the Energy Conservation Act in India in 2001 and many others have contributed to the cause of reducing the use of non-renewable energy and increasing the use of renewable energy. Of these, some of the most significant measures include the institution of Energy Service Companies (ESCOs), the guidelines issued by the Emirates Green Building Council (EGBC) and, recently, Al-Safat guidelines for sustainable development.

Al Safat and the building performance perspective

Al-Safat, the new rating system from Dubai Municipality, focuses on the complete lifecycle of the building, including building efficiency, the use of eco-friendly materials, alternative energy sources and sustainable design.

When it comes to the construction industry, we have had a compliance-based approach for the most part. I believe it is necessary to shift this perspective to a more performance-oriented approach.

Al-Safat guidelines touch the aspect of compliance versus performance and offer an in-depth approach to increasing building performance. The concept is based on the idea that we need to go a step farther in assessing how the building performs down the line and optimising building design, accordingly. Although this can drive the payback period slightly, there is no doubt the long-term benefits can more than make up for it.

Al-Safat regulations mandate the compliance measures to improve the efficiency of new buildings and also address issues in existing buildings. The implementation of the measures will ensure that the stock of existing buildings in Dubai, which are functioning at an above average efficiency, will experience a significant rise in efficiency, thereby increasing the overall efficiency, as well.

Energy Service Companies focus on existing buildings and offer retrofit solutions for improving building performance. Although they are one of the few approaches having a performance-based perspective, they have been unable to match up to their full potential, largely due to the unequal ROI in view of the risk and effort involved.

In addition, ESCOs are primarily concerned with providing means and methods to increase building performance. The ESCO model is based on tangible results in consumption, but they do not set a cap on the total allowable energy consumption for the building.

The EGBC is another major organisation that has brought into practice several regulations for improved building performance. The Council has made it a point to connect with all the stakeholders of the construction sector and promote sustainability at all levels. It has also set lofty benchmarks with respect to green building construction and operation.

It has promoted the construction of nearly zero-energy consumption buildings, or buildings that have total energy consumption limited from 130 kWh/sqm/year to 90 kWh/sqm/year. These figures have given constructors a tangible target to work towards, instead of simply advising on the kind of material to be used or the number of windows to be installed.

However, the 90 kWh limit is a formidable target and not something that is immediately achievable by buildings having high energy consumption at the moment.

The catch?
Admirable and useful as these regulations are, they do not set a fixed cap on the total energy consumption of the buildings, considering tenant/ occupant and operational efficiency. The best designed buildings may perform badly if the right methods of operation and maintenance are not followed.

Also, it could be a challenge for existing buildings, typically with a low-performance profile, to suddenly match up to the level of new projects, as they will not be able to cover the gap between the theoretical and the actual values. In such a case, it would be prudent to have stepwise measures backed by recognition and certification instead of implementing lofty targets for existing buildings, as they will be unachievable beyond a certain threshold. The key here is to identify the thresholds of impedance and, then, devise practically achievable targets for these buildings. Doing so will not only improve the efficiency of a much larger pool of buildings but will also encourage the buildings to keep up their efforts, since they will have visible and feasible targets in the horizon.

Improving collective building performance with a common parameter
The implementation of a common parameter will contribute to improving the collective building performance to their maximum possible achievable limit. This can easily be done by having a universal performance index – for instance, a Dubai Building Index – which will successively track the performance of buildings and rate them accordingly, throughout their lifetime.

Apart from the Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum standards set by Al-Safat guidelines, it would help to have a star-based rating system for the buildings, with definite upper limits for energy consumption.

The buildings could be categorised on the basis of the features they offer and their application, as follows:

The tentative structure could be something along the following lines: 

When implemented in conjunction with Al-Safat Guidelines, the combination will essentially take care of all aspects of building performance, right from the design and construction phase to the renovation and retrofit phases.

In addition, the ratings will be an easily understandable marker to the occupants and facility managers, as well, imbibing in them the measures necessary to maintain building performance within the specified framework.

Advantages of having a blanket upper limit
There are several advantages to having this sort of a blanket cap for the different kinds of buildings and the net energy consumed per year.

The primary advantage is that the Dubai Building Index is completely based on the idea of performance measurement instead of compliance and verification. All other regulations advise on the materials that ought to be used or the kind of ventilation, in the case of a retrofitting initiative. None of the proposed regulations talk about the expected Energy Use Intensity (EUI) for a building per year.

The Dubai Building Index would offer all stakeholders an opportunity for using their own methods to reduce energy consumption. The owner would have complete flexibility when it comes to using the material and machinery he or she desires, as long as the ultimate energy consumption is within the rating limit.

The Dubai Building Index would have a holistic approach and provide a trigger for the entire industry to move in the direction towards a better EUI, considering new as well as existing projects. It is the foundation for the strategy of ‘Recognition, Comparison, Evaluation, Certification, Remuneration, Motivation, Obligation’.

The global drive towards sustainability is a welcome trend. However, in order to ensure we keep setting SMART goals, it is important that necessary regulations be put in place to take into account future developments in a holistic manner and to address the consequent requirements.

Al-Safat is a major stepping stone towards this end goal, but we need to keep reinventing ourselves time and again to ensure that this march towards sustainability continues uninterrupted.

The Dubai Building Index would provide a common platform for the integration of the various rules and regulations related to building performance in Dubai. This would lead to complete transparency and end-to-end involvement of owners as well as tenants in the entire project, thereby facilitating the recognition and appreciation of the efforts of all stakeholders.






Sagar Kulkarni is Managing Director at Consistent Engineering Consultants. He may be contacted at sagar@consistentconsultants.com


CPI Industry accepts no liability for the views or opinions expressed in this column, or for the consequences of any actions taken on the basis of the information provided here.


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