If we want to save carbon we should save people the hassle of fiddling with the air conditioning

Matt Fulford

Another few weeks have passed, several more buildings audited and advice given to reduce their energy consumption. Within many of the more recently built buildings I survey I often hear the same cry, “Oh I don’t really understand how this works so we just….”. And the newer the building, the worse it is.

Really worryingly, the more “sustainable” the building claims to be, the higher the frequency of little understood complex engineering systems.

Are we making our buildings too complex? While complex sustainability solutions may look wonderful on the drawing board - and highly qualified consulting engineers may understand the theory of them perfectly - the reality is that a couple of years after first occupation many occupants are struggling to use their buildings properly.

So, in order to make our buildings more efficient should we have a plain English standard so that all future users can easily understand how to operate them efficiently? We currently have complex layers of operation and maintenance manuals; building user guides; BIM systems and extended handover systems that fail to be attended and resourced properly.

Perhaps Apple should be encouraged to create the iBuilding

Would the reverse approach of making the building’s system intuitive to use be a better approach? Perhaps Apple should be encouraged to create the iBuilding as when my daughter was four she managed to pick up an iPhone and use it successfully without any instruction (until it came to paying the 99 pence for the app she wanted and got confused that the pound coin would not be accepted into the side of the phone). And yet how many meetings have you been to when, after lots of head scratching and poking at the wall mounted split air conditioning controller, no-one is able to get it to do what they would like it to do.

Buildings need to be designed so that everyone can easily use the building efficiently without the need to read copious manuals or have long training sessions.

At a conservative estimate, 25% of energy in buildings is wasted by the incorrect use of installed systems, therefore simple and intuitive solutions could provide the greatest benefit to sustainable building design – more so than many of the accepted mainstream green solutions.

Matt Fulford is the director of Inspired Efficiency