Building owners aiming for health and happiness

Strategic maintenance of buildings delivers valuable resource efficiencies; but the human benefits are even more significant, says Wayne Terry, head of business development at the Building Engineering Services Association

Keeping building occupants happy, healthy and productive should be the main preoccupation of any building engineer. A number of studies – including those by the highly influential WELL Building Institute in the US – have assessed the operational benefits in pragmatic terms.

On average, improving energy efficiency delivers average savings of around £6 per m2 per year and water efficiency about £1. However, in ‘human’ terms the savings are far more significant if a building is well designed and maintained. For example, studies show that comfortable and stimulating conditions make a major difference when it comes to retaining staff – worth an estimated £18 per m2 annually; and reduction in sickness absenteeism delivers a £26 saving. But the big winner is productivity, with a five per cent improvement as a result of a good indoor environment, estimated to be worth £307 per m2.

A good strategy for operating and maintaining heating, ventilation, lighting and air conditioning is essential for providing optimum conditions – and the role of indoor air quality (IAQ) is becoming increasingly important because of the health threats posed by rising outdoor pollution.

Commercial workplaces are, naturally, a major focus because the productivity of the individuals is crucial to their employer. However, the health and well-being of children, as well as their ability to learn, is an even more fundamental social issue.

Research carried out by two major UK health bodies published in 2016 showed that contaminated indoor air caused, or contributed to, 99,000 deaths across Europe in 2012 and had a direct impact on the health of children in schools.

Air pollution causes at least 40,000 premature deaths a year in the UK and costs the economy £20 billion. In many urban areas, the concentration of diesel and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is about three times the level recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) with Londoners suffering a 20 per cent increase in mortality rates as a result.

The research from the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health called for more specific research to be carried out to deepen understanding of the key risk factors associated with poor IAQ, but pointed out that it was already apparent that sealing buildings more tightly to reduce heat loss and improve energy efficiency was adding to a growing problem.

People spend around 90 per cent of their life inside, often in sedentary activities. School children, in particular, are vulnerable to the effects of poor air quality because their bodies are still growing and developing. If classrooms are not well ventilated, the children’s ability to concentrate is damaged by high levels of carbon dioxide (CO2); and if rising numbers of outdoor pollutants are allowed to come in their health is at risk. This means facilities managers and maintenance staff must be able to provide a well-managed ventilation strategy that keeps the air breathable and safe.

For good productivity, the air where you learn, live or work needs to be about 20-24degC with a relative humidity (RH) of about 40-60 per cent. Basically, the ventilation system needs to dilute CO2 levels and replace oxygen, but that needs to be measured on a regular basis to ensure it is still happening.

Maintenance standard
The building engineering services industry is making this a key priority in response to the worsening outdoor conditions in a bid to turn buildings into pollution ‘safe havens’. It has a number of strategies at its disposal via the SFG20 maintenance standard developed by the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA).

SFG20 is a dynamic online tool so makes best practice widely available and easy to access. As well as featuring over 500 core maintenance schedules, covering more than 60 equipment types, SFG20 also gives users the opportunity to customise maintenance schedules, including service times, frequency and criticality ratings.

It allows a facilities manager to produce schedules covering all the main types of equipment found in buildings and it is constantly updated with changes to standards and legislation to ensure the building remains compliant. Schedules display how often tasks need to be carried out to avoid over or under maintaining assets and what skill set should be used to perform the work.


Poorly performing ventilation systems have a direct impact on occupant health, well-being and productivity, but putting them right is not a particularly difficult or expensive task. Maintenance schedules and tasks can be created within SFG20 to ensure that vital tasks like cleaning or replacing air filters and the regular inspection and cleaning of ventilation ductwork are carried at the right intervals.

Occupant discomfort is often linked to poor energy performance. If the heating and cooling is poorly balanced, people at one end of the office will have totally different conditions to those at the other. This will lead to some people opening windows to reduce overheating and others bringing in additional heating in a bid to warm up cold spots – the dissatisfaction of the occupants will only be matched by the fury of the financial director when he sees the electricity bill.

More and more building owners – including increasing numbers in the public sector – adopt SFG20 to establish a cost-effective strategy that closely matches user requirements to investment in planned service and maintenance. Many users have recorded savings of up to 20 per cent in their running costs by adopting SFG20 and embedding its measures into their building management processes. It is also helping building owners to understand what technologies are appropriate and realistic for their buildings.

Better understanding of the ‘performance gap’, which emerges between what was intended by the building designers and what actually happens during the ‘real life’ operation of a building, has been supported by the emergence of Building Information Modelling (BIM), which aims to ensure many historical design mistakes do not get replicated.

Since April 2016, the government has required all public-sector work to be subject to the Level 2 BIM method of working, which demands that building information is developed in a collaborative 3D environment and with long-term maintenance of assets and operating costs in mind.

The use of intelligent objects and 3D models allows the design team to have a full working visualisation of the project before work begins and can refer this to the end client or building manager so they can make any tweaks well in advance of receiving their completed project.

The need for better co-ordination and the earlier involvement of the specialist trades in building services projects becomes even more critical when working in a BIM environment. The project team has to work with a federated set of models and this requires a change to traditional contracting arrangements.

SFG20 has been adapted so it can now accept building design information imported directly from BIM software via xBIM. This means that ongoing maintenance costs can be based on the SFG20 standard from the point that initial CAD drawings are constructed, rather than later in the process or after project handover.


Facilities managers must also be involved from the outset and engage with BIM models to establish the type of equipment being installed and how it is to be serviced and maintained throughout the building’s operating life. They should be encouraged to ask questions at each stage of the process.

This is particularly important in buildings that will rely heavily on their building services, such as hospitals with their high demand for heating and hot water as well as widely varying demands for ventilation and IAQ. It is very easy for pre-determined performance targets to slip in these buildings and for energy costs to get out of control.

SFG20 now includes a Healthcare HTM (Health Technical Memoranda) aligned set of maintenance schedules, developed in collaboration with the healthcare industry, including professional bodies and practitioners. This provides maintenance schedules directly drawn from the requirements of the HTMs that underpin the design of all healthcare buildings.

Third party software, such as CAFM systems used to schedule and track maintenance work, can also be integrated into the SFG20 system to ease the planning, scheduling, execution and tracking of planned maintenance activities.

So, a suite of tools is now available to help building owners and managers keep a tight grip on their maintenance programmes; helping them work towards the significant financial and social benefits of operating their buildings with the comfort, health and productivity of occupants in mind.

Further Information: