Need for productized indoor environment solutions exists
The tightening of energy regulations has been the subject of lively discussion, but the time horizon involved has been just a few years.
Profound discussion on how to put into practice the nearly zero energy goal (nZEB) approved by the EU Commission for 2020 has been missing. It is high time to set predictable goals for what nZEB means in Finland in 2020. Challenging goals from the viewpoint of national competitiveness form a better foundation for international success than a laggard strategy.
Regrettably often the energy discussion focuses on consumption of heating energy. In actual fact, consumption of electrical energy is much more significant, and just adding insulation does little to cut consumption. The envelope and windows of an office building built to today?s standards account for just four percent of total heating energy consumption, and if we convert that into primary energy, the share is only about two percent. On the other hand, extra insulation increases the need for cooling and may result in an excess heat problem. Thus, it appears that an energy efficient and pleasant indoor environment cannot be produced without better management of the whole: challenging goals cannot be realized without an integrated design process and a reduction in electricity consumption.
However, energy efficiency must not be brought about at the expense of indoor conditions. That is not sensible even economically. Comparison of energy costs and wage costs shows that a drop of a few percent in productivity equals the life cycle costs of all building services. Moreover, a poor indoor environment constitutes a health risk.
The quality of our indoor environment is poor. When users are inquired about it, the number of dissatisfied people is way higher than the imagined 10 percent. A recent survey (29 buildings, target level S1/S2) revealed the following shares of dissatisfaction: acoustic privacy 50%, thermal comfort 30% and air quality 30%. Only one in two or two in three are happy with the end result. Problems exist in design, contracting, equipment, acceptance, maintenance and use.
It should be noted that supervision of goals set at the design phase during the building process is not enough. The indoor environment must also be managed actively during use. That is completely missing presently. Problems are tackled only when forced to - and even then only minimum repairs are done. The indoor environment management process is completely analogous with energy consumption: energy consumption calculation as such is not enough - consumption must also be monitored and managed during use.
The indoor environment entity consists of unmeasurable factors besides measurable ones. That is why multidisciplinary cooperation is needed. Good indoor environment and energy efficiency should also be reflected in the value of real estate. How conditions and energy efficiency actually affect the value of properties is still unknown. Such issues are studied as part of the RYM Indoor Environment Program. Buildings are constructed for people. Therefore, it follows that comfort, healthfulness and performance should be the basis of all activity.
Director of Halton Technology Center
Chairman of the Indoor Environment Group