15 February 2023

Building Services: Where Do We Go from Here

By Dr Chong Kok Hing  

What is building services? Building services are the systems installed in buildings to make them comfortable, functional, efficient and safe. Buildings go beyond providing shelter from the heat and cold, wind and rain; the building also provides a safe and healthy environment. The quality of building services is critical for human safety and comfort. Typically, the significant components of building services consist of daylight and artificial lighting, escalators and lifts, ventilation and refrigeration, security and alarm systems, and fire detection and protection.

In Malaysia, building services evolved from ancient to modern designs. Despite being heavily influenced by colonial and local cultures, the building services became from simple proper systems to decent or sophisticated ones. Certain Malaysian building services laws and acts are in place to ensure public safety, such as Street, Drainage and Building Act, 1974, the Uniform Building By-Laws, 1984, and the Fire Services Act, 1988. The major stakeholders in Malaysia’s building services are residences/clients, consultants/designers, contractors, and law enforcers such as the Ministry of Public Works Malaysia.

So where is Malaysia in terms of the quality aspect of building services? The prospect of building services appears to be promising, as reflected by the Department of Statistics Malaysia’s official portal, the value of construction work done in the third quarter of 2022 surged 23.2 per cent (Quarter 2 2022: 6.1%) as compared to the same quarter of 2021, amounting to RM30.5 billion (Quarter 2 2022: RM29.9 billion). The expansion was driven by non-residential buildings (37.7%), special trades activities (32.2%), residential buildings (17.8%) and civil engineering (14.6%) subsectors. Selangor recorded the highest value of construction work done at RM6.9 billion, followed by Wilayah Persekutuan (RM5.3 billion) and Sarawak (RM3.6 billion), collectively contributing 51.9 per cent or RM15.8 billion. The construction work done for the three quarters of 2022 registered a value of RM89.9 billion, posted an increase of 6.6 per cent compared to the same period in 2021.

Over the last two decades, the global building services industry has begun to be aware of their impact on climate change. For example, recently, the 2021 United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP26) conference gathered parties to expedite action toward the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change benchmarks.

Zero-energy building is one of the buzzwords relating to climate change, as conventional building services typically consume natural fuel from a coal power plant. According to the publication by Lucon and his co-workers, energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions from buildings amount to more than 40% of global consumption. Therefore, improvements in energy efficiency and strategic reductions in demand for energy are essential approaches to securing long-term economic growth while mitigating environmental and social impacts.

In the past two decades, the building services industry has shifted focus from conventional buildings to green, low-carbon, and energy-efficient buildings. Various relevant new initiatives, campaigns, and appropriate standards have been implemented in Malaysia. For example, the Green Building Index (GBI), the country’s first green building rating system, was launched in 2009. After that, various organisations in Malaysia established targeted green building rating schemes. Such as the Green Real Estate (GreenRE), Malaysia Public Work Department Green Rating Scheme (pHJKR), Sustainability Index (SUSDEX), Malaysian Carbon Reduction and Environmental Sustainability Tool (MyCREST), Sustainable INFRASTAR, and Low Carbon Cities 2030 Challenge.

Department of Standards Malaysia also established relevant standards to promote energy efficiency nationwide. For instance, Malaysian Standards MS 1525:2019, MS 2680:2017, and MS ISO 50001:2011 provide residential and non-residential building design, appliance selection, and energy-efficient use guidelines.

What are the common challenges Malaysia’s building services industry faces toward zero-energy building? According to the recent study by Nur Kamaliah Mustaffa, the key challenges are financial (i.e. undedicated financing schemes, upfront costs, extra soft cost), managerial (i.e. lack of energy policy, optional regulations and energy-efficient standards), and knowledge (i.e. lack of expertise and unfamiliarity with energy-efficient technology).

Nur Kamaliah Mustaffa suggested the following measures for moving forward. Tier 1: Education intervention. Simple measures include creating awareness and building knowledge capacity for low to no-cost projects, which can be implemented quickly and with immediate benefits. Tier 2: Policy intervention. Low to medium-cost projects and reasonable measures include intervention of policies and establishing financing mechanisms that can be implemented with some planning and medium-term benefits. Tier 3: Technology intervention. High incremental cost projects and intensive measures include technology and investment, which can be implemented with proper planning and long-term benefits.

In conclusion, the building services industry is essential, and suitable regulations were provided in Malaysia. To further promote and implement the zero-energy building in Malaysia, a concerted effort was needed from all stakeholders to make conscious efforts.

Dr. Chong is a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Engineering, Computing and Science. With research interests in the field of thermal fluids, renewable energy, biomass combustion development and performance, sustainable energy management, building services, and educational research. Dr. Chong is contactable via kchong@swinburne.edu.my