Over the last century, the global population had quadrupled, while annual consumption of building materials has increased 42-fold. Today, building and demolition are one of the largest sources of waste in the EU, where they account for around 25 to 30% of all waste.
With this in mind, a circular economy that promotes the maintenance and reuse of materials appears essential.
Currently, technical facilities make up around 30% of the initial cost of a new office building and 27% of the environmental impact of a commercial property. They are also considered a priority when developing a circular economy within the construction industry. However, there is currently very little information available on circular approaches to technical facilities, and there are few practical examples.
This article presents three strategies for ensuring that technical facilities are not left behind in the transition to a circular economy: maintenance and commissioning, reuse, and reversible construction.
Maintenance and commissioning
Maintenance refers to “all technical, administrative and managerial actions undertaken during the lifecycle of a property in order to maintain it or restore it to a state in which it can fulfil the required function”.
Commissioning is the “process by which a piece of equipment, a service or a facility is tested to ensure it functions in a way that fulfils the intended purpose or specifications”.
While maintenance seeks to combat physical or material deterioration, commissioning enables us to combat the functional obsolescence of technical facilities.
From a circular perspective, these strategies are a clear priority as they extend the lifespan of technical facilities.
Reuse (or urban mining)
Reuse of building materials encompasses all practices that involve “reusing [building materials or components salvaged during demolition] for the purpose for which they were originally designed”. Like maintenance, this strategy extends the lifespan of technical facilities.
Currently, this process is not always straightforward, as it requires a high level of communication, coordination, and research. Carrying out redeployment work of this type also demands great agility from all stakeholders.
Effective maintenance, reversible design of technical facilities, and thorough documentation should help remove these obstacles in the future.
Reversible design is defined as “the design of buildings that can easily be deconstructed, or whose components can easily be added or removed without damaging the building or the products, components or materials”. A distinction is made between short term reversibility, to react to a change in the usage of a space (from an office to a boardroom, for example), and long term reversibility, for more fundamental changes to the use of a space, (for example converting an office into a school).
While certain practices, such as the installation of modular, movable partitions, are already commonplace, the reversible design of technical facilities is still in its infancy.
It poses an interesting challenge for design teams today, developing the buildings and facilities of tomorrow.
Authors: Anne-Laure Maerckx and Sébastien Loreau, Cenergie
Main picture: Salvaging a ventilation unit for reuse © CSTC
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