Bringing BREEAM up to date

8th May 2014


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Benjamin Lewis

Yetunde Abdul highlights the main changes in the new standard for non-domestic buildings

In February, BRE published the final draft of the updated BREEAM standard for assessing the sustainability of new non-domestic buildings in the UK, and the latest version, which replaces the 2011 edition, is scheduled to open for registrations from 27 May.

Regular revisions are an important feature of BREEAM to ensure it remains up to date and ahead of regulatory changes, technical advances and best practice improvements. BRE began work on revising the 2011 version of BREEAM UK new construction (NC 2011) in spring 2013 in response to proposed changes to UK building regulations and the introduction of national standards for sustainable drainage systems.

Through a series of meetings, workshops, briefings and public surveys, the BREEAM team took the opportunity to gather stakeholder feedback on all aspects of the scheme. Consultation on BREEAM UK new construction 2014 (NC 2014) involved leading industry bodies, including the UK Green Building Council, the UK Contractors Group and the Construction Products Association, as well as individual stakeholders and users, including BREEAM assessors.

Local building regulations

A major change from the previous version is that NC 2014 will link closely with local building regulations in the UK. BREEAM previously used Part L of schedule 1 (conservation of fuel and power) of the Building Regulations to set a baseline for three performance measures – energy demand, primary energy and carbon emissions – when assessing the energy performance of a UK building. NC 2014 will instead use the national building regulations for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to set the baseline for buildings in each country rather than use a single baseline throughout the UK.

For BREEAM assessments in England, the relationship between NC 2014 and the updated Part L 2013 will be the same as that between NC 2011 and Part L 2010. As the latest Part L is more demanding than its predecessor, BRE conducted a series of performance modelling studies to determine the level of improvement over its baseline that is achievable using current best practice.

This has been used to revise the level of performance required under the “reduction of emissions” section (Ene 1) of the NC 2104 assessment criteria. Similar performance modelling will be used to ascertain the level of improvement achievable over the baseline for each of the devolved administrations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Low- and zero-carbon technology is covered in Ene 4 of NC 2011, and requires a percentage of the energy generated for the building to be from renewable sources. As this is also addressed in building regulations, that requirement has been removed from Ene 4 in the 2014 version and is instead covered in Ene 1.

Now called “low-carbon design”, Ene 4 retains credits for low- and zero-carbon feasibility studies to ensure that a robust review is carried out at an early stage to inform the design of the building. This section has also been broadened to recognise where opportunities for free cooling have been explored. In addition, a new credit has been introduced to recognise the benefits of passive low-carbon design.

Restructured categories

In response to stakeholder feedback, the management category in NC 2014 has been restructured to better align with the building procurement process. The resulting new headings are:

  • project brief and design;
  • lifecycle cost and service-life planning;
  • responsible construction practices;
  • construction and handover; and
  • aftercare.

Under the “lifecycle cost and service-life planning” section, a new credit has been introduced for reporting on a project’s predicted capital costs. Eventually, this will provide BRE with a better understanding of the costs of applying BREEAM, enabling the organisation to feed the information into future updates to ensure that the standard remains cost effective.

During the revision process, users raised concerns over the transport category’s distance requirements, particularly their relevance to, and impact on, rural locations. Changes to address this in NC 2014 include revising the bicycle facility requirements. NC 2011 requires cycle space availability for 10% of the workforce, but this can be impractical in some rural sites. Cycle space requirements in NC 2014 depend on the distance from the nearest urban area, and are as follows:

  • 10 miles from an urban area, the cycle space requirement is reduced by 50%;
  • 20 miles, reduced by 70%; and
  • 30 miles, reduced by 90%.

Material use and waste

Feedback on the “responsible sourcing of materials” section (Mat 3) in NC 2011 highlighted the complexities of this issue. As part of the review of the standard, an alternative route to meeting the criteria was developed, which avoids the need for complex calculations.

Also, new criteria have been added to NC 2014 to recognise where the construction company develops and implements sustainable procurement policies. This aims to help suppliers and contractors, particularly small ones, to procure more sustainable materials and gain more credits. BREEAM has also reviewed how it recognises responsible sourcing schemes to ensure their growing diversity is taken into account.

Other changes to the materials category include:

  • Expanding the criteria for Mat 5 – now called “designing for durability and resilience” (previously “designing for robustness”) to include selecting materials that protect the building from degradation over its lifetime.
  • Introducing a new issue – “material efficiency” (Mat 6) – to encourage more efficient use of materials and reduce the environmental impact of material use and waste.

Meanwhile, in the waste category two new assessment criteria assess building adaptability. These are:

  • Adaptation to climate change (Wst 5) – consideration of the risk assessments and mitigation actions needed to maintain structural stability in extreme weather conditions. It also boosts the recognition of issues such as: reduction of emissions (Ene 1); flooding (Pol 3), low-carbon design (Ene 4); water consumption (Wat 1); and thermal comfort (Hea 3).
  • Functional adaptability (Wst 6) – accommodating changes in working practices and building use.

Weightings and ratings

As well as comments on the assessment criteria, the consultation on NC 2014 included feedback on several other areas, which has also led to changes. To maintain an appropriate balance between assessment categories, the weighting for energy in NC 2014, for example, has been reduced from 19% to 15%. This takes account of changes to the building regulations’ requirements on energy. The 4% difference is distributed among other BREEAM sections.

The approach to assessing shell and core buildings has also changed. Assessments are now clearly defined in two parts, each with its own scope-specific assessment criteria:

  • Shell only – roofs, walls, windows, doors, floors and other building shell elements.
  • Shell and core – the shell elements, plus core building services such as central water, mechanical and electrical systems.

Shell and core assessments will no longer require green lease agreements to gain credits in some areas, but will tie in with the BREEAM non-domestic refurbishment and fit-out scheme to be launched this year (see for details).

BRE is often asked: “What is the best way of getting a high BREEAM rating?” There is no magic solution, but the client, its assessor and design team need to engage with BREEAM from the earliest possible stage of a project and carefully plan the necessary collaborations with other participants, such as contractors. This can help put the higher BREEAM scores well within reach. The changes in NC 2014 are not intended to make things more difficult for developers; on the contrary, most are designed to help project teams create better, more sustainable and more robust buildings.

More information on NC 2014 is available at

Images: Bombay Sapphire’s distillery and process buildings at Laverstoke Mill in Hampshire won the 2014 BREEAM industrial award.

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