In recent years the Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA) in collaboration with global engineering and design firm ARUP produced “Survival Strategies for Existing Buildings”, a guide which imparts information on how to re-energise tired buildings. The GBCSA was established to promote and facilitate green building in South Africa’s property and construction industries. Key to their mandate is their suite of Green Star SA Rating Tools which enable the objective measurement of a building’s attributes.
“With uncertainty in the economy, increasing environmental pressures and changing legislation, making the most of existing buildings is a huge priority for both public and private owners and occupiers,” explains the guide. “Getting more from existing buildings will benefit users, the community, the environment, business and the bottom line. Conversely, inaction means that running costs will increase further, buildings will be penalised for poor performance, competitive advantage will decline and users will look elsewhere.”
In a nutshell, the guide provides a six step plan complemented by case studies and 200 simple initiatives to help building owners and facility managers make their buildings environmentally friendly, cost-effective, sustainable and more appealing for tenants. Arup offices in Australia, UK, Singapore and the USA have produced similar guides.
Buildings by nature are (or should be) long lived. Over time, the demands made on a structure change due to changes in the makeup and needs of its tenants and environmental and social influences. As such, a building must either evolve to remain viable or become redundant.
Built assets that are “tired or at risk of becoming tired” are (according to the guide) characterised by one or more of the following traits:
• Comparatively low rental levels compared to neighbouring buildings.
• Higher turnover of tenants and prolonged vacancy periods.
• Lower levels of occupier satisfaction.
• Increased investment and effort required to get the building to respond to the organisation’s current and possible future needs.
• Users and occupiers developing “workarounds” to the buildings problems.
• Increased inefficiencies in the functionality of the building.
• High building operation and servicing costs.
• High energy usage and consequently high energy costs.
The guide states that: “where these issues arise, building specific survival strategies must be developed. In some cases, minor interventions may be sufficient but in others some degree of refurbishment or retrofit will be appropriate. Demolition and new-build only become viable and relevant once other avenues to re-energise the asset have been exhausted.
“The only sensible strategy for owners of existing buildings is to consider what can be done to improve a building’s performance now to be relevant to the market of the future. Owners will have to work with or alter [the building’s] constraints to be able to respond to current and future market needs and trends.”
Further to this, the guide says that to remain competitive, owners and facility managers need to recognise and address a variety of occupier concerns such as better indoor air quality, more efficient lighting, reduced noise, high-level security, cutting edge information and communication technologies and ample informal meeting space. Ignoring such issues will eventually result in tenant loss which in turn leads to loss of rental income, increased letting costs, lower rents from incoming tenants and increased service charge costs and council rates.
So when should you consider re-energising your building? According to the guide, the right time to act should be before a significant gap emerges between the rent being achieved by your property and those in the same or equivalent locations and before your building loses a major, or multiple tenants. Of course action should be taken long before any of these scenarios occur. There are a host of new technologies which can be implemented to re-energise a building. Biomass heating systems, full life cycle costing, ground source energy, cogeneration, rainwater collection and water recycling are just a few such ‘tools’.
Given that South Africa is ranked among the top 20 CO2 emitting countries in the world, initiatives such as the guide shouldn’t be viewed merely as a nicety to be employed by property owners and facility managers seeking to appear “fashionable” but should be considered a very necessary tool for improving SA’s long-term environmental and energy outlook.