New BREEAM benchmark closes the gap between design intent and actual performance

Helen Newman, Technical Partner, Sustainability & Wellbeing, Tuffin Ferraby Taylor.

The latest version of the Building Research Establishment’s benchmark for sustainable developments, BREEAM, went live on 7 March. Helen Newman, Technical Partner, Sustainability & Wellbeing at Tuffin Ferraby Taylor, identifies three highlights:

Closing the Gap

Incentivising project teams to close the gap between the design intent and actual in-use performance of buildings is arguably the most significant change. The update now awards several credits to those who carry out detailed and accurate operational energy modelling to drive the developed design to ensure a completed building performs closely to the design intent. Further emphasis to align design and operational performance is achieved with the addition of a ‘verification stage’ for fully fitted out projects, which consists of post-completion commitments including seasonal commissioning, monitoring of energy consumption and undertaking remedial action where discrepancies are identified. The certification process still concludes at practical completion meaning the rating will not be adversely affected by commitments or actions undertaken after handover.

Moreover, the update builds on the requirement for Post Occupancy Evaluation (POE) under BREEAM 2014 by requesting a financial commitment for POE in advance of building handover, therefore ensuring this will take place. We see increasing interest and application of POE from clients who have a commitment to occupant satisfaction thus, budgeting for is a sensible approach. POE results may also offer a wealth of positive resources for PR and marketing by clients seeking to differentiate their developments. These timely amends reflect best practice in the handover of newly constructed buildings, although we feel these credits could have equally applied to Shell & Core projects. Our experience is that an increasing emphasis on the early coordination of aftercare not only goes some way to reduce the potential for a performance gap but importantly, enhances the occupant experience, both of which are the subject of the BPF’s Aftercare Guide.

Life Cycle Assessment

Under the Materials category a more holistic approach to assessing the environmental performance of building materials is adopted under BREEAM 2018 when compared to previous versions, with greater weight applied to undertaking life cycle assessments (LCA). When using a robust and approved methodology, carrying out LCA can help to reduce a building’s embodied carbon, promote resource-efficient construction, and minimise waste. Again, there is an emphasis on verification whereby LCA modelling is audited by a third party.

It’s worth noting that applying LCA routinely to development projects benefits real estate organisations who annually report their greenhouse gas emissions in support of science-based targets, as LCAs assists with quantifying scope 3 emissions associated with development works.


Finally, with increasing media attention on wellbeing, it isn’t surprising that Health & Wellbeing has also been updated, albeit modest changes. The prerequisite for indoor air quality plans when pursuing credits in relation to the concentration and recirculation of pollutants remains, but there is a slight amend to pollutant concentration levels. The update introduces a credit to reward developments with an outdoor amenity space for building users, which will work well where green space is also incorporated, complementing the Land Use & Ecology category. These changes align with elements of the WELL Building Standard, of which Version 2 is anticipated later this Spring. Given the increasing prominence of health and wellbeing in design briefs it had been expected that greater emphasis would be placed on ventilation, daylighting, thermal comfort and other emerging considerations such as continuous monitoring of indoor environmental quality. One interpretation is that the BRE see the WELL Building Standard and other certification schemes such as Fitwel as driving and rewarding initiatives and therefore it is right that BREEAM should focus more on environmental performance.