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BREEAM New Construction 2018: Our thoughts on the proposed changes

19/10/2017

The Building Research Establishment (BRE) has launched the draft BREEAM 2018 New Construction manual, before the full launch which is expected early next year. The scheme is updated every three to four years to reflect industry developments, maintain its relevance, and push forward environmental performance practice. We explore what the proposed changes mean for developers and the design team, in terms of a building’s environmental impact, the changes to credits available and the cost implications.

The BREEAM 2014 manual moved away from outdated Green Building Guides and Green Lease Agreements so that new construction shell / shell and core, and refurbishment and fit out schemes could be effectively assessed on a level playing field, and the BREEAM certification was applicable to all stages of a building’s lifecycle. Now, the proposed 2018 manual pushes forward on two key issues, the performance gap and lifecycle analysis of materials, while progressing existing issues such as sustainable transport, glare control and good air quality.

Closing the performance gap

One of the most important changes in the 2018 manual is the emphasis BRE has placed on addressing the energy performance gap between design and actual performance. Under BREEAM 2018, extra credits are available for detailed energy modelling including the prediction and verification of actual performance. This is a positive step in driving design teams to address the failings of the steady state calculations (SBEM) that are currently used. The use of fully dynamic modelling, including the use of variables such as hourly weather files and occupancy levels, will provide a higher level of detail on how the building is performing with regard to overheating and total heating demand. This will provide project teams with the tools to design better performing buildings in terms of actual energy performance and overheating. SBEM is limited as it only includes a standard calculation for unregulated energy use, and the move to fully dynamic modelling will enable a more accurate result in terms of unregulated energy use, by including specific equipment (numbers, type and operational times), whilst also accounting for the heat gains that they can create.

The current draft includes two credits for committing to carrying out verification stage calculations post occupancy. Our concern is that commitments may not be undertaken, where there is no planning condition or legal requirement to carry this out. However, the BRE has outlined plans to potentially introduce a formal ‘verification stage’ after BREEAM certification, which has the potential to address the performance gap further. This calculation would provide a more accurate reflection of a building’s energy performance and could help drive building users to understand and ensure their buildings are being used more efficiently, while also providing a gateway to BREEAM In Use.

Whilst this change is a positive step, it comes with a number of challenges. At present there is no guidance on how the input parameters should be calculated within the dynamic model and it is recognised that the enhanced modelling needs careful costing. Also, there is  a concern that where assumptions are made at the modelling stage, particularly for shell and core developments, there will be a significant discrepancy when the proposed verification stage is carried out.

This update goes some way towards comparison with LEED’s more stringent energy requirements, however there is still some progress to be made to compete with LEED’s focus on energy performance. We hope that the BRE will provide clearer guidance and methodology, similar to LEED and ASHRAE, to outline how the dynamic modelling should be undertaken. This is a key topic that we shall be feeding back to the BRE about through the consultation period.

 Promoting lifecycle assessment of materials

For the 2018 update, a lifecycle assessment for all major building materials will be required as the out-dated Green Guide is phased out, allowing the in-depth measurement of embodied environmental impact of a building. This is progress to drive project teams to consider the embodied carbon impacts of their building. The challenge for design teams will be to look at lifecycle assessment early enough. The draft encourages early review of materials, by awarding a higher number of credits when lifecycle assessment is carried out at the early design stages.

The complexity and cost of lifecycle assessment may prove to be a challenge for smaller or lower budget projects. However, the draft makes reference to a simplified lifecycle assessment tool, which we hope will address this. The move to using lifecycle assessment also raises the question as to whether the IMPACT* approved LCA tools datasets are comprehensive enough to represent the variety of materials within a large spectrum of buildings.

Recognition of the importance of wellbeing and productivity

As the link between health, wellbeing and productivity is increasingly understood, we are seeing clients interested in bespoke ‘blends’ of both the Well Building Standard and BREEAM. Thermal comfort, daylighting and air quality is already covered under BREEAM 2014 and it is not surprising to see the BRE extend and alter the wellbeing criteria, to enhance the overlap with WELL and in line with market demand.

It is interesting to consider the introduction of a glare control assessment and what this should look like. Considering which parts of the building are impacted by glare represents innovative thinking and is moving beyond ‘install blinds’ thinking. Yet glare control assessments involve an extra cost, which will make this a relatively expensive credit.

An indoor air quality plan is once again a pre-requisite criterion, which is a positive move to ensuring that air quality is considered within building design and will help to encourage more projects to carry this out. The reintroduction of safe and healthy surroundings credit is also very welcome placing an emphasis on the wellness impact of outdoor space for building users.

Addressing the limitations of BREEAM 2014

Good local air quality is also emphasised through the changes to the Pol 02 credit, with a move away from penalising electric systems for the high levels of NOx in grid electricity, and instead introducing more onerous targets for ‘combustion plants’, including gas-fired boilers and biomass plants. The update also recognises different ways of considering how to minimise the build-up of air pollution through ventilation systems, providing more options beyond the ‘20m rule’, which is particularly positive for urban developments.

The 2018 update also makes some additional positive steps to recognise alternative approaches to some long-standing credits that were less appropriate for certain building types, due to measures outside of the project team’s control. This included expansion of the sustainable transport definition to recognise car sharing spaces and electric vehicle charging points, rather than just cycle storage provision. This is more inclusive for buildings where cycling is not a viable option, such as in the industrial sector, and will help futureproof developments: It is in line with the wider economic and political landscape factors, such as carbon targets, the government’s diesel car policy announcement and likely local authority policy requirements in the near term.

Missed opportunities

The draft 2018 manual has, in our opinion, a few surprising omissions. The updates for BREEAM 2014 made a step forward to address the impacts of climate change and resilience, which we are surprised to not see evolve further within the 2018 update. Also, we expected flood resilience to be given more focus, given recent moves toward policy focus on building flood resilience within developments that are likely to be impacted by the effects of climate change.

Two credits are now available for daylighting in offices, which highlights the additional value of improving wellbeing in an office environment, and will help focus design team attention on this issue. However, we believe it is a missed opportunity to not see a fundamental change to the way daylighting is considered.

The 2018 manual leaves all minimum standards unchanged, and it is worth considering that there are no minimum standards within the health and wellbeing, transport or pollutions sections of the manual. This is arguably a missed opportunity for driving up overall industry standards.

The changes to the ecology section are not yet known as the review of this is still ongoing. Eight Associates is involved in the consultation process; we will update you as soon as more is known about proposed ecology changes and implications.

Initial conclusions

With the 2018 manual, BREEAM has evolved significantly in regards to energy performance and life cycle of materials, promoting positive steps to drive the industry forward within these areas. In addition, forward-thinking adjustments to the criteria have recognised where criteria were no longer appropriate or had become out-dated.

The 2018 manual’s consultation period runs to 3rd November 2017 and the final manual is expected to be published in early 2018. We will continue to advise clients on the implications of the changes and if you require a BREEAM assessment or have any queries on its applicability for your development, please contact us at info@eightassociates.co.uk or by tel: 0207 403 0418.

Related reading:

Eight Associates is the BREEAM Assessor for FOUR of the buildings shortlisted in the BREEAM 2017 Awards.

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*IMPACT (Integrated Material Profile And Costing Tool) – approved tools currently include IES, eToolLCD and One Click LCA.