The post-occupancy evaluation, leaked to Building, contains some depressingly familiar statistics

Why does the industry find it so difficult to deliver energy efficient buildings? The latest Partnerships for Schools post-occupancy evaluation of 25 new and refurbished schools contains some depressingly familiar statistics.

Post-occupancy evaluations are routinely buried because clients and project teams don’t want to be identified with poorly performing buildings

These schools are using 280% more energy on average than the Department for Education benchmarks and have a ‘D’ display performance certificate rating when they really should have a ‘B’.

The disparity between the energy use of the best performing primary schools weighs in at £15,000 a year and a staggering £85,000 a year for secondary schools, enough to pay for several new teachers.

The other depressingly familiar fact about this report is the government has tried to suppress it. Post-occupancy evaluations are routinely buried because clients and project teams don’t want to be identified with poorly performing buildings. The result is design and construction teams work in an information vacuum and keep making the same mistakes leading to wave after wave of duff projects.

Despite this the reasons why buildings perform poorly have gradually filtered through and are echoed in this report. A school with a high performing fabric was one of those which used least energy proving that fabric first is the best approach.

Overly complex environmental designs led to poor performance as staff and students don’t have the time or expertise to get to grips with complex control systems. Fitting PV panels is merely a sticking plaster solution as some of the schools fitted with PV panels were the most energy inefficient of all the monitored projects.

What is the answer? Once again the report contains some familiar solutions. Keep environmental designs appropriate for a school, in other words not too complex. Adopt a process such as Soft Landings which focuses on proper commissioning of services, help for users to understand their buildings and an aftercare regime to ensure buildings performs as designed. To this can be added an education programme for staff and pupils that helps them appreciate where energy in schools and homes is consumed.

Rather than suppressing this report DfE should begin formulating a robust process that embeds these lessons into future school procurement programmes. There is some movement in this direction. All the schools bar one failed to hit the current PFI payment mechanism benchmark. It now seems that the Priority Schools Building Programme will give this benchmark some teeth by saying PFI contractors will be paid less if their projects don’t meet the required standards. A more robust process will help reduce carbon emissions with the voter friendly benefit of freeing up money for more teachers too.