Tracy Edwards visits NG Bailey’s new Strathclyde HQ to find out why whole-life green thinking makes good business sense

Ifeel cheated. Where’s my timber panelling? The willow coppice for my biomass boiler? And surely, if I peer closely enough, there must be a wind turbine capable of powering a whole light bulb stuck somewhere on the roof?

OK, so I like my flashy, conceptual eco-architecture; but who could be expected to look towards a green future with rampant optimism when faced with a deep-plan red-brick block?

When building services provider NG Bailey decided to locate its new sustainable Scottish headquarters at Strathclyde Business Park near Glasgow, developer HFD offered little leeway when it came to maintaining the style of the surrounding structures. It was clear from the very beginning that if the firm wanted to score eco points, this would be green design, but not as we know it.

Business planning and development director, Cal Bailey, explains. “We could have bought up some land and come up with this wooden underground building that was super eco-friendly. But the whole idea was to take a standard office spec building and, by augmenting the building services and the ICT systems, make it something special.”

It’s true that, visually, Solais House is not dissimilar to the unremarkable brick-clad building that lies opposite. But when you scratch below the surface, these two are as different as chalk and sustainably sourced, organic Caerphilly.

Advanced natural ventilation modelling, ground-source heating and cellular spaces resourcefully flooded with daylight team up with a fully integrated IP system to make this a worthy, yet admirably unassuming, example of eco-architecture at its best.

What’s more, the new headquarters has an A-rated Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) and a BREEAM ‘excellent’ rating to prove it. Impressive, to be sure, but at what price?

“The cost of the augmentation was £900 000, meaning that Solais House cost £5.5m, whereas a standard spec building would have been £4.6m. We decided we’d spend the 20-25% extra to take it to a different level,” explains Bailey.

A decision easily made when you’re not only the client, designer and installer, but also the end-user. Are we living in a dreamland, however, if we think this same ethic will translate to the real world?

NG Bailey’s chief executive Mark Andrews believes that the company is leading by example in moving away from the fragmentation of the construction industry.

He also thinks this same approach is achievable on the vast majority of conventional projects that aren’t likely to be a one-stop shop.

“Normally, with the way our industry is structured, the different elements of the project are completely separated. There is a developer who develops a facility on spec. He wants to do it to the lowest cost, he takes very little consideration of what it costs to maintain and he’s got no idea who’s going to occupy it at the end of the day,” says Andrews.

“If you really want to go after the whole-life cost of the building, there has to be a far more joined-up approach, and what we were able to do here is put all those pieces together. That’s why this is a unique offering.”

NG Bailey technical director Paul Hancock worked on the Solais House building throughout each stage of the project, and stresses the importance of the m&e contractor being involved in a building from the design stage.

“This project would not be what it is without the early involvement of the skills a contractor can bring to the table,” he says.

If nothing else, one must accept NG Bailey’s joined-up approach as a worthy experiment into the benefits of taking a more holistic approach to buildings.

“When we first went through the justification of this three years ago at the board, they said this would be tough in a plc environment, because we were spending more capital than we needed to, ostensibly on the surface,” explains Andrews. “But we said, ‘Look, this is about getting our house in order.’ It’s about doing what we believe is right.

“We’ve perhaps gone a little bit over the top in some areas. You don’t need all of the control systems we’ve put in place here, but we are trying to demonstrate to the world what can be done.”

The firm has asked BRE to do some preliminary assessments. The most measurable area is energy cost, and the building is expected to save NG Bailey £3.3m over its predicted 60-year lifespan. This allows for predicted rises in energy prices and includes two to three anticipated service replacements.

Yet, according to Andrews, there are other less quantifiable financial gains to creating a building like Solais House, with its low carbon footprint, airy interiors and a workstation layout that does away with the usual isolating, linear arrangements.

“If we look at our industry as a whole, the biggest challenge we have had, which is absolutely in common with every leading business in its own sector, is the recruitment and retention of the best graduates and top professionals,” says Andrews.

“Having the best conditions for staff helps to recruit and retain those of the calibre we’re looking for. That doesn’t just mean pay – it includes having the best office environment. And this is the kind of office that we think they’ll be looking for, because it’s a premium environment. It is more comfortable, it’s a building that those who work in it will feel proud of. That is a brand statement businesses now want to make.

“Eversheds, the country’s largest national law firm, has just opened a new office in London. It’s not a patch on this building in energy terms, but it is still a green office by today’s standards. It has a green roof where staff can have lunch, and they’re very proud of that, and believe that will help them recruit and retain the top lawyers they’re after.”

The industry doesn’t make use of the technology that is available. Architects don’t understand it, the clients don’t give enough freedom to the designers, so we end up with a huge number of low-tech, poorly performing buildings that cost a great deal more to run than they should, but actually cost more to build as well

Mark Andrews

Cal Bailey warns, however, that firms are not looking at the bigger picture.

“Businesses are trying to behave better environmentally through the medium of their buildings. Up until now, that behaviour has been measured in the kind of green-wash language we’re all familiar with. Much of it is down to appearance.

“As of this year, things are more quantifiable because of EPCs. The energy performance will be measurable, and some of the buildings that have a reputation for being very green will get an EPC of only a C or a D.

“We’ve already got people ringing us up saying, ‘What EPC rating will my building have?’ They think it’ll get a high rating, then discover that’s not so.”

Strathclyde isn’t NG Bailey’s first home-grown venture into energy-saving technologies. Solais House’s iBEMS, which was designed and installed by ICS/Bailey Systems, runs a common voice and data network designed and installed by Bailey Teswaine/S2S. The complex system had already been tested in the firm’s Reading office.

“It was our own intelligent building system that we installed, and to be honest, it didn’t work properly at first. One of the beauties of owning our own buildings is that we can play around with systems we want to sell to others in our own environments first,” says Bailey.

“We learned a lot from what we did in Reading. Here, everything’s on IP protocol. We’ve got a whole series of systems that talk to each other, run over a common network. In buildings you normally see, you’ve got half a dozen different systems managing them. Instead of that, we’ve got one system that’s using one fibre-optic core that’s using one platform that’s all IP-communicable.”

Although IP networks and building management systems are certainly not fresh news for the building services sector, Andrews thinks that they are still not being employed to their true potential.

“In our industry, people do not give much consideration to the actual finished building and the environment, and they don’t make use of the technology that is available.

“Architects don’t understand it all that well, the clients don’t give enough freedom to the designers, so we end up with a huge number of low-tech, poorly performing buildings that cost a great deal more to run than they should, but actually cost more to build than they should as well.”

So will NG Bailey practise what it certainly likes to preach? Only time and a thorough dose of IBS-controlled monitoring will tell, but Cal Bailey seems confident.

“It’s an experiment into what happens if you put two things into a project that don’t normally get put in. The first is really good upfront, integrated planning from services experts, and the second is some extra construction capital.

“The experiment is to find out whether that yields a building that costs less or more than a typical building over its whole life. Our hunch is that we can do it for a great deal less.”

Solais House

1.Ground-source heat pump

Making use of the ambient temperatures found underground via a ground-source heat pump is one of the best ways of reducing energy use. In this case, however, the method was not without its mishaps.

Paul Hancock, NG Bailey technical director, explains: “A lot of the work was done as the construction process was going on, and it created programming difficulties for us. With the heat pump we discovered a geological fault. The problem was, puddling clay had been formed by the rubbing of the two sides of the fault. The clay prevented the ground water from running across the site on one side of the building. We had to move from a non-consumptive scheme to a consumptive scheme.”

With a maximum flow rate of 5 litres per second, the inverter-controlled heat pump provides all the heating for the building, via radiators, without the use of a boiler. It also provides free cooling via chilled beams in various rooms. The bore is sized for whole building cooling for futureproofing.

The ground-source heat pump was manufactured off site, requiring one single delivery and reducing waste.

2.Sun pipes

With a deep-plan building, making use of natural daylight is challenging. Sun pipes collect sunlight at roof level and transfer it via mirrored aluminium tubes to ceiling diffusers inside.

The building’s standard design plan meant that sun pipes could not be employed to the best of their capabilities. While taking the pipes down to the ground floor would have taken up valuable space, technical manager Jim Keillor admits that it would have increased carbon savings.

We could have bought up some land and come up with this wooden underground building that was super eco-friendly.But the whole idea was to take a standard office-spec building and, by augmenting the building services and the ICT systems, make it something special

Cal Bailey

“You would have been able to take the lights in the toilets and the ground floor out of the equation as well during the summer periods. So if you take the toilet areas, you’re talking about taking another 500 W an hour off the building’s energy use.”

3.Solar thermal collectors

Evacuated-tube solar collectors located on the roof heat up water, which is then circulated to a storage cylinder in the roof plant room. The resulting hot water is pumped to sanitaryware.

“These perform much better than plates, which I wouldn’t recommend,” advises NG Bailey technical director Paul Hancock.

Solar thermal heating is expected to provide 70% of domestic hot water. A gas-fired heater has also been installed.

4.PhotoVoltaic Glass

Photovoltaic glazing (PVG) installed as integrated units generates around 5 kW. Optimising the glazing bars and pressure plates will increase output by ensuring a balanced load through each inverter and the minimum dummy panels.

PVG contains integrated solar cells that are imbedded between two glass panes and generate a direct electrical current. Power is then produced from the glazed areas of the building’s surface.

5.Rainwater harvesting

Large catchment areas on the roof mean that 15 m3 of rainwater can be collected and stored in tanks for up to 20 days.

The harvested rainwater is only used to flush the toilets and clean windows, so it does not need to be treated. Waterless urinals containing capsules that neutralise uric acid, and Dyson Airblades, which literally scrape the water from your hands, also ensure staff are doing their bit. Infrared spray taps mean that water is not wasted when hands are removed from the sink.

6.Natural ventilation

Solais House is naturally ventilated throughout, with the exception of meeting rooms, where active chilled beams have been installed.

Its building management system (BMS) monitors the environment, opening and closing motorised top hoppers as required. Trickle vents provide all-year-round ventilation. Manually controlled tip-and-turn windows mean occupants can also control their own environments.

“Traditionally, naturally ventilated buildings are fully open-plan,” says technical director Paul Hancock.

“The more cellular space you have, the more difficult it is to make it work. I’ve never worked on a project like this in all my years.”


Lightwells, northlights and individual blind controls ensure maximum daylight use. More than 80% of the total net lettable office floorspace uses natural daylight.

Lighting controls are automatic and can be controlled and monitored remotely via the integrated building energy management system (iBEMS).

The iBEMS uses internet protocol to network to a digital addressable lighting interface (Dali).

The lighting control bus is contained in the lighting busbar system, which makes it easy to distribute along the mains electricity. Final connections to luminaires are plugged into the busbar system and run into the ceiling void.

The interior lighting design utilises 600 x 600 modular luminaires with dimmable Tridonic Dali control gear.

The carpark lighting scheme consists of 150 W metal halide lamps, which are dark-sky compliant. Security lighting is provided by 26W compact fluorescents.

Within cellular spaces, NG Bailey has opted for EnOcean’s wireless light switches so that partitions can be rearranged in future. The product is powered by the kinetic energy generated when a user presses the switch.


NG Bailey has already been planning the next phase of Solais House in an ambitious bid to make the building carbon-neutral. The firm aims to:

  • Install phase change materials in ceiling areas of the office space

  • Complete feasibility studies for micro-hydro and wind-energy generation schemes

  • Commission building services seasonally to ensure they
    work best in different conditions

  • Undertake a whole-life costing exercise on the completed building

  • Number crunch

    13.3 kg/CO2/m2/year Emission rate per annum, against a like-for-like benchmark of 41 kg

    £5.5m Construction cost: a standard-spec office would have
    cost £4.6m

    £3.3m Expected energy savings over the building’s 60-year life

    70% Percentage of heating provided by evacuated-tube solar collectors

    13% Less site waste than an ‘ungreen’ build, due to initiatives such as offsite manufacturing


    Project: Solais House
    Client: NG Bailey
    Developer: HF Developments
    Project manager: KSG Project Management
    Architect: Cooper Croma
    M&E consulting engineer: Bailey Building Services
    Lighting designer: Bailey Building Services
    Main contractor: Dawn Construction
    Electrical contractor: Bailey Building Services
    Mechanical contractor: Bailey Building Services

    Mechanical suppliers
    AHUs: CLP
    Chilled beams: Frenger
    Ground-source heat pump: Climavenita/Skyline
    Drainage: Geberit
    Ductwork: Galloway
    Flues: Lochinvar
    Insulation system: Mineral Wool, McNichol
    Pumps: Grundfos
    Pressurisation: Grundfos
    Radiators: Merriott
    Raised floors: Veitchi
    Sound attenuation: Galloway
    Underfloor heating: Rehau
    Water heaters: Lochinvar
    Solar thermal: Navitron/Bailey

    Sanitaryware: Ideal Standard
    Hand driers: Dyson
    Toilets: Ifocera
    PCM: BASF/CIBA/Bailey Johnson
    Rainwater harvesting: Polypipe
    Partitions and ceilings: Bailey Johnson
    Plant rooms: Bailey Offsite
    Sun pipes: Monodraught

    Electrical suppliers
    BMS: ICS/Bailey Systems
    Cable: Batt
    Cable management: Cablofil
    Controls: ICS/Bailey Systems
    Electrical distribution: Schneider
    Electrical accessories: MK
    Emergency luminaires: Zumtobel
    Fire alarm/detection: Bailey Maintenance
    Floor boxes: Electrak
    Lighting controls: CNS
    LV switchgear: Schneider
    Power busbar: Electrak
    Security equipment: FPG
    Voice and data equipment: Cisco
    PV: PV Systems
    Structured cabling: Systimax/Bailey Teswaine
    Window openers: Wm Brown
    External lighting: Bega/Holophane

    Total cost: £5.5m