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How to get an outstanding environmental rating

Whether designing a building or a refurbishment, you need to consider the environment. A BREEAM rating proves you have.

There’s a lot to consider if you’re thinking about building or renovating. But topping the list should be the impact you will have on the environment. BREEAM (Building Research Establishment’s Environmental Assessment Methodology) is the foremost environmental assessment method and rating system for master-planning projects, infrastructure, and buildings. So what does it take to achieve an excellent BREEAM rating?

Ten tips to improve your BREEAM rating:

1. Check the planning requirements

Most planning applications require an energy strategy and a sustainability statement as supporting evidence. In fact, BREEAM may actually be a specified requirement.

This ensures you have:

  • Considered all areas where energy can be saved
  • Confirmed that your building systems will consume energy efficiently and use low-carbon, low-energy sources

2. When should I get started?

At the very beginning of the design and procurement process. BREEAM comprises a design assessment and a post-construction assessment, but a pre-assessment will allow you to:

  • Identify key areas of environmental impact
  • Confirm the minimum standards that need to be included in your design brief to achieve an ‘outstanding’ rating

Ideally, you don’t want to review your design and introduce changes retrospectively. This will have a significant financial impact and cause an unwelcome delay.

3. Choose the right BREEAM scheme

As a benchmark rating scheme for new construction and refurbishment fit-out projects, BREEAM provides comparisons with other BREEAM rated buildings.

The scheme has ten environmental performance sections, where credits are awarded for each based on evidence of best practice performance levels. (Note: there are differences in weightings and credits available between new construction and fit-out projects.)

Image of table of content from BREEAM

4. Calculate your score

A qualified BREEAM assessor will audit your building in accordance with the assessment criteria for the ten performance sections and their categories.

How it works:

  1. The number of credits awarded is converted into a percentage of credits achieved. For example, if five credits are awarded out of a maximum ten available, then you’ll achieve credits of 50%.
  2. This is then multiplied by the section weighting to give you a section score.
  3. The ten section scores are added together to provide an overall section score (percentage).
  4. To achieve a particular performance level, BREEAM credits can be ‘traded’ to offset non-compliance in one area with compliance in another.

This score is compared to the BREEAM rating benchmark levels to give the official BREEAM rating. To achieve an ‘outstanding’ BREEAM rating, the overall section score needs to be greater than 85%.

5. Check the minimum standards for an ‘outstanding’ rating

Even if your score is greater than 85%, you must still achieve all of the following minimum standards:

Image of table of content from BREEAM

6. Work on the main categories

Your local authority may have specific requirements, so you’ll need to check.

Important categories include:

  • Energy
  • Water
  • Pollution materials
  • Benefits of innovation

However, all other aspects of BREEAM need to be covered and are valuable. To help you gain maximum credits you should also try to include:

  • Evidence of climate change resilience, such as urban greening (green roofs)
  • Resource efficiency (reuse/recycling of on-site building materials)

7. Focus on energy

Energy accounts for the largest amount of section credits (31) and has the joint-highest section weighting (15%).

Compliance with the Building Regulations Part L is required for an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC), so designing for an EPC ‘A’ rating is a good starting point.

Think about:

  • Energy efficient measures – air tightness, energy-efficient equipment and lighting
  • Demand management measures – natural ventilation and solar shading
  • Low-carbon and renewable technology – district heating networks, an Ener-g Combined Heat and Power (CHP) system, heat pumps and solar panels.
  • Carbon offsetting (if applicable)

8. Consider ENER-G Combined Heat and Power (CHP)

CHP, otherwise known as cogeneration, and trigeneration systems (for heat electrical and chilled water generation) can significantly improve your energy efficiency. This will reduce your CO2 emissions and reduce your energy costs.

BREEAM category Ene 01 has up to 12 credits for a building’s energy performance ratio, and CHP units are proven to be one of the best ways to minimise primary energy consumption and CO2 emissions in this category.

9. Review innovation in your design

An additional 1% is added to your BREEAM score for each ‘innovation’ credit (up to maximum 10%). So what is classed as innovation? One example would be if you used an alternative fuel for a CHP unit, such as Biogas or Anaerobic Digestion gas, which may achieve an extra innovation credit. However, the security of this type of fuel supply can minimise the attraction of this in the market.

10. Complete your post-construction assessment

It’s important that any construction phase works are completed in line with the design brief. This ensures evidence is available for the post-construction BREEAM assessment.

An ‘outstanding’ rating building project

The Central Bank of Ireland’s headquarters is an example of a building that achieved a BREEAM ‘outstanding’ rating at design stage.

It received scores of 91.3% for energy and 88.89% for pollution by specifying a high-efficiency CHP system and an advanced ventilation system for the building. The building also achieved an 88.89% rating for its transport design.