Hi-spec: Why buy BIG?

by Tania Wannenburg

Even when looking to get the most bang for your buck, when specifying for high-end buildings, higher priced building materials and products should be the way to go.

Any developer or construction client would ideally pay as little as possible for as much as possible, but when specifying building materials and products for high-end structures or high-performance buildings looking to achieve green ratings, it becomes necessary to reach a little deeper into the pocket.

It is in these “hi-spec” buildings that cutting-edge technologies and advanced products come into their own and demonstrate their worth.

Because after all, cost is a relative thing. We all know premium products’ value lies in offering something more – factors such as quality, lower maintenance, longer lifespan, better energy efficiency, greener cradle-to-grave lifecycle or the fact that they are bespoke, therefore the actual price should not be the only consideration.

Select for a purpose
Whether the aim is to build a high-performance or energy-efficient building, or the client wants to focus on spectacular features and certain aesthetics such as hand-made crafts or custom-made items, the selected product must fit the bill and live up to expectation. A happy client is priceless.

The value of the entire lifecycle
When it comes to advanced materials and products, the key is to understand the inherent value that lies in the performance characteristic of materials. Competing products in this market segment are not differentiated by cost per se, instead, the performance value of one product over another becomes the primary determining factor.

Energy savings realise by more expensive and higher quality fenestration, insulation or HVAC systems that can offset the initial higher cost when considering operation over a period of time. For example, one window might be more expensive than another, but at the same time also more energy efficient. So over a couple of years, taking into account the energy saved, the one that cost more may work out to actually be the cheaper option.

Advanced green building
There is a lot of debate happening on whether or not green building comes at a premium or not, and while specifications for green construction are typically seen as hi-spec, these are quickly becoming the norm.

The Association of South African Quantity Surveyors (ASAQS) is currently conducting an in-depth and ongoing research study for the Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA) on the comparative costs of green and conventional design and construction, and the results of this study should shed some light on the issue.

It’s about prestige
Especially in the case of green building, it is the entire lifecycle and the effect of the product that need to be considered instead of the price tag. Apart from being more efficient and sustainable, green building materials and strategies are time and again cited to have many secondary benefits such as employee wellbeing, increased productivity and more.

Albeit difficult to measure with the impact only experienced afterwards, these benefits are highly valued by companies who want to be perceived as being responsible and sustainable.

Invested lessees
In addition, for developers and landlords, green buildings are easier to lease out or to resell, in light of the importance to adhere to building standards and rating systems.

When buildings are constructed with a particular tenant in mind or a company is looking to lease the building for an extensive period of time, these clients’ input will weigh more than otherwise. And since they are more invested in the project, they might be open to sign a green lease to adopt environmentally friendly practices, which will see both the landlord and tenant benefit from the cumulative reduction in operating expenses.

Even if there isn’t a green lease in place, for a company who plans on occupying a building for a long time, it makes sense to help finance long-term sustainability solutions such as a solar rooftop installation or high-performance glass, since they will be around to share in the payback.

You know what you’ll get
While higher energy efficiency and better performance are two reasons for elevated costs, premium products typically also come with the backing of much research and development, as well as guarantees or warranties, giving the buyer peace of mind. In essence, you can be sure of what you are going to get.

Sometimes it is necessary to do some educating, but the more people see the worth of more expensive choices in other projects, the more popular those products become.

Pitfalls to avoid
One thing architects and specifiers need to keep in mind when considering high-end materials, is that these products probably don’t work exactly the same as entry level or even standard options. They might require expert skills for installation, have specific guidelines for maintenance or involve unusual ways of cleaning.

Say for instance certain finishes are selected for their extended lifespan, but if the correct cleaning procedure is not followed, they might have to be replaced much quicker than they were supposed to.

And who would be taking responsibility? It will involve extensive and continuous training to ensure that the product is treated appropriately, especially if the cleaner is not even a permanent employee. Or, if the building is leased, the renting company might just not put a priority on correct maintenance, in which case opting for the advanced product defeats the purpose. If there is no control and no process in place that can hold people accountable, it is not a realistic choice.

Another aspect to consider is availability, both at the time of construction, so as not to cause delays, as well as afterwards, should more of the same be required for repairs or extensions.

With so many choices of building materials and products available today, it is imperative to consider all the factors and choose the best fit for the project over the life of the building, not just the procurement phase.

In short: Reasons for selecting higher priced building materials
•    Custom-made to fit the design/client requirement.
•    Greater energy efficiency.
•    Higher performance.
•    Extended lifespan.
•    Lower maintenance.
•    Readily available.
•    Invested tenants.
•    Contribution to building’s resale value.

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