The shape of things to come

With energy-efficiency a key priority for growing numbers of developers, Stuart Cadge looks at how technology can support professionals in sustainability and regeneration in their quest to drive efficiency and cut costs on-site

It is a sign of just how far new build homes have come in recent years that owners can now save, on average, £629 per year in energy bills, according to the HBF. A staggering 80 per cent of properties built today have an A or B rating for energy efficiency, whereas only two per cent of older homes have a comparable rating1.

Passivhaus is widely considered the aspirational gold standard in energy efficiency and there are currently 65,000 buildings with the certification worldwide2. Across the UK, local authorities and housing associations are starting to see the benefits of this construction method – a notable example being Norwich City Council, which is on course to deliver 112 certified homes at its Rayne Park development. According to the council’s chief executive, the scheme is designed to help alleviate fuel poverty for tenants while generating revenue, replacing housing stock lost through right-to-buy, and ensuring compliance with the authority’s environmental strategy3.

As was highlighted at this year’s Passivhaus Conference in Munich, the increasing availability of certified components means that this type of property is becoming increasingly sought after by both local authorities and buyers on the private market.

Managing complex specifications
While we’re certainly a long way from Passivhaus becoming the norm, especially since it remains a voluntary standard to aspire to, its influence can be seen on the number of low-energy homes now being built around the country. The standard for new builds has never been higher, however, and some eco developers are going one step further with community energy batteries, heat recovery, solar panels and airtight construction.

All projects, of course, demand a high degree of precision in order to meet the architect’s specifications – but an eco-build scheme, with an often-complex specification and intricate web of stakeholders all vying for regular build updates, has other criteria to meet too. If the floor-to-ceiling height, for example, is greater than the measurements set out in the architect’s plan, then the volume of the rooms will also increase. This may have implications including the need for additional (potentially expensive) insulation to ensure it is airtight4. Even for developers not aiming for Passivhaus certification, such a discrepancy could result in costly remedial work, deadlines being missed and/or issues with stakeholders and customers. This is where 3D mobile mapping technology can help.

Co-operation with multiple stakeholders
Building Information Modelling (BIM) has helped a number of developers to improve productivity, drive down costs and improve communication between all parties. Whereas once surveyors would spend several days recording building measurements using total stations or tape measures, advances in technology mean that all information relating to an asset can now be contained and updated in a single digital environment, which every stakeholder – from the architect and engineers to the project manager and client – has access to.

As such, recent developments in high definition 3D laser scanners and associated processing software have been integral to the rise of BIM, enabling more organisations and professionals in the regeneration and developer market to adopt the technology.

This is particularly important when you consider that a development can involve more than 1000 sub-contractors and suppliers, alongside key stakeholders such as local authorities. Rather than relaying information to each party manually, and risk some not receiving it, a site can be re-scanned at any point with a handheld 3D mobile mapping device, updating the dynamic digital twin in real time and helping teams to identify potential problems.

For eco-homes or sustainable developments sold off-plan, you also have the added pressure of keeping buyers in the loop with the build progress. BIM can therefore be a valuable customer service tool for buyers who have made reservations prior to build completion, providing regular updates on their new home and helping them to feel involved in the journey.

How SLAM technology can help
Construction projects today require regular surveys to generate new models as the development takes shape. The issue with static scanners is that they take time to set up and usually require an experienced operative. Handheld scanners make the process quicker, but since many rely on GPS, they are not effective once the building has been constructed and measurements are needed in enclosed spaces.

One alternative that can support a quicker adoption of BIM is a mobile mapping tool that uses Simultaneous Localisation And Mapping (SLAM). As a technology first developed in the robotics industry, tools using SLAM are capable of scanning indoor or other difficult-to-reach places. Using information from sensors, normally LiDAR and imagery, digital 3D maps can be created based on the location of the device, without using GPS.

SLAM-enabled lightweight scanners, such as GeoSLAM’s ZEB-REVO or ZEB-HORIZON, can allow surveying teams to map and monitor sites on foot or with UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles). As a scheme takes shape, any member of the site team is able to pick up a handheld 3D mobile mapping device and with a ‘walk and scan’ method of data collection, capture and process data in hours and minutes, rather than days and weeks.

SLAM technology can also be deployed when buildings are occupied, enabling social landlords to monitor eco-houses over time without creating unnecessary intrusions. Using such technology, it is possible to identify any properties that require repairs, without disturbing the tenants.

Multi-phase projects
One such example of this technology in action is a recent project with sustainable home developer, Blueprint. Delivering an ambitious 450 home scheme at Trent Basin, on the banks of the River Trent in Nottingham, GeoSLAM was introduced to the project to scan one of the completed Phase 2 properties.

Ashley Walters, Blueprint’s development manager, used a ZEB-REVO to scan one of the buildings, and discussed how SLAM technology could assist eco-home projects. He explained: “Working on high profile long-term developments with dozens of stakeholders is an incredibly complex process. These projects can take many years to complete, especially if the environmentally-friendly specification is high, or there are multiple phases such as with our Trent Basin scheme. Relaying data and measurements to every single organisation involved has historically taken a long time.

“We’ve never used a SLAM-enabled tool before, but I was surprised how quickly the ZEB-REVO scanned the entire property – just eight minutes! This would usually take at least a couple of hours with traditional surveying tools for just the one property, which is arduous given how many properties we will be building across the entire development.

“For developers, the data-sharing element of 3D mobile mapping tools using BIM is really valuable. Whether it’s checking measurements with architects to make sure their original plans are being followed through, providing detail to our estate agents to support their bid to sell properties, or indeed the new owners who want updates on the build process – I fully acknowledge how 3D mobile mapping devices such as the GeoSLAM ZEB family will only become more important in the sustainable developer market.”

Although the gold standard Passivhaus rating remains an aspiration for many developers, the need for energy efficient homes is only going to continue. The use of innovative technology, such as 3D mobile mapping devices with SLAM, means that the construction sector can overcome time and cost concerns to meet the complex specifications of a number of stakeholders, especially on multi-phase sites.

As commercial developers and local authorities strive for efficiency on projects, without compromising accuracy, mobile mapping tools, and SLAM in particular, are likely to become more prevalent on eco-home developments. Whatever the size of the project, the speed and simplicity of these devices will prove key to hitting deadlines and staying on budget.

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Stuart Cadge works at GeoSLAM, the global market leader in ‘go-anywhere’ 3D mobile mapping and monitoring technology. Pioneering highly versatile and adaptable technology, the GeoSLAM family of geospatial hardware and software solutions provide rapid and easy mapping, and highly-accurate monitoring solutions.

Designed for surveyors, engineers and geospatial professionals, and serving the surveying, engineering, mining, forestry, facilities and asset management sectors, GeoSLAM technology is used globally by anyone needing to create a digital twin of their world, quickly and accurately

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