Author: Amanda Gallagher, Easlár, energy and sustainability consultant BREEAM is fast becoming the most popular method in Ireland for assessing environmental impacts of buildings and allowing clients to demonstrate value for money while benchmarking their buildings against others in Europe and worldwide

What is BREEAM?

BREEAM (BRE Environmental Assessment Method) is the world's foremost environmental assessment method and rating system for buildings, with 425,000 buildings certified and two million registered for assessment since it was first launched in 1990.  BREEAM sets the standard for best practice in sustainable building design, construction and operation and has become one of the most comprehensive and widely recognised measures of a building's environmental performance. It encourages designers, clients and others to think about low carbon and low impact design, to minimise the energy demands created by a building before considering energy efficiency of building services and low carbon technologies.

What categories and criteria are assessed within BREEAM?

[caption id="attachment_20967" align="alignright" width="300"]breemtable Table 1: Click to enlarge[/caption] A BREEAM assessment uses recognised measures of performance, which are set against established benchmarks, to evaluate a building’s specification, design, construction and use. The measures used represent a broad range of categories and criteria from energy to ecology. There are nine main categories assessed within BREEAM. They are as follows: Management, Health & Wellbeing, Energy, Water, Waste, Materials, Transport, Land Use & Ecology and Pollution. There is an additional category for Innovation which can be used by projects to achieve credits for exemplary performance in any of the nine key areas or if the project has achieved something new in relation to sustainability. Each category has a list of individual credits. See Table 1 detailing the individual credit issues covered.

BREEAM Scoring

Each category in BREEAM is weighted to indicate the relative importance of the categories in the country where the assessment is taking place. For example, in Ireland, energy is the most heavily weighted category due to our high dependence on fossil fuels, but in countries where water is in short supply, like Saudi Arabia, the weighting for the water category is as high as 21.5 per cent making it the most heavily weighted category. In Ireland, the weightings for BREEAM assessments are listed below. Once all of the individual credit scores and weightings have been applied a final percentage score for the building is calculated. BREEEM-2BREEM-1

How does the certification scheme work?

BREEAM is an independently verified, third-party certification scheme. The scheme is certified by BRE Global or a local scheme provider (usually a Green Building Council) depending on the country where the assessment is taking place. The BREEAM assessor awards credits and then the BREEAM assessment goes through a quality assurance procedure where every credit awarded must be accompanied by robust documentary evidence. Most assessments involve a design stage assessment followed up with a mandatory post-construction assessment, which ensures that commitments made at design stage are carried through and achieved at construction stage.

Is BREEAM just for new buildings?

BREEAM can be applied to new buildings but can also be applied to buildings in use through the BREEAM in Use standard. In addition, BREEAM International is just about to launch a refurbishment standard which can be applied to a range of refurbishment projects, from fittings and fixtures to significant refurbishment of building fabric and services. BREEAM Communities has also been created for use on master plans and larger mixed-use developments.

How do I apply BREEAM successfully to my project?

The first step in the process is to appoint a BREEAM AP or BREEAM assessor to the project team as early in the process as possible to avoid incurring additional costs later on. For new builds, they will work with the design team to ensure BREEAM is incorporated into the design of the building. They will then monitor the project’s progress in relation to meeting BREEAM targets and will provide support to the client, design team and contractor throughout the process. The BREEAM assessor will then submit evidence to the certifying body and the certificates are issued. It is essential that your BREEAM assessor is experienced and is on hand to provide help and advice throughout. It also helps if the design team are familiar with the credits and that the client keeps the pressure on the team to ensure the desired BREEAM rating is achieved.

What is the difference between BREEAM, Building Energy Ratings (BER) and Passivhaus?

The Building Energy Rating (BER) and Passivhaus are tools to reduce energy in buildings and they provide ratings and a calculation methodology for doing this. The BER is part of the national calculation methodology for energy in buildings and is a mandatory requirement of the EU Energy Performance in Buildings Directive. All new buildings in Ireland require a BER whereas Passivhaus and BREEAM are voluntary standards. The BER and Passivhaus deal only with energy whereas BREEAM is a sustainability tool that covers a full range of issues – in addition to energy it sets standards in categories that include waste, materials, water, transport, health, land-use, ecology and pollution. The key to the relationship between the BER, Passivhaus and BREEAM is not how they compete, but how they work together and complement each other. For example, BREEAM sets targets and provides recognition for sustainable buildings, and the BER/Passivhaus can provide a very effective means for a building to meet the energy and carbon elements of those BREEAM requirements. The better the BER score, the more credits in the energy section of BREEAM will be achieved.

How is BREEAM being used in Ireland?

There are currently 18 licensed assessors and seven BREEAM APs in Ireland, with 14 certified projects since 2008. Diageo was recently awarded a BREEAM Outstanding rating for its new Brewhouse in St James’s Gate, Dublin, and Mahon Point Shopping Centre in Cork is the first building to achieve a BREEAM In Use rating in Ireland. HSE, the Irish Prison Service, UCD, University of Limerick, Bord Gais, Apple, OPW and DIT have all specified BREEAM in their new build projects.

Will a BREEAM rated building cost more?

Research from BRE and Sweett Group has challenged the perceptions that sustainable buildings are necessarily more costly to construct. Delivering Sustainable Buildings: Savings & Payback (published August 2014) applies cost data from actual construction projects to three case study buildings – an office, a school and a community healthcare centre – to produce detailed capital and operational cost information. The report presents the actual costs of a range of individual sustainability strategies, and the additional costs (if any) of achieving various levels of overall building sustainability. In addition it reveals the associated payback to be gained from reduced utility costs. The study investigates the:
  • capital costs of measures to improve sustainability, including readily usable no- or  low-cost measures, along with those that  must be built into the project early on to minimise their costs;
  • capital costs of achieving overall  levels of building sustainability, using the costs  associated with gaining BREEAM Pass, Good, Very Good and Excellent ratings;
  • lifecycle costs of operating buildings, focusing on energy and water consumption.
The researchers concluded that achieving the lower BREEAM sustainability ratings can incur little or no additional cost. Targeting higher BREEAM ratings, and so more challenging levels of sustainability, incurs some additional cost but this is typically less than 2 per cent. The investigation of lifecycle operational costs showed that any additional cost can be paid back within two to five years through utility savings.

How does BREEAM compare to LEED?

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and is run by the USGBC. It is commonly specified by US multinationals and like BREEAM, has a broad international appeal. There are a number of LEED certified buildings in Ireland. There is a great deal of similarity between the two assessment methods and they broadly cover most of the same criteria. However, LEED has a tendency to refer to US standards whereas BREEAM refers to European standards and can be tailored to use the building standards and best practice guides of the host country to demonstrate compliance. For example, in the energy section of BREEAM, you demonstrate compliance by producing a BER or NEAP calculation for the building, which in Ireland you would have to do to comply with building regulations. Up until recently LEED asked projects to do energy modelling based on ASHRAE standards to demonstrate compliance. However, LEED now allows BREEAM equivalency to award energy credits meaning the BER approach can be recognised. Both methodologies are trying to adapt more to international markets and are constantly evolving, sometimes even borrowing ideas from each other to make improvements.

Can BREEAM be applied to dwellings?

BREEAM can be applied to dwellings; however, it is more practicable to apply it to larger developments or for mixed-use developments. BRE is in the process of the launching a new domestic standard for homes – the Home Quality Mark which is just for dwellings. In addition the Irish Green Building Council is piloting a new environmental assessment method for dwellings, the IGBC Home Quality Rating.

Where can I find a list of BREEAM certified buildings?

All information relating to BREEAM certified buildings and licensed BREEAM assessors can be found on the Greenbooklive website

Is BREEAM training available in Ireland?

IGBC work with BRE to provide training courses in Ireland. See for details on the next BREEAM assessor training course in Dublin. Also keep an eye on the CPD Training section of Engineers Ireland's website