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WERS: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?

In February this year, I authored the article: NatHERS: Are we on the Road to Ruin? The premise was to cast question (and perhaps doubt) onto the NatHERS compliance process for assessing multi-residential (Class 2 buildings).


Under the backdrop of disjointed management, improvements to the calculation engine, poor market communication and value to the end user, one of the more interesting comments posted were questioning my assertions and understanding regarding the simplification of glazing via the WERS database.


For those unfamiliar, the WERS database is a system to enable windows to be rated and labeled for their annual energy impact on Australian dwellings (primarily Class 1 buildings) so consumers can understand the significant impact of glass and frames on the performance of their homes. By gathering data from glass and fabricators, WERS uses typical module sizes to allow consumers to assess performance on a like by like basis, simplifying glass performance for the wider non-technical market.


OK, all good, it’s like an energy rating of a home appliance but for window systems that makes life easier for Class 1 consumers. Well, while it may be fit for purpose for the Class 1 construction market where home owners are looking for typical, off-the-shelf products, it is very rarely the case when we procure bespoke glazing systems for the Class 2 mid to high rise construction market.


Titled: Response to NatHERS: Are we on the Road to Ruin?, this somewhat formal rebuttal aimed to ‘highlight the extent of the misunderstanding of the compliance paths available within the regulated tools’.


Inadvertently, it has gone on to illustrate a real lack of understanding in regards to planning, design and procurement of façade systems on multi-residential (Class 2 buildings) construction projects by the WERS administrators.


Stating two different compliance mechanisms for glazing products (dropdown menus within NatHERS Accredited software), the articles articulates that: 


- a ‘default window database’ is intended for use where the final window product is not known and uses performance values as a stand in for real products until the final decisions on product procurement are made and;


- a ‘full Australian Fenestration Rating Council (AFRC) database’ are real product performances which have been calculated in accordance with the AFRC protocols and procedures.


The challenge is that in planning, products from a ‘default window database’ are quickly assumed by an ESD Consultant to gain a preliminary compliance solution, often regardless of performance knowledge, façade cost or practical feasibility. To be clear, these assumptions are not stand in products, these are nearly always the products that get a design over the line in the DA process. Not disappearing, these products remain in focus until the tender stage, where the actual performance values, based on clear budgets and market constraints are only first obtained via the façade fabricators or façade consultants.


As we head into the design process, where system dimensions often change or become further refined, the actual system performance is often reduced. Put simply, the WERS default window database use custom frame sizes that are often advantageous from a performance point of view for DA but unlikely from an architectural point of view once we get to Tender and thus pricing.


If we work through a quick example, WERS assumes a curtain wall system default module size of 2000mm x 2000mm. For benchmarking, why not, but where a commonly designed system from a price and architectural standpoint is 2600 mm x 1200 mm, this reality changes the performance playing field. Due to the increase in frame to glass ratio in the actual system, our thermal performance is decreasing and putting pressure on the design team to ‘make it work’ by re-running the numbers and holding up construction!


 From a procurement point of view, as indicated above, today’s mid to high-rise Class 2 construction market is dominated by bespoke fabrication and not those listed in the Certified Products area of the WERS website. Often designed and procured from International markets, Class 2 construction fabrication needs the economies of scale and price points not commonly available due to local labour and operational costs.


 All of this is not new, often passed onto the Main Contractor in a D&C procurement process. As we witness the continual rise of Class 2, glass dominated construction and the need for hard and fast economies of scale that can nearly only be found through access International procurement chains, the WERS database we will continue to be disconnected from the planning, design and procurement of façade systems.


 As Albert Einstein once said, “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is equal to Insanity”. If the WERS database is to be used for Class 2, make it more relevant of actual procurement processes and performance opportunities for a higher performing built environment. Surely the inclusion of actual values within the NatHERS compliance process, based on experience and market awareness, is a better resolution than depending on inflexible and overstated WERS products?

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