High energy performance buildings: it’s about usage, not only technology


By Steve Cailler, 3E Consultant for Buildings & Sites


As energy in building requirements lean towards higher performance and high performance buildings are becoming more commonplace, the profile of the users of such buildings is changing.Tech-savvy, interested and motivated residents, are no longer the only ones providing feedback on how the energy design of their homes or offices is affecting their lifestyle and wallets.

There are valuable lessons to be learned from this new feedback for all stakeholders of the building sector.

Let the user be in control, not the building

User habits should dictate the energy design of a building and the not the other way round. Even with sophisticated equipment and complex settings, users appreciate being able to make slight adjustments themselves: tuning temperature, air flow of the mechanical ventilation or other output settings… Putting the users at the centre of design ensures that they will feel more responsible and eager to interact effectively with their new environments.

Building awareness and understanding takes time and remains essential

Any type of user living in a high energy performance building generally pays more attention to a building’s behaviour. Contractors and owners can expect more complaints and remarks from users. Vice versa, users should receive more information about how things work and should not be given unrealistic expectations about their building and energy bills.

An initial awareness building session is usually not sufficient for users to fully come to terms with the possibilities of their new systems. As an illustration, we have heard from residents who had followed such presentations, statements such as: “ventilation, isn’t that the same as air conditioning?”, “I keep sun protections down to protect my home from thieves” and more… A longer-term guidance of users, ideally collective and with community engagement, seems more effective and helps reduce concerns.

The first two years of building use are crucial. This is when malfunctions will come to light, and when systems are still being calibrated and regulated. Guiding users during this whole period can increase chances of identifying issues early and optimizing comfort and satisfaction for the long-term.

Make sure maintenance is aligned with technology

Building technology choices have a serious impact on users and maintenance strategies, as well as the general users. Designers should adapt their choices to the expertise of the maintenance teams who will be involved in building operation, to avoid serious complications later down the road. Alternatively, if the maintenance team does not have the expertise required to respond properly and quickly to issues related to new building technology, training should be planned and budgeted already at design phase to ensure full follow-up.

We have seen that assessing skills and guiding all project users from and early phase in the project, including maintenance personnel, have proven value and help reduce the impact of issues detected over a building’s lifetime.

These conclusions are based on a study commissioned by the Brussels Environment Agency. For the study, we interviewed tenants or employees of high energy performance and even passive private housing units, social housing units and schools. The building cases were selected in line with the number of complaints registered in each case.

Find out more about this study in the upcoming issue of be.passive or at the Brussels Environment Agency.

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