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Building Services Guide

The world of new build homes in the UK can be both exciting and overwhelming. An essential part of this journey is understanding the building services that will define the comfort, indoor air quality, and energy performance of your new home.

This comprehensive guide serves as an invaluable resource for both first-time buyers and experienced homeowners alike, offering detailed insights into the complexities of modern building services.

From heating and ventilation to electrical installations and water services, we look at the critical systems that make your house a comfortable and functional home. Our focus is not just on the technical aspects but also on practical solutions and tips to ensure your new home is a paragon of efficiency, sustainability, and comfort.


What are Building Services?

Building services are the systems installed in homes to make them comfortable, functional, and efficient. These include heating, ventilation, electrical installations, and water services. The quality of these services significantly affects your home’s livability and energy efficiency.


Common Issues Leading to Poor Performance

  • Effective Commissioning of Services: Ensure that all building services, like heating and ventilation, are commissioned correctly according to set standards. This step is crucial for their optimal performance.
  • Monitoring Service Performance: After moving in, keep an eye on the operation of services and check your heating bills within the first 6-12 months. This helps in verifying that everything is working as intended.
  • Quality of Products Used: Be cautious of any substitution of specified products for inferior ones. It’s advisable to use guaranteed systems known for their quality and reliability.
  • Understanding Heat Pumps: If your home has a heat pump, it should be installed and commissioned by an MCS certified contractor. It’s also important to understand how it operates, particularly at low temperatures, to maximise its efficiency.
  • Ventilation Efficiency: The installation of ventilation fans should follow the Domestic Ventilation Compliance Guide. Proper installation ensures adequate air flow and energy efficiency.
  • Designing Services for Usability: Services should not only meet SAP requirements but also be designed based on practical usage to suit your daily needs.
  • Insulation of Pipework: To prevent heat loss, ensure that all primary pipework and fittings in your home are properly insulated, in line with the Domestic Building Services Compliance Guide.
  • Securing Incoming Service Ducts: Properly seal all incoming service ducts to avoid air and gas ingress, which can impact the home’s safety and air quality.
  • Solar Thermal Systems Installation: If your home includes solar thermal systems, verify that they are installed by experienced, MCS certified contractors to ensure optimal functioning.
  • Choosing the Right Lighting and Controls: Opt for energy-efficient lighting, like low-energy LEDs, instead of traditional halogen downlights. Also, ensure that the control systems for various services are user-friendly and accessible, enhancing your home’s ease of use and efficiency.


Guides to Key Building Services

As part of our commitment to assisting homeowners with their new build properties, we’ve developed a series of in-depth guides, each focusing on a crucial aspect of building services.

These guides offer detailed insights and practical advice to help you understand, manage, and maintain the various systems in your new home for optimal performance and comfort. Explore these guides to gain a better understanding of the integral components that make your house a safe, comfortable, and sustainable living space.

Space Heating: Delve into the world of space heating solutions, from radiators and underfloor heating to heat pumps and boilers. Learn how to ensure efficient and comfortable heating throughout your home.

Hot and Cold Water: Understand the complexities of managing your home’s hot and cold water systems, including pipework insulation, rainwater harvesting, and waste water heat recovery.

Ventilation: Explore the essential aspects of home ventilation, focusing on grilles, door undercuts, flexi ducts, and more, to ensure high-quality indoor air and energy efficiency.

Photovoltaic Panels: Discover the benefits and best practices for integrating photovoltaic panels into your new home, a key step towards renewable energy usage and sustainability.

Lighting: Dive into the importance of efficient lighting in new builds, covering topics like fixed lighting, downlights, energy-efficient bulbs, and smart control systems.

Overheating: Learn strategies to prevent and manage overheating in your new home, ensuring comfortable living conditions even during warmer climate conditions.

Building Service Controls and Meters: Gain insights into the critical role of building service controls and meters, which are fundamental for monitoring and managing the various systems in your home efficiently.


Stage Checklists

Design / Procurement Stage Checks

The design and procurement stage of a new build home is critical in ensuring that the final construction meets quality standards and performance targets. Here’s a guide on what to check during this stage:

  • Fully Coordinated Drawings: Ensure that all drawings, including those from specialist subcontractors for services, are fully coordinated. This helps in avoiding conflicts and misunderstandings during construction.
  • Key Specification Notes on Drawings: Including key specification notes directly on the drawings can provide clear guidance for installers and help ensure that the construction matches the design intent.
  • Ensuring SAP Calculation Accuracy: The SAP (Standard Assessment Procedure) calculation should match the design drawings, specifications, and site installation. Any discrepancies can lead to issues with building performance and energy efficiency.
  • Matching Airtightness with Ventilation Strategy: The design should follow the principle of “build tight, ventilate right”. Airtightness is crucial for energy efficiency, but it must be balanced with an appropriate ventilation strategy to maintain indoor air quality.
  • Simplicity in M&E Design: Simple mechanical and electrical (M&E) design can facilitate easier installation, use, and maintenance. Complicated systems can lead to challenges during installation and future maintenance.
  • Being Wary of New Technologies: If new technologies are being incorporated, ensure that installers are experienced with those specific systems. Inexperienced installation of new technologies can result in poor performance.
  • Performance-Based Specifications: Use performance-based specifications with numerical targets and involve manufacturers and contractors in the design process. This can help in achieving the desired performance outcomes.
  • “As Built” Performance Monitoring: Specify monitoring of the building’s performance post-construction using measurable targets. This ensures that the building performs as intended.
  • Commissioning and Handover: Ensure that commissioning checks and a thorough handover are part of the M&E services. This helps in verifying system performance and educating occupants about their operation.
  • Accessibility for Service Maintenance: Design should ensure sufficient space for access and maintenance of services. This is vital for the longevity and functionality of the home’s systems.
  • Qualified Suppliers and Installers: Specify suppliers and installers that are adequately experienced and qualified. For example, MCS certification for renewable technology, BPEC for ventilation, renewables, plumbing, electrics, and GAS SAFE for gas appliances/boilers.
  • Product Substitution: If there is any product substitution, ensure that the performance targets are still met. Check with the design team and SAP Assessor before agreeing to any substitutions.
  • Refer to Industry Guidance: Use additional guidance and checklists from industry bodies like BSRIA, CIBSE, and the RIBA plan of work to ensure all aspects of the design and procurement are covered.

These checks are crucial for ensuring that the design and procurement stage lays a solid foundation for a high-quality, sustainable, and efficient new build home.


Construction Stage Checks

The construction stage of a new build home is critical for ensuring that the build quality meets the planned design and specifications. Here’s a guide on what to check during this stage:

  • Sealing Penetrations: Seal all penetrations in the external wall (for lights, BT doorbell, garage power, boiler flue, and other services) to maintain airtightness and insulation integrity.
  • Installation of Condensate Drain: Install condensate drains for boilers and ventilation units, ensuring they are sealed airtight.
  • First Fix Heating Controls: Install heating controls, including programmers, room thermostats, and weather compensators, as per the initial design.
  • Insulation of Hot Water Pipework: All hot water pipework that will become concealed should be properly insulated to prevent heat loss.
  • Installation of Radiator Pipe Outlets: Install radiator pipe outlets with air seals to maintain airtightness.
  • Waste Water Heat Recovery (WWHR) Installation: Install WWHR systems according to the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure optimal performance.
  • Solar Thermal Installation: Install solar thermal systems as per manufacturer’s instructions, using pre-insulated pipework.
  • Downlights Installation: Check that downlights have been installed correctly to maintain insulation thickness and airtightness.
  • Sealing Gaps Behind Units: Fully seal all gaps behind kitchen units, in wet rooms, wardrobes, and around boiler flues to prevent air leakage.
  • Insulation and Ductwork Checks: Ensure that all pipework and ductwork have been properly insulated and that ductwork is installed with minimal bends and flexi duct.
  • Boiler, Cylinder, and Controls Verification: Verify that the boiler, cylinder, and controls are installed as per the design, location specifications, and SAP. Consult with the design team if there are discrepancies.
  • Photographic Records: Take photos as a record of completed work at different stages. This can be valuable for future reference or if any issues arise.
  • Commissioning and Handover: Ensure that an air test has been completed in line with regulations and that the Domestic Ventilation Compliance Guide installation checklist has been completed. The ventilation specialist should complete the commissioning of ventilation units and flow rate measurement. Also, check all electrical certificates and ask the electrician to explain if necessary.

These checks are essential to ensure that the construction stage of a new build home adheres to the designed quality standards and performance targets.


Commissioning / Handover

The commissioning and handover phase is a crucial part of the construction process, ensuring that all systems in the new build home function correctly and that the occupants are well-informed about their operation. Here’s a guide on what to check during this stage:

  • Installation of Renewable Technology: Confirm that all renewable technologies have been installed as per the design, model, and location. This includes checking that the installation has been carried out by an MCS-certified contractor.
  • Accessibility for Maintenance: Ensure that all renewable technology installations are safe and easily accessible for future maintenance.
  • Completion of Home User Guide: Provide a comprehensive Home User Guide that is accessible to all in different formats, including online and hard copy. This guide should include diagrams and images for clarity.
  • Labelling of Services: Label all services clearly for future maintenance. This helps occupants and technicians easily identify and access various components for servicing or repairs.
  • Home Welcome Visit: Give the occupant a home welcome visit and return 6 weeks afterwards to check on the operation of systems. This helps in addressing any initial queries or issues the occupants may have.
  • Encouraging Occupant Interaction: Encourage occupants to try out operating systems and controls. Familiarity with the systems ensures they are used efficiently and effectively.
  • Follow-Up Checks: Come back 6-12 months later to check that services are operating as expected and that energy bills align with projections. This follow-up can identify any issues that might not have been apparent initially.
  • Post Occupancy Evaluation: Carry out a post-occupancy evaluation using customer surveys and environmental monitoring in the first 1-3 years. This helps in understanding how the home performs in real-world conditions and provides valuable feedback for future projects.
  • Reference Materials: Providing reference materials from authoritative sources like ADE, CIBSE, BSRIA, and BRE can be valuable for more detailed information on specific systems and standards.

By conducting thorough commissioning and handover processes, homeowners and builders can ensure that new build homes are not only efficient and comfortable but also that occupants are well-equipped to manage their new living environment effectively.


Solutions and Tips for Success

  1. Hire Skilled Professionals: Ensure that your building team is knowledgeable and experienced, especially in newer technologies.
  2. Check Compliance with Standards: Your home’s building services should comply with UK Building Regulations and NHBC/LABC standards. Don’t hesitate to ask for this information.
  3. Regular Inspections: Conduct thorough inspections during and after construction to catch any issues early.
  4. Ask for Documentation: Request clear documentation of all installations. This will be invaluable for maintenance and any future modifications.


Zero Carbon Hub Services Guide

This invaluable guide is primarily tailored for SME builders and their advisors, offering insight into the critical aspects of design and installation that directly impact comfort, indoor air quality, and energy efficiency in new homes. However, its contents are also highly relevant to a wider audience of building professionals.

The guide was officially launched at Ecobuild on Tuesday, 8th March 2016, by Rob Pannell, Managing Director of the Zero Carbon Hub. It addresses the performance gap and ventilation issues identified in the industry. A special acknowledgment is due to PTE and Tom Dollard, Head of Sustainability at PTE, who authored this guide. Tom Dollard highlighted that the guide not only identifies key issues in the performance of services but also provides practical solutions for project teams, aiming to bridge the performance gap and enhance the design and delivery of domestic building services.

The development of this guide comes from a partnership between Pollard Thomas Edwards and the Zero Carbon Hub. It encapsulates findings from significant research projects, including the Ventilation Project (2013-2016) and the Performance Gap Study (2011-2014). These studies, involving analysis on 27 live construction sites and 300 dwellings, have unearthed substantial shortcomings in the industry’s ability to meet minimum standards for energy (Part L) and ventilation (Part F).

The Services Guide is part of Zero Carbon Hub’s suite of low energy guides, which also includes SAP Untangled, the Thermal Bridging Guide, and the Builders’ Book. These guides are set to be showcased in the Green Register’s training sessions.

We strongly encourage all professionals involved in the building and design of new homes to utilise this guide. Enhance your understanding, improve your practices, and contribute to the delivery of higher-quality homes. The Services Guide is available for free download…

Zero Carbon Hub Services Guide