Ever-increasing energy bills and tighter controls on emissions have led to stricter building regulations, raising the bar required to deliver sweeping improvements to the built environment.

New buildings across the UK are being designed and constructed for greater efficiency, sustainability, and decarbonisation, in line with the industry-wide, net-zero approach, and every installed system being considered is under a microscope. 

However, 80% of buildings have already been built against old Building Regulations, and only one in five buildings has a building management system (BMS) to regulate and control its inner workings, resulting in most commercial buildings operating at an energy efficiency rating of C. Therefore, the refurbishment and refit of these buildings must become a focus for 2050, as much as new stock, and the use of smart controls could be one of the keys to unlocking better building performance. 

Amendments to the Building Regulations (Part L and Part F) will see stricter building and infrastructure standards enforced to ensure that both older and new buildings are more energy efficient and do not contribute to climate change.

Older buildings, however, pose complex efficiency issues, from overheating to ventilation effectiveness and heat retention. The majority of buildings in the UK rely on natural ventilation through high levels of air permeability, yet the aspiration for more airtight properties means that building developers must carefully specify natural and background ventilation methods to provide adequate levels of air movement throughout the property. If ventilation cannot be achieved to standard through these methods, a continuous mechanical extract ventilation system should be installed.

Energy loss due to ventilation accounts for approximately one fifth of space heating energy demand in older, poorly insulated dwellings. In a new, energy-efficient house, for example, the high insulation levels mean that the proportion of space heating demand due to ventilation increases to around a third. Equally, natural air infiltration alone can result, at times, in too little ventilation. 

This leads to poor indoor air quality and other, more readily visible impacts, such as condensation and mould on indoor surfaces. The objective of a good ventilation strategy is, therefore, to provide a balance between energy efficiency and indoor air quality.

The updates to Approved Document Part L are expected to accelerate the progress to net-zero carbon buildings. They include higher performance targets and a new emphasis on low carbon heating systems, but the regulations also state that building service systems should be provided with appropriate controls to achieve reasonable standards of energy efficiency during use.

Under normal circumstances, the legislation suggests that building systems should respond to the energy requirements of the space they serve. Each space should be considered its own separate control zone, and each separate control zone should be capable of independent timing and temperature control, and, where appropriate, ventilation and air recirculation rate. 

Historically, fans and motors were single-speed, and had to have an external transformer or electronic speed controller installed remotely and wired back to the unit. This job often required additional costs and time on-site, so it was common practice to select a fan product that closely matched the design duty and not install the speed control. 

Today, consultants can specify ventilation units pre-installed with their own control system that manages the CO2, temperature, and humidity of its control zones, saving on install time and helping to mitigate common installation problems. 

These plug-and-play control panel solutions, such as Nuaire’s ECOSMART Classic for example, provide a low voltage (0-10v) BMS interface, trickle and boost as standard, and deliver successful energy control with demand control ventilation at your fingertips. 

However, despite Europe being the third largest energy consumer and the largest energy importer in the world, the UK is falling behind in the installation of smart control technology. The consequences of this are widespread, with higher energy bills being faced by households and industrial consumers, and significant emissions experienced across the globe. 

Smart controls, however, can provide impactful energy efficiency and cost savings with networked connectivity and site-specific controls that monitor trends to meet site requirements. 

With the adoption of smart controls for these operations, buildings would see better indoor air quality and greater efficiencies in each season, from summer through to winter, with systems adapting to the need of the occupied space.

As an industry, we need to future-proof our buildings by looking at the way the space is used and how it may need to adapt over time; and only then can efficiencies be maintained.