Archive for February, 2009

BER Certificates & Poor Indoor Air Quality (III)

2009-02-27:  Energy Labelling of Industrial Products is an essential means of raising consumer awareness about energy efficiency and conservation.  I like being able to wander into an electrical shop anywhere in Ireland, Italy or Turkey, for example … and to compare the energy performance of different makes of washing machines, dishwashers or fridges … and even of apparently similar products in the different countries.

 

I can easily visualize these small industrial products being brought into a test laboratory, and then being put through their paces.  It is a credible system.

 

This is NOT possible, however, with a building.

 

 

EU Directive 2002/91/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council, of 16 December 2002, on the Energy Performance of Buildings … is a short document of 7 Pages.  Its Preamble takes up slightly more than the first 2 Pages, and there is a 1 Page Annex at the rear.  Its language is clear and straightforward (see the example of Article 4 below).

 

[What I fail to understand is how and why the Irish National Legislation which implements the Directive … Statutory Instrument No. 666 of 2006: European Communities (Energy Performance of Buildings) Regulations 2006 … is so clumsy, awkward and full of flaws … offering us yet another example of failed ‘light-touch regulation’.  It may also be unconstitutional.]

 

 

 

The EU Directive has something important to say about Indoor Air Quality

 

Article 4 – Setting of Energy Performance Requirements

 

1. Member States shall take the necessary measures to ensure that minimum energy performance requirements for buildings are set, based on the methodology referred to in Article 3.  When setting requirements, Member States may differentiate between new and existing buildings and different categories of buildings.  These requirements shall take account of general indoor climate conditions, in order to avoid possible negative effects such as inadequate ventilation, as well as local conditions and the designated function and the age of the building.

 

[Quick flashback to a generation ago … the panic, throughout Europe, to conserve energy in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s led to a dramatic reduction in rates and quantities of direct, natural ventilation to the habitable spaces of buildings.  This, in turn, had an adverse impact on Indoor Air Quality, and led to a sharp rise in Asthma among building occupants.]

 

 

 

In Ireland, today, problems concerning Poor Indoor Air Quality continue to occur … typically during the Winter Heating Season.  There is a natural tendency to keep windows closed and to seal permanent ventilation openings.  Accidental indoor air seepage to the exterior is also being reduced in our newer building stock.

 

Poor Indoor Air Quality, an important factor in relation to building related ill-health (also known as ‘sick building syndrome’), can cause serious health impairments and severely restrict a person’s participation in everyday activities, e.g. work.

 

Symptoms and Signs may include:

         irritation of eyes, nose and throat ;

         respiratory infections and cough ;

         voice hoarseness and wheezing ;

         asthma ;

         dry mucous membrane and skin ;

         erythema (reddening or inflammation of the skin) ;

         lethargy ;

         mental fatigue and poor concentration ;

         headache ;

         stress ;

         hypersensitivity reactions, i.e. allergies ;

         nausea and dizziness ;

         cancers.

 

 

 

The following 2 Performance Indicators of Good Indoor Air Quality, developed with the aim of protecting human health, are recommended:

 

         Carbon Dioxide (CO2) concentrations in a building should not significantly exceed average external levels – typically within the range of 300 to 500 parts per million – but should at no time exceed 800 parts per million ;

 

         Radon Activity (including Rn-222, Rn-220, RnD) in a building should, on average, fall within the range of 10 to 40 Bq/m3 … but should at no time exceed 60 Bq/m3.

 

 

NOTES:

 

The concept of Protecting Human Health is altogether different from the concept of Assessing Risk to Safety.

 

In Ireland, testing for Radon Activity in buildings must take place during the Heating Season, i.e. the months of November through to March.  What is the use of testing during July, for example, when windows will be wide open ?   Who would even think of doing that ?   I wonder.

 

Measurement Uncertainty of the standard Alpha Particle Etched-Track Detector distributed by the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII) is as follows:

         under laboratory conditions: …………………… in the order of …… +/- 10%

         under tightly controlled site conditions: …. in the order of …… +/- 20%

         under typical conditions of use: …………….. well in excess of … +/- 30%

 

Unfortunately, until the RPII includes proper statements of Measurement Uncertainty in its Test Reports … our Organization cannot recommend RPII Radon Testing Services, and we will not accept RPII Test Reports as proper evidence of Radon Test Results.

 

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U.S. Disability Statistics – Practical Application in Europe ?

2009-02-25:  Back in 2003 … remember the European Year of People with Disabilities ? … or maybe you don’t, as there is a European Year for everything now ! … I belonged to a small group of people – the European Union Expert Group on Accessibility.  The Report issued at the end of our term included the usual statistic of 10% of people in Europe having a disability.  That figure, which always seemed a bit out of date and wide of the mark to me, continues to re-appear here, there and everywhere.  It is not reliable.  But … please read on.

 

As far as bureaucrats are concerned … if there are no statistics, a problem does not exist … and if there is no problem, there is no need to spend money.

 

But, that approach leaves policy makers who take their responsibilities seriously, NGO’s, people who design buildings and teachers, for example, in a vacuum.  No wonder awareness among the General Public is so low, and that there are so many participation restrictions and barriers in our Built Environment.

 

Questions relating to ‘disability’ in Irish Census Forms merely scratch the surface of this issue.

 

 

A recent Report, issued by the United States Census Bureau on 18th December 2008, may provide some useful information to guide front line policy and design implementation in Europe.  Please handle with caution, as these are NOT European statistics.

 

About one in five residents of the USA – 19% – reported some level of disability in 2005, according to the Report.  These 54.4 million people are roughly equal to the combined total populations of California and Florida.

 

Both the number and percentage of people with disabilities were higher than in 2002, the last time the Census Bureau collected such information.  At that time, 51.2 million, or 18%, reported a disability.

 

Among those with a disability, 35 million, or 12% of the population, were classified as having a severe disability.

 

Nearly half (46%) of people aged 21 to 64 with a disability were employed, compared with 84% of people in this age group without a disability.  Among those with disabilities, 31% with severe disabilities and 75% with non-severe disabilities were employed.  People with difficulty hearing were more likely to be employed than those with difficulty seeing (59% compared with 41%).

 

A portion of people with disabilities – 11 million aged 6 and older – needed personal assistance with everyday activities.  These activities included such tasks as getting around inside the home, taking a bath or shower, preparing meals and performing light housework.

 

Other Important U.S. Findings:

 

         Among people 15 years of age and older, 7.8 million (3%) had difficulty hearing a normal conversation, including 1 million being unable to hear at all.  Although not part of the definition of disability used in the Report, 4.3 million people reported using a hearing aid.

 

         Roughly 3.3 million people, or 1%, aged 15 and older used a wheelchair or similar device, with 10.2 million, or 4%, using a cane, crutches or walker.

 

         Nearly 7.8 million people aged 15 and older had difficulty seeing words or letters in ordinary newspaper print, including 1.8 million being completely unable to see.

 

         More than 16 million people had difficulty with cognitive, mental or emotional functioning.  This included 8.4 million with one or more problems that interfered with daily activities, such as frequently being depressed or anxious, trouble getting along with others, trouble concentrating and trouble coping with stress.

 

         The chances of having a disability increase with age: 18.1 million people 65 years of age and older, or 52%, had a disability.  Of this number, 12.9 million, or 37%, had a severe disability.  For people 80 years of age and older, the disability rate was 71%, with 56% having a severe disability.

 

         Among people 16 to 64 years of age, 13.3 million, or 7%, reported difficulty finding a job or remaining employed because of a health-related condition.

 

         Among people 25 to 64 years of age with a severe disability, 27% were in poverty, compared with 12% for people with a non-severe disability and 9% for those without a disability.

 

         Median monthly earnings were $1,458 for people with a severe disability, $2,250 for people with a non-severe disability and $2,539 for those with no disability.

 

         Parents reported that 228,000 children under age 3, or 2%, had a disability.  Specifically, they either had a developmental delay or difficulty moving their arms or legs.  In addition, there were 475,000 children 3 to 5 years of age, or 4%, with a disability, which meant they had either a developmental delay or difficulty walking, running or playing.

 

         There were 4.7 million children 6 to 14 years of age, or 13%, with a disability.  The most prevalent type was difficulty doing regular schoolwork (2.5 million, or 7 percent).

 

 

A Practical and Reasonable Application, therefore, of the above information in International & European Fire Engineering Practice is as follows:

 

Equivalent to the concept of ‘maximum credible fire scenario’, which was introduced by the Recommendations contained in the 2005 NIST Report on the WTC 9-11 Incident … the Fire Engineer (or other suitably qualified and experienced person) should develop his/her ‘real’ fire engineering strategy on the basis of a ‘maximum credible user scenario’, i.e. building user conditions which are also severe, but reasonable to anticipate …

         the number of people using a building may increase, on occasions which cannot be specified, to 120% of calculated maximum building capacity ;   and

         10% of people using the building (occupants, visitors and other users) may have an impairment (visual or hearing, physical function, mental, cognitive or psychological, with some impairments not being identifiable, e.g. in the case of anosognosia).

 

If more than token consideration is to be given to Fire Evacuation for All … these guidelines indicate, for example, how much space should be allocated to an ‘area of rescue assistance’ which adjoins – on every floor except ground level – a vertical fire evacuation staircase in a building.

 

Fire Evacuation Routes at ground level should be ‘accessible’ and lead directly to the exterior.

 

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BER Certificates, Energy Efficiency & Climate Change (II)

2009-02-23:  The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) has identified buildings as one of the five main users of energy where ‘megatrends’ are needed to transform global energy efficiency in the immediate short term, and so meet the daunting challenge of Climate Change Adaptation.  They account for 40% of primary energy (primary energy includes the energy required to generate, transmit and distribute electricity, as well as energy directly consumed on site) in most developed countries, and consumption is rising. 

                         … 2007 WBCSD Energy Efficiency in Buildings (EEB) Project

 

 

If you find that you are not responding emotionally to that … please leave your computer immediately and take a cold shower !   When you return, check out how far adrift Ireland is – even on paper – in meeting its legally binding 1997 Kyoto Protocol (UNFCCC) responsibilities.  After 2012, the European Union’s 2020 Targets will be in a different league altogether.

 

Let there be do doubt, therefore, that over the next few years … nothing less than a complete cultural shift will be necessary throughout the European Construction Sector – and this very much includes Ireland – beginning with all research and design disciplines and extending right across to any person who works on a construction site or has any part to play in managing, maintaining or servicing a building.

 

 

 

Burden Sharing in the Built Environment

 

Separate Energy Efficiency Strategies will be required to vastly improve the energy performance of:

         existing buildings … onto which many energy efficiency measures can be successfully grafted … but they will not be cheap, and they will not be 100% effective ;

         buildings of historical, architectural or cultural importance … the integrity of which must be protected ;   and

         new buildings, which must therefore carry the major burden.

 

In addition … if we fully value the Agricultural Industry in Ireland, the burden to be carried by New Buildings may have to be far heavier.

 

 

 

Suggested Building Energy Efficiency Targets in Ireland to 2020

 

From the Beginning of 2012, i.e. after an Essential Transition Period involving extensive re-education and up-skilling, accompanied by ‘attractive’ incentives …

         Require all New Buildings to achieve a Minimum Building Energy Rating (BER) of ‘A1’ … indicating a Primary Energy Consumption less than or equal to 25 kWh/m2/yr.  And require 40% of Primary Energy Consumed to be, directly or indirectly, from Renewable Energy Sources ;

         Require all Existing Buildings to achieve a Minimum Building Energy Rating (BER) of ‘B1’ … indicating a Primary Energy Consumption less than or equal to 100 kWh/m2/yr.  And require 15% of Primary Energy Consumed to be, directly or indirectly, from Renewable Energy Sources.  Retain Incentive Measures to achieve better performance with regard to energy efficiency and/or renewable energies ;

         Require Buildings of Historical, Architectural or Cultural Importance to achieve a Minimum Building Energy Rating (BER) of ‘C1’ … indicating a Primary Energy Consumption less than or equal to 175 kWh/m2/yr.  Retain Incentive Measures to achieve better energy efficiency performance.  No legal requirements or incentives with regard to Renewable Energies should apply to Buildings of Historical, Architectural or Cultural Importance.

 

From the Beginning of 2015

         Require all New Buildings to be ‘Positive Energy Buildings’ (see below) ;

         Require all Existing Buildings to achieve a Minimum Building Energy Rating (BER) of ‘A2’ … indicating a Primary Energy Consumption less than or equal to 50 kWh/m2/yr.  And require a Positive Energy Contribution of 25 kWh/m2/yr to be from renewable Energy Systems installed in the building ;

         Require Buildings of Historical, Architectural or Cultural Importance to achieve  a Minimum Building Energy Rating (BER) of ‘B1’ … indicating a Primary Energy Consumption less than or equal to 100 kWh/m2/yr.  Retain Incentive Measures to achieve better energy efficiency performance.  No legal requirements or incentives with regard to Renewable Energies shall apply to Buildings of Historical, Architectural or Cultural Importance.

 

 

 

‘Effective’ Technical Control of Construction & Post-Occupation Buildings

 

Any proposed Building Energy Efficiency/Conservation and Renewable Energy Improvements must take place in a legal environment of stringent control during construction (by competent Local Authority Building Controllers and/or Independent Technical Controllers) and rigorous post-construction energy performance monitoring (using Long Wave Infra-Red Thermal Imagery, in conjunction with building roof and external wall Air Seepage Tests).  Observation of post-occupation building energy performance will also be necessary.  Introduce mandatory 5-Yearly Energy Surveying of Buildings.

 

 

 

The Paradigm for New Buildings – A ‘Positive Energy’ Return

 

Primary Energy Consumption is less than or equal to 15 kWh/m2/yr.  Renewable Energy & Heating Systems then contribute a reliable quantity of energy, per year, which covers the following:

         the Building’s Primary Energy Consumption ;

         an Energy Efficiency Degradation Factor which takes account of the degradation in energy efficiency normally expected during the life cycle of renewable energy and heating systems installed in the building (the rate of degradation will depend on the quality of maintenance and servicing) … and caused by wasteful patterns of building management and/or use ;

         the energy consumed by Private Transport associated with the building ;

         an Energy Return to an Intelligent District or Regional Grid exceeding, by a whole number multiple determined by reference to local conditions, the total energy consumed by the Building (including its Energy Efficiency Degradation Factor) and any associated Private Transport.

 

Uniquely, this more practical elaboration of the innovative concept of Positive Energy Buildings considers life cycle energy efficiency degradation.

 

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BER Certificates, Legislation & Thermal Comfort (I)

2009-02-20:  The recent comment submitted by Mr. Robin Evans regarding the use of Infra-Red Thermography as an aid to BER Assessment … and the high level of confusion and misinformation in the marketplace, which I have now had an opportunity to examine more closely … have forced me to conclude that a series of posts on BER Certificates would be good for the system – ‘my’ system !

 

There are many pieces in this jig-saw puzzle, but the final picture is wonderful … please believe me.

 

 

Before I start to assemble anything, however, a few small details …

 

         Infra-Red Thermography.  This is a valuable technical aid during any Energy Survey of any Building.  It is remarkable how much information can be gathered by a good, high-resolution Infra-Red Camera.  But, it must be used competently …  Because we are working in ambient temperature conditions, i.e. between -10OC and +30 OC, it should be a Long Wave Infra-Red Camera (≈ 8-12 microns).  The temperature difference between the inside of the building and the exterior should be at least 10 degrees C … it would be better with 15 degrees C.  The Camera Operator should be fully familiar with the operation of the Camera and its associated computer software, etc … and he/she should know what they are looking at.  In other words, some sort of architectural background is essential … not only are images taken outside the building, but they are also taken inside the building !   Any Camera Work should be done after dark.  It is not necessary to do a midnight to 4 o’clock in the morning shift … 8 o’clock in the evening until midnight is perfectly fine.  By the way, none of this work can be done in just 30 minutes.  Finally, Infra-Red Work is best carried out, in Ireland, during the Heating Season, i.e. the months of November through to March.  Depending on the year, it may be possible to squeeze in the end of October and the beginning of April.

 

In the old days, I used to work as part of a Multi-Disciplinary Team of 4 People (not all males !), comprising a Civil Engineer, a Physicist/Expert in Measurement, an Engineering Technician with a background in Social Science, and myself as Architect/Fire Engineer/Technical Controller.  They were great days !

 

 

Robin … in order to provide this service for the owner of a typical suburban, semi-detached house … €100 (Euros) is a little on the low side, even as a ‘lost leader’.

 

And … the Irish Public are indeed blissfully unaware of the efficacy of Infra-Red Thermography.  The ‘powers that be’ in Ireland, i.e. the Department of the Environment, Heritage & Local Government (DEHLG), Energy Ireland (SEI) and the Construction Industry Federation (CIF), are not at all interested in the ‘real’ energy performance of buildings.  They have a vested interest in not being interested.  Suddenly … the image of an ostrich, with head deeply embedded in sand, floods my mind …

 
Colour Clip Art Image of an Ostrich, with head deeply embedded in sand. Meanwhile, in the background, an hourglass signals that time is running out !

Colour Clip Art Image of an Ostrich, with head deeply embedded in sand. Meanwhile, in the background, an hourglass signals that time is running out !

  

         BER Certificates & EU/National Legislation.  Mr. Charlie McCreevy, Ireland’s EU Commissioner, during one of his many ‘direct, pragmatic and neo-liberal’ talks in Dublin, used the following magnificent phrase in relation to the national implementation of European Union Legislation in the different EU Member States … ‘National Gold Plating and Divergent Implementation’ … some important words to remember !   However, I learned this valuable lesson myself a long, long time ago.

 

Irish National Legislation:  Statutory Instrument No. 666 of 2006: European Communities (Energy Performance of Buildings) Regulations 2006.

 

These Regulations may be unconstitutional.  A prime example … Section 23 (1) states that a person authorised by Energy Ireland (SEI) under the Regulations … ‘may enter, inspect and examine a building or any part of a building for the purpose of forming an opinion as to whether or not a BER Data File or BER Certificate issued for the building, or part of the building, is warranted’.  In relation to a private, single-occupation dwelling house … this provision is entirely unacceptable !

 

The Register of BER Assessors on the SEI WebSite is not reliable.

 

Because of ‘national gold plating and divergent implementation’ in Ireland, it is necessary to be familiar, also, with the originating EU Secondary Legislation.

 

European Union Legislation:  EU Directive 2002/91/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council, of 16 December 2002, on the Energy Performance of Buildings.

 

Both pieces of legislation can be downloaded from the SDI WebSite … here.

 

 

         Thermal Comfort in Buildings.  The starting point for any discussion about this subject should be an International Standard, which is also the European Standard and the Irish National Standard … ISO 7730  Moderate Thermal Environments – Determination of the PMV and PPD Indices and Specification of the Conditions for Thermal Comfort.

 

This Standard establishes the following important general principle … and is also critical in relation to people with activity limitations who use/occupy/visit buildings: Man’s/Woman’s Thermal Sensation is mainly related to the thermal balance of his/her body as a whole.  This balance is influenced by his/her physical activity and clothing, as well as the environmental parameters: air temperature, mean radiant temperature, air velocity (i.e. draughts) and air humidity.

 

Air Temperature, alone, is definitely not an Indicator of Thermal Comfort in a building.

 

 

         Technical Control of Construction.  The 2005 & 2008 NIST Reports on the 9-11 WTC Incident have presented us with some stark language … ‘NIST urges state and local agencies to rigorously enforce building codes and standards since such enforcement is critical to ensure the expected level of safety … unless they are complied with, the best codes and standards cannot protect occupants, emergency responders, or buildings.’

 

With regard to Private Construction in Ireland … Building Control Authorities in Ireland are, purposefully, not sufficiently resourced to be ‘effective’.  See my earlier Post, dated 2009-02-12.

 

With regard to Public Construction in Ireland … self-regulation is no regulation !  Government Departments, the Office of Public Works and Local Authorities can, far too often, be complacent, careless and/or stubborn concerning compliance with even the minimal performance levels specified in building regulations, codes and standards.

 

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‘Accessible’ Emergency Services in Ireland ? … Action Now !

2009-02-17:  Mr. Joe Duffy, presenter of the popular phone-in RTÉ Radio 1 Programme: ‘Liveline (13.45-15.00 hrs. local time in Ireland), covered an item of major importance today … the complete lack, in our country, of ‘accessible’ emergency services for people with a hearing impairment (2001 WHO ICF).

 

To place this issue in a necessary wider context … back in December 2006, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  After various procedural ‘jigs and reels’, the Convention became an International Legal Instrument on 3rd May 2008.  This is now International Law !

 

 

It is worth quoting from some of the UN Convention’s Text

 

Article 9 – Accessibility

1. To enable persons with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life, States Parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure to persons with disabilities access, on an equal basis with others, to the physical environment, to transportation, to information and communications, including information and communications technologies and systems, and to other facilities and services open or provided to the public, both in urban and in rural areas.  These measures, which shall include the identification and elimination of obstacles and barriers to accessibility, shall apply to, inter alia:

(a)  Buildings, roads, transportation and other indoor and outdoor facilities, including schools, housing, medical facilities and workplaces ;

(b)  Information, communications and other services, including electronic services and emergency services.

 

Article 11 – Situations of Risk & Humanitarian Emergencies

States Parties shall take, in accordance with their obligations under international law, including international humanitarian law and international human rights law, all necessary measures to ensure the protection and safety of persons with disabilities in situations of risk, including situations of armed conflict, humanitarian emergencies and the occurrence of natural disasters.

 

[Note: Article 11 covers risk situations such as … fires in buildings.]

 

 

Progress with regard to the continuing Ratification of this United Nations Convention can be viewed here.

 

Although Ireland signed the Convention on 30th March 2007, amidst much publicity, this country has still not ratified it.  Why is that ?   Other European Union Member States have ratified it without any problem.

 

Yet again, why haven’t the National Disability Authority … and particularly Ms. Angela Kerins, NDA & Equality Authority Chairperson – ‘valiant protector, against all odds and foes, of disability & equal rights’ … screamed and protested loudly about Ireland’s disgraceful tardy ratification of the UN Disability Convention ?   Did we even hear a whimper from them ?   Definitely not.

 

This is an issue where an essential leadership role must be taken up – enthusiastically – by our politicians and senior civil servants.  The correct signals must be given to society as a whole.

 

What Mr. Joe Duffy does not understand, unfortunately, is that Irish Politicians and Senior Civil Servants would all rather commit ritual suicide on Merrion Street (outside the Dáil and Government Buildings) than give people with disabilities their rights.

 

 

There is no longer any acceptable reason whatsoever … why ‘accessible’ emergency services cannot be introduced immediately in this country … or throughout the rest of Europe.

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An Open Letter to President Barack Obama – Questions !?!

2009-02-14 …

 

Dear Barack,

 

Please allow me to extend a warm welcome to you onto the International Stage … and an even warmer welcome for the United States of America back into the International Fold of Nations.

 

The last 8 Years have been a nightmare for concerned observers outside your country.  I should immediately add that a large branch of my extended family has been living in New York City and State since the mid-1950s.  And that you are now affectionately known in Ireland, because some of your roots are based here, as President O’Bama !

 

Being a pragmatic person, however, you will want me to come quickly to the point … and be direct.

 

You will shortly be signing into law a 787.2 Billion Dollar Economic Stimulus Package of spending increases and tax relief, which is intended to encourage an economic recovery in your country and to create jobs.  It is surprising that you have permitted significant funds earmarked for school construction, and for colleges and universities, to be removed from the Package during the ‘Compromise’ Negotiations.  Funding to provide health insurance for the unemployed has been sharply reduced, while funds for the ‘Greening’ (?) of Federal Buildings have also been scaled back.

 

The political imperative of successfully steering this Stimulus Package through Congress, at this time, is understood … but the final shape of the Package does not augur well for the future of your Presidency.

 

 

Taken together with the outcome from another recent event in my country, Ireland … and my surprise is turning to worry …

 

In Dublin, towards the end of January 2009, I attended a Round Table Discussion with a key individual who works in the US Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (EERE) – Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP).

 

Having posed 2 Questions after his presentation with regard to US Federal Policy on the ‘Green’ (i.e. environmental & energy) Performance of Federal Buildings, I discovered the following …

 

         The individual concerned was completely unaware that there is a considerable difference between the ‘Green’ Agenda, i.e. a limitation of considerations to environmental aspects of Sustainable Human & Social Development alone (an outdated concept belonging more properly to the 1990s) … and the ‘Sustainability’ Agenda, which is far broader in scope and absolutely essential if we are to meet the great challenges being posed since the beginning of this 21st Century … for example, the World Trade Center Incident (9-11) in New York ;

 

         There would appear to be no independent technical controls monitoring the ‘real’ environmental and energy performance in US Federal Buildings, no penalties for failure to meet performance targets, no horizontal integration between Federal Institutions dealing with procurement and building/system/product operation, and a systemic lack of proper accountability.

 

 

If it is your wish that the USA takes up a position of global leadership on some or all of the above issues, we – at Sustainable Design International – would like some information and assurances concerning the following matters …

 

         When will you, and your Administration, begin to properly appreciate the considerable difference between a ‘Green’ Agenda and a ‘Sustainability’ Agenda … and the significant Institutional Re-Engineering required to implement US Federal, State and City Policies geared towards Sustainable Human & Social Development ?   How would you then intend to dramatically raise awareness … and mobilize all of the people in your country for action … at Federal, State and City Levels ?

 

         If your Administration enters into negotiations on an International Kyoto II (post 2012) Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) … will US National Performance be open and transparent … and be seen to be ‘reliable’ by other countries, particularly Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa ?

 

         When, precisely, will the US Senate ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, with its Optional Protocol ?   When will you arrange to fund the implementation of this Convention, with its Optional Protocol … and then arrange that a coherent and comprehensive programme of implementation, which must have a short timescale, be initiated ?   How long will that implementation timescale be ?

 

 

Effective International Law and Lasting Peace are 2 Prerequisite Essential Requirements for Sustainable Human & Social Development.  In order to free up current ‘process’ log-jams and bring lasting peace to the regions of the Caribbean and the Middle East … it is you who must make the first substantive moves

 

         When will you arrange for the immediate cessation of all aggressive and hostile activities against one of your close neighbours – the small island of Cuba – and a complete end to the economic, social & political choke-hold on its small population ?   When will your Administration finally arrange for the termination of the illegal occupation of Guantánamo Bay – an international act of piracy facilitated by the 1901 Platt Amendment ?   When will you finally ‘curtail’ the rabid behaviour of some of the more fanatical Cuban Exile Elements in Florida … and release the Miami 5 ?

 

         When will you, and your Administration, bring your considerable authority and power to bear on the Criminal State of Israel … and force it to comply with International Law and Universal Human & Social Rights ?

 

 

We patiently await your considered response.

 

Many thanks for your attention.

 

 

Signed:  C. J. Walsh, Managing Director, Sustainable Design International Ltd. – Ireland, Italy & Turkey.

 

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Postscript 2012-01-16:

Dear Barack … Apologies are Meaningless … and who these Individual Soldiers are is not important.  This recent image from Afghanistan betrays an in-grained national mindset !

The Guantánamo Bay Detention Centre, in illegally occupied Cuba, is still operating … the Criminal Blockade of this small Caribbean Island continues with full bullying force … and The Miami 5 are still rotting in U.S. Jails, with access for family members made particularly difficult, if not impossible.

Your Administration is still aggressively frustrating the widespread International Consensus on Climate Change … Your Offspring, the Apartheid State of Israel has now replaced South Africa as the No.1 Maverick Rogue in the International Community … etc., etc., etc.

The United States of America continues to urinate on International Law !!

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Quality of Irish Construction – Unacceptable ?

2009-02-12:   So … Anglo-Irish Bank has been caught – finally – playing with numbers and cooking the books.  And … because of inadequate (i.e. a complete lack of effective) control by the National Financial Regulator, this was regarded as a routine, ‘smart’ transaction by privileged individuals.  “What is the problem ?” … they ask … “no laws were being broken”.

 

Holding firmly onto those thoughts, let us briefly turn our attention to the Construction Sector … and the Energy Performance of Buildings …

 

A new Home Energy Savings (HES) Scheme was recently announced by Mr. Eamon Ryan T.D., Minister of Communications, Energy & Natural Resources … €100 million Insulation Scheme to Benefit 50,000 Homes – Programme Will Create 4,000 Jobs … according to an article in The Irish Times, on Monday 9th February 2009, by Mr. Harry McGee.

 

Reading the Department of Energy’s own Press Release for the Scheme Launch, dated 2009-02-08 … it is evident that public relations consultants, marketing gurus, senior academics (who should know better) and civil servants were involved in producing ‘paper’ numbers to justify and support the miserable grants being offered in the HES Scheme.  Numbers were even presented for ‘Typical Net BER Improvement’ ?!?

 

When the Scheme is eventually up and running, Thermal Insulation Contractors will be required to comply with a voluntary Energy Ireland (SEI) ‘Contractors Code of Practice & Standards and Specifications Guidelines’ (version 1, 2009-02-03) … and SEI may or may not carry out control inspections in order to monitor the quality of their work.  Does all this sound familiar ?

 

 

But … are these paper energy numbers ‘real’ ?   If he thinks so, Mr. Eamon Ryan is living in Alice’s Wonderland !

 

This is a photograph, taken back in 2000, of expanded polystyrene insulation which was badly installed in an external cavity wall … very badly installed !   When the Irish Construction Industry would later enter extreme ‘over-heat’ mode, the quality of typical construction would deteriorate sharply.

 

Colour Photograph of an External Cavity Wall, showing 'Floating' Thermal Insulation (and, in the background, an Inclined Steel Wall Tie which will later facilitate water ingress). Click to enlarge. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2000-01-19.

Colour Photograph of an External Cavity Wall, showing ‘Floating’ Thermal Insulation (and, in the background, an Inclined Steel Wall Tie which will later facilitate water ingress). Click to enlarge. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2000-01-19.

Who can know what is happening inside that cavity when it is all finished and covered up from view ?   Nobody.  Unless, that is, you manage to take an Infra-Red Thermal Image during the next winter heating season – which is far too late to remedy the problem.

 

This is an example of an Infra-Red Thermal Image, taken back in 1998 …

 

Colour Image, with explanatory Text and Horizontal Temperature Bar below, showing the 'Real' Energy Performance of a Building. Click to enlarge. Project Architect: CJ Walsh. Image taken by sub-contractor in 1998.

Colour Image, with explanatory Text and Horizontal Temperature Bar below, showing the ‘Real’ Energy Performance of a Building. Click to enlarge. Project Architect: CJ Walsh. Image taken by sub-contractor in 1998.

 

 

Explaining the Current Context in Ireland …

 

It was 10 Years after the Dublin Stardust Fire Tragedy (February 1981) … before the first legal, National Building Regulations were introduced (December 1991); they became operational during the following summer of 1992.  Around the same time, Building Control Authorities were being established in every Local Authority.

 

Prior to this, legal Building Bye-Laws were operated in just a small number of our major urban centres.

 

Dublin Corporation’s Bye-Laws with respect to the Construction of Buildings, adopted by Dublin City Council on 27th June 1949, were an interesting mix of functional, performance and prescriptive requirements.  An Application, containing detailed construction information, for Building Bye-Law Approval had to be made for every construction project … and I mean ‘every’ project … prior to any construction commencing.  And, ‘every’ project was inspected at the foundation and drainage stages of construction … no exceptions.  The more complex projects were inspected as they progressed further, with special attention being paid, for example, to fire safety related construction.  I know, first-hand, that the surveyors and inspectors in Dublin Corporation’s (as it was then called) Building Control Section had built up a considerable wealth of knowledge and understanding about construction conditions and practices right around the city and suburbs.

 

Anyway … after the introduction of the National Building Regulations, an unwritten national policy was put into action … having as an aim the winding down, and general ‘castration’, of the large, well-established Building Control Sections in Dublin City and County, and Cork.  Meanwhile … in the rush to establish the new Building Control Authorities throughout the rest of the country, it was common to hear of Road Engineers being transferred into the new Control Authorities … usually having little or no experience in dealing with the construction of buildings.

 

Site Inspections under our current system of National Building Regulations are random.  Inspection Statistics produced by the Department of the Environment, Heritage & Local Government (DEHLG) are not reliable.  Building Control Authorities are, purposefully, not sufficiently resourced to be ‘effective’.

 

Commencement Notices, under the National Building Control Regulations, do not have to be accompanied by detailed construction information when being submitted to a Building Control Authority.

 

Fire Safety Certificates, under the National Building Control Regulations, do not involve any Site Inspections – at any stage – by Fire Authorities.

 

 

 

Some Conclusions …

 

The above is a rather long, but simplified, explanation as to why a large number of privileged property developers and shoddy building contractors have been allowed to flourish on Irish Construction Sites without ever understanding the concept of ‘effective’ technical control.  When they do eventually meet this concept, head-on, the level of their resentment can be without limit.

 

Before the recent property crash, did you ever try to present a builder with a Snag List on a new house ?

 

This will also put SEI’s 70% rate of non-compliance into an understandable context.  See my earlier Post, dated 2008-12-12.

 

With regard to BER Certificates … BER Assessors without any sort of architectural background are not competent to assess the construction of existing buildings … and those BER Assessors with an architectural background cannot possibly evaluate, with reliability, the construction of existing buildings without the use, for example, of Infra-Red Thermography and Air Seepage Testing.

 

BER Assessment of Historical Buildings is unsuitable, and not appropriate.

 

An Energy Survey of a Building is an entirely different concept to a BER Assessment.  See our Technical Guidance Note No.95/101(a).

 

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END

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Dublin Stardust Fire Tragedy – The End ?

2009-02-05:  ‘In the early hours of the 14th February 1981, a catastrophic fire swept through the Stardust Ballroom in Artane, Dublin, killing forty eight people and causing serious injury to one hundred and twenty eight others.  The overwhelming majority of the victims were in the age group of eighteen to twenty five and came from the neighbouring areas of Artane, Kilmore and Greater Coolock.  The scale and horror of the tragedy was such that it was, and remains, the greatest disaster to have occurred in the history of the State.’

 

Paragraph 1.2, Report of the Independent Examination of the Stardust Victims Committee’s Case for a Reopened Inquiry into the Stardust Fire Disaster.

 

In the middle of January 2009, relatives of Stardust Fire Victims were forced to hold a lengthy sit-in protest at Government Buildings, in Dublin … in order to gain access to this recent Report by Mr. Paul Coffey, Senior Counsel.  See the Photograph of four forlorn relatives, by Mr. Dara Mac Dónaill, on the Front Page of The Irish Times (2009-01-15).

 

 

In Paragraph 5.15(1) of the Report (no reference number, no publication date) … Mr. Coffey recommended:

 

         that the Government should consider whether it can … place on the public record an acknowledgement of the (Stardust) Tribunal’s findings that there is no evidence that the fire was started deliberately and that its cause is unknown ;

 

Paragraph 5.15(2) continued:

 

         in the event that this cannot be done, there should be a further inquiry … ;

 

 

On Tuesday evening, 3rd February 2009, in the Dáil (Irish Parliament) … the Irish Government moved, with haste, to formally correct the public record in accordance with Mr. Coffey’s recommendation in Paragraph 5.15(1).  See the Dáil Report on the Stardust Tragedy, by Ms. Marie O’Halloran, in The Irish Times (2009-02-04).

 

Should this be the end of the matter ?   No.

 

Have the events surrounding this tragedy been well managed ?   Yes.

 

 

 

In Separate Letters, dated 4th April 2006, sent by registered post to the Editors of The Irish Times (Dublin), The Irish Independent (Dublin) and The Irish Examiner (Cork), I wrote the following …

 

Re:  Stardust Fire Re-Examination Now Due !

 

As a young architect in private practice, I saw the Dublin Fire ‘Establishment’ disappear from public view, without trace, after the 1981 Stardust Fire;  it was almost impossible, for at least a year after, to have a meeting with a Fire Prevention Officer.

 

Would it not be reasonable to expect that, in 25 years, our understanding of fire behaviour in buildings, and of the practices and procedures associated with serious fire incidents, has improved ?

 

On 26th October 2005, the NIST Final Report on the 9-11 WTC 1 & 2 Tower Collapses was presented to Congress in the United States.  Chapter 9 of that Report contains 30 important Recommendations which must radically alter professional fire engineering practice in the case of all building types, of all sizes … even in Dublin !

 

The time is now due for an Independent and Impartial Technical Re-Examination of the Stardust Fire Incident, and any relevant events which occurred during a period of time beginning 6 Months before 14th February 1981 and terminating approximately 18 Months after that day.

 

Such a Re-Examination must exclude any involvement by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (DEHLG).

 

Signed:  C. J. Walsh, Chief Technical Officer, FireOx International.

 

 

 

A Similar Management Exercise is taking place in relation to the series of Fatal Fire Incidents at the Oldcourt Local Authority Housing Estate in Bray, County Wicklow.

 

 

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END

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Vienna & ‘The Third Man’ – Film Locations (I)

2009-02-02:  The 1949 film: The Third Man … directed by Carol Reed, with the haunting zither music of Anton Karas, and starring Joseph Cotton, Alida Valli, Orson Welles and Trevor Howard … also ‘stars’ the war-damaged city of Vienna, in Austria.

 

Although talked about right from the beginning, we never actually see the character of ‘Harry Lime’, played by Orson Welles, until late in the film.  It is a pivotal scene.  He is just a black shadow standing in a dark doorway … when suddenly, a light from an upstairs window across the street shines on his face … and we see that roguish smile !

 

Black and white image of the film character 'Harry Lime', played by Orson Welles, in a key scene late in the film when he is first seen. Click to enlarge.

Black and white image of ‘Harry Lime’, played by Orson Welles, in a pivotal scene late in the film: ‘The Third Man’. Click to enlarge.

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Holly Martins Discovers Harry Lime & Chases His Shadow

 Click the Link Above to Download and/or Play this Film Soundtrack Clip (mp3 File, 3.23 Mb)

 

 

Finding and following the film locations for The Third Man offers a very interesting way to discover today’s Vienna.  The ‘doorway’ is located off Schreyvogelgasse, on Mölker Bastei.  Here are three recent photographs, taken in March 2008 …

 

Colour Photograph of Harry Lime 'Doorway' in Vienna. Click to enlarge. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2008-03-15.

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Colour Photograph of Harry Lime 'First Appearance' Location in Vienna. Click to enlarge. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2008-03-15.

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Colour Photograph of Schreyvogelgasse in Vienna. Click to enlarge. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2008-03-15.

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END

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Monday, February 2nd, 2009 architecture, art, cinema, photography, travel No Comments

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