By Bob Gate, UK Business Development and Marketing Manager at Brakel Airvent.
I had the pleasure of attending the Building Services Summit at the British Library late last year, and it got me pondering.
It’s reassuring sometimes to have your own way of thinking reinforced by others in the industry, and the summit’s focus on attaining real value from buildings – rather than rueing their construction as a series of costly mistakes – is one that really resonates with the Brakel Airvent way of thinking, shared by all the smoke safety and ventilation specialists within our organisation.
For us, the facilities management professional is often our core customer, and they’re concerned not only with ticking legislative boxes and keeping things up and running, but also with improvements, with cost-saving opportunities and with a desire to ensure that the buildings they’re working on are inherently constructed correctly in the first place.
The summit highlighted the 10:80:10 ratio – that a building’s total cost is split between 10% construction, 10% demolition and 80% ongoing use, energy and maintenance costs. Investing more in getting things right at the start and doing everything possible to reduce the amount spent during a building’s lifetime will smooth out that equation and build a better, greener future not only for the construction industry but our whole country.
Brakel Airvent’s specific take on the world of facilities management is coloured by a focus on life safety, asset protection, the ongoing health of building occupants and, naturally, cost savings.
We specialise in smoke ventilation and control systems, utilising vents, fans, dampers, smoke curtains and control systems in tandem to create safe zones in the instance of a fire breaking out in a building.
It’s well-known that smoke spreads faster than flames in such situations, creating havoc with escape routes and fire fighter access and endangering lives as well as destroying assets. Our systems keep these escape routes and fire fighter access avenues clear by utilising either mechanical intervention or the natural buoyancy of hot smoke. They require all elements to work in tandem: blocking ductwork dampers to stop spread of smoke; dropping smoke curtains to compartmentalise smoke (keeping it warm and thus high above escape routes); activating fans to extract smoke; and opening AOV windows to allow fresh inlet air into the building.
Understandably, that means if even one element is poorly maintained, or if the pre-set cause and effect protocols in place in the control unit aren’t kept up to date with the building’s geometry, significant risks can emerge.
At a competent smoke control specialist, the people are all about innovation at every level of the business. To people like us the task is about so much more than fixing broken vents or testing system efficiency. It’s about working out ways to stop vents from breaking in the first place, or pioneering systems that are inherently focused on energy efficiency and the cost savings that go along with it. We understand that modern facilities managers take a rounded view of their responsibilities and want to work with partners and specialists who share this forward-thinking mindset.
It was mildly gratifying to know that the very building hosting this summit, the British Library, is itself under the watchful care of Brakel Airvent’s team as we are responsible for the smoke control systems and therefore both the building’s occupants and key works such as the Magna Carta or Leonardo da Vinci’s original notebooks.
Sustainability in the real world
For far too long sustainability has been considered a luxury in the built environment. Construction firms often consider it a box-ticking exercise and while it’s important that construction materials and methods are environmentally-friendly, not enough focus is given to the impact the building will have on the environment for the years and decades after it’s finished.
You need maintenance partners who can retrofit, refurbish, re-engineer and advise. Someone who can look at buildings with a pragmatic eye, to save FMs money and to lessen the carbon footprint of the structures for which they’re responsible.
FMs might not be able to influence the construction of individual new builds, but by improving those that they manage they set in motion an upward trend toward a safer, more sustainable future.