Useful Tips for Completing BREEAM Assessments Part 1

By | June 6, 2023

The following tips provide an insight into some of the most common issues arising during BREEAM assessments, including BREEAM strategies, targeting of essential credits, minimum evidence requirements, risk management procedures, and much more. Each tip is based on the author’s views, knowledge, and experience of delivering BREEAM assessments, and how the pitfalls associated with credit validation can be avoided. It assumed the reader has a basic understanding of the BREEAM process and the sequence of certification. It is emphasised that no distinction has been made between any of the construction procurement routes, although this will have some bearing on the overarching BREEAM strategy.

Tip 1: Project Teams should liaise closely & communicate with BREEAM Assessors on a regular basis

BREEAM is an environmental standard that recognises buildings for the mitigation and/or removal of any adverse impacts that may occur on the local and wider environment. The assessment adopts a sliding scale approach [credit-based system] of which several credits have minimum requirements, with the remaining credits tradable. Upon validation of each targeted credit, these are converted into points, which in turn are converted into an overall BREEAM rating for the building at either Pass, Good, Very Good, Excellent, or Outstanding.

When completing BREEAM assessments, it is often assumed the BREEAM assessor will provide all the answers to all the questions that arise during the development, and this is understandable, given it is the assessor who is deemed to be the expert in the subject. However, project teams should be aware that a BREEAM assessor’s input will differ on many aspects depending their experience, background and scope of appointment.

Depending on the type of development being assessed and the criteria associated with each of the targeted credits, it is very likely a BREEAM assessment will have an impact on every aspect of the design, construction, and occupation of a building. This means that action needs to be taken at the early stages of a development in order to avoid losing any valuable and available credits. But, who is responsible for taking the lead on this issue?

It is essential that clear instructions are given to the project team as to who is responsible for supplying, gathering, and issuing the relevant evidence needed for compliance, and at what date this is to be submitted to the assessor for review and validation. Many BREEAM projects fall short of this advice, only to find out that completing an assessment based on the assumption that someone else will provide the evidence often ends up in difficulties for the team. To overcome this problem some organisations appoint internal BREEAM co-ordinators who liaise directly with the appointed BREEAM assessor. This is a good approach and is highly recommended, as it is an effective way of lessening the burden of complying with the BREEAM criteria, both at the design and post-construction stages.

Tip 2: Identify which version of BREEAM is being assessed

The BREEAM standard has changed on several occasions since its original launch in 1990, and at present there are numerous versions of the scheme in operation, covering BREEAM 2006, 2008, 2011 and 2014. As each different version of BREEAM was introduced, the way of complying with the credit[s] criteria has also changed, which is a factor that has challenged many project teams on many occasions, and one that continues to this day.

The following sections outline a number of credits that appear to be similar in context; however, they are assessed and validated in different ways under the different versions of BREEAM.

Example No. 1: Under BREEAM 2006, the method of demonstrating compliance with the credit criteria was for project teams to provide a design stage commitment [only] that a specific material specification[s] and/or a design option would be included within the development’s specifications. This was a relatively straightforward condition to achieve, and it did not pose significant challenges to the developments.

However, when BREEAM 2008 was launched, it brought in some significant changes, in particular, the need for BREEAM assessors to validate post construction evidence, as well as complete a post construction site visit and report. At the same time, a rating of Excellent was established.

Example No. 2: Under BREEAM 2008, the view out and glare control credits were assessed separately using separate criteria, however under BREEAM 2011 these credits were coupled together, which meant project teams had to demonstrate compliance with both issues in order to gain a single credit. This was considered difficult to achieve, and under BREEAM 2014 these credits were once again decoupled.

Example No. 3: Under BREEAM 2008, 2011, 2014, the recycled aggregates credits are assessed in differing ways. Under 2008, the basic requirement is for 25% of the total aggregateto come from recyclable sources, i.e. if a development uses 1000m3 of aggregate then 250m3 needs to come from recyclable sources to be deemed compliant. Under BREEAM 2011, the 25% total target remains, however there is also a requirement for individual building elements that use an aggregate to have their own percentage targets. For example, a concrete structural frame would require 25%, pipe bedding 50%, gravel landscaping 100%, etc. Under 2014, the percentage targets for each element have once again changed. The message here is, be aware which version of BREEAM is being assessed as the credit criteria can differ widely from what appear to be the same credits.

Tip 3: Be aware of the BREEAM Assessor’s scope of appointment

There are several ways of appointing a BREEAM assessor, and as with any other construction consultant, the scope of their services can vary. This is an important issue to consider as it influences who is responsible for determining the BREEAM strategy, who is responsible for identifying the credits at risk, and who is responsible for coordinating and submitting the documentary evidence needed at both design and post-construction stages.

BREEAM assessors [usually] offer consultancy services that can range from an assess-and-validate-only basis to a fully engaged “BREEAM consultancy service”, with each type of service bringing its own advantages and disadvantages. Project teams need to be aware what the BREEAM assessor has been appointed to do, and even more so what the assessor has notbeen appointed to do. Many project teams can overlook this issue and quickly run into complications, in particular, at the post-construction stage, when the assessor will request, gather, and validate the evidence necessary to support final certification.

In some situations, projects can progress towards the later stages of construction with no individual picking up the need for checks and balances. It is assumed the assessor will be able to endorse the targeted credits regardless of any lack in quality and/or substance of evidence. This scenario can quickly lead to problems, and in certain circumstances almost impossible to rectify. For example, where an Excellent rating has been specified the ecology credits are crucial, this means a BREEAM compliant ecologist MUST BE appointed at the right time to complete a site visit prior to the main contractor starting on site. All too often this prerequisite is missed and the targeted credits are compromised.

Another example, is the targeting of energy credits. In this situation credits deemed available are based on assumption that the SBEM will return favourable results. When the SBEM is completed it has either been reduced in specification and/or the targeted credits have been over-estimated. This is exacerbated as energy credits have higher weighting than many other credits within the assessment. For example, under 2011 a Management credit is worth half a point, whereas an ecology credit is worth a full point i.e. one ecology credit is worth approximately two management credits. The above issues can be avoided by establishing at the very outset of a project the scope of the BREEAM assessor’s appointment.

Tip 4: Avoid assuming pre-assessments issued at tender stage are accurate

Pre-assessments issued at the tender stage are generally completed by assessors based on experience gained on previous projects, and basic assumptions as to what credits may/or may not be available. In many cases, the pre-assessments are issued within tender documents in order to provide the tenderees with an indication [only] as to what the client is anticipating from the BREEAM strategy. Overall, the majority of assumptions are correct and the credits are validated; however, there are a few credits that are difficult to validate, and in some instances, unachievable. This is an issue that can cause difficulties for the project team as the development progresses.

A BREEAM pre-assessment is a live and working document that will fluctuate over the course of a development. The document is often used to highlight what credits are considered to be achievable at a given time, what credits have been targeted and the predicted score. Pre-assessments issued at the tender stage are the earliest attempt at establishing a BREEAM compliant strategy, and therefore the credits should remain at risk until fully validated.

It is very unlikely a tender pre-assessment will contain all the information needed to validate the targeted credits due to the amount of work involved for the assessor, and the level of unknowns during the tender stage. For example, to validate the transport credits the assessor would have to establish the rail and bus links to and from the site, confirm compliance with the travel plan, assess the number of car parking spaces against the number of building users/visitors and confirm local amenities within a set distance to/from the site. To validate the energy credits the assessor would need to be in possession of the M&E design, have confirmation of the SBEM/DSM results, calculate lighting data, and so on. Where a project is using a design and build procurement route, this information is often unavailable; therefore, the credits cannot be fully validated [at best]; an educated guess is all that is available to the assessor at this stage.

A further issue to be aware of is the risks associated with credits that have been tagged as “further potential”, i.e. used to increase the BREEAM score and/or offset credits dropped during the development. These credits are usually on the proviso that the project team completes a certain action and/or includes a certain specification at a predefined time. This approach can cause problems, as when the time comes to validate these credits it is found they are not available as the team did not complete the action and/or include the specification at the appropriate time.

Tip 5: Appoint the right consultants at the right time

BREEAM assessments cover all aspects of design, construction, and occupation of a building, and will [on most occasions] require the services of additional consultant[s]; depending on the scope of the assessment, the BREEAM rating is specified, i.e. Good, Very Good, Excellent and the number of available credits at a particular site. One of the main issues to consider is that some consultant credits are time-barred, which means that if they are not validated at the correct time they become unavailable. This oversight can generate expensive uplifts in specifications and materials to make up for the shortfalls, and in some circumstances can lead to an outright failure to reach the target rating [in particular on Excellent buildings].

An example of consultant time-barred credits, and the various stages at which they should be appointed, are outlined as follows:

BREEAM 2014: Accredited Professional, RIBA Stage 1; Life Cycle Analysis, RIBA Stage 2; Security Specialists, RIBA Stage 2; Low Carbon Feasibility Studies, RIBA Stage 2; Passive Design Analysis, RIBA Stage 2; Climate Change Adaption Analysis, RIBA Stage 2; Functional Adaptability, RIBA Stage 2; Le4 Qualified Ecologist, RIBA Stage 1.

The above list relates only to BREEAM 2014; therefore, where different versions of BREEAM are being assessed, timings should be checked for certainty. In addition, there are several other consultant-related credits that are not time-barred, which may be required depending on the BREEAM strategy, i.e. Acousticians, Thermal Modellers, Air Quality Testing, Lift Analysis, etc. The message here is, if additional consultants are going to be included and/or they are targeted as part of the BREEAM strategy and if they are time-barred, they need to be appointed at the correct RIBA Stage; otherwise, they cannot be validated as compliant during the post-construction stage.