Forecasting Whole Life Cost – an independent study currently underway

No half measures: exploring the future of whole life cost

Accurately measuring the whole life cost of a building at the start of a project has always been a challenge for the construction industry; a struggle compounded by the need to gather trustworthy data from right across the supply chain.

In a bid to help the industry overcomes these barriers, Etex Building Performance is jointly sponsoring a major research project with the University of Glasgow and Cartwright Pickard Associates, investigating how 7D Building Information Modelling (BIM) could be a significant breakthrough in lifetime costing.

The research posits that advanced BIM techniques could help project teams to make informed decisions about the best design approach, materials and construction techniques for their building. This will ensure that the right upfront capital investment has been made to meet occupier needs and optimise long-term operational expenditure.

Mariangela Zanni, KTP Research Associate at Cartwright Pickard Associates, explains the key objectives of the research:

“The concept of Building Information Modelling (BIM) is well established, but we haven’t yet unlocked the full value of this approach. Drawing on the concept of 7D BIM, the research aims to show that

whole life building performance, and therefore the cost of operating a building, can be estimated from the earliest design stages of a project.”

Cross-industry collaboration

Working with investors, developers, contractors and manufacturers from across the industry – including such names as BLP Insurance, Elliot Wood, Galliford Try, Hoare Lea, Morgan Sindall, Prosperity Capital Partners, and Stanhope Plc. – the research reflects the need for all disciplines and data sets to feed into 7D BIM.

Mariangela continues: “We need to put standardised processes in place for tracking and storing data, as well as ensuring that the platforms we use are centralised. At present, the different software tools that are used across the supply chain don’t communicate with each other sufficiently.”

But, just ensuring that the technical processes are in place to capture and store the relevant data is only half the issue. For true progress to be made, Mariangela argues a human shift is equally important:

“There has to be behavioural change in our industry for whole life cost analysis to become common practice. To instil the shared practices and information sharing required to model whole life performance, we need greater coordination and collaboration across the supply chain.”

Improving long-term performance

With the right measures in place, BIM could provide facilities managers and maintenance teams with the power to anticipate when building components will need upgrading or replacing. But more than this, it has the potential to reduce underperformance, especially in the rapidly evolving Build to Rent (BTR) market:

“Underperformance is largely driven by a lack of understanding at the design and construction stage. Clients often focus on minimising initial upfront costs, but this doesn’t always translate into optimum performance in the long-term. For the BTR market, where buildings are held over many years to draw stable returns, shifting this mindset is especially important. For apartment blocks, in particular, it’s hard to predict how occupants’ lifestyles will change over time and how this will impact on performance. Ultimately, we need better data sets to help us map these trends.”

As the research progresses, and as data pools grow, it is hoped that the advanced application of 6D and 7D BIM models will help to optimise project development and recognise true value in upfront costs – ultimately, improving performance and reducing long-term expenditure across the industry and in the BTR market.

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