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Karen Fletcher, editor of Modern Building Services looks at how businesses can cope in VUCA times

You may have heard the acronym VUCA recently: volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.

It’s not a new term, but it does seem to fit our current political and economic circumstances very well.

Businesses in the building services sector need to find ways to steer through these choppy waters.

For designers and installers, these changes offer an excellent opportunity to speak to building owners

Karen Fletcher Karen Fletcher Editor of Modern Building Services

A trio of key areas

I have been fortunate over the past month or so to have been out speaking with a number of organisations in our sector.

Of course, the issue of Brexit and the uncertainty in construction came up in conversation.

But at the same time, it became clear that there are still potential opportunities for the future for businesses sharp enough to spot them.

There are three key areas to bear in mind: new products; new legislation; and new requirements from building owners and occupants.

It’s quite difficult to divide the influences of this trio of drivers, as they all affect each other in turn. But taking each one at a time helps to bring some clarity to a market that currently seems uncertain and complex.

A rediscovery

It’s true to say that there’s nothing truly new in building services. And in fact, many of the ‘new’ products we hear about now have been around for some time.

This is more of a resurgence or rediscovery of useful equipment that meets our new market requirements.

Take heat pumps, for example. They’re now a well-established form of heating and they are already providing heating and hot water to thousands of homes around the UK. 

The reason that heat pumps now offer such a significant opportunity is the government’s drive to decarbonise the country’s heating.

For decades (pretty much since the 1960s) the UK has depended on gas to supply space heating and hot water to homes – and commercial buildings too.

But having set a net-zero carbon goal, the UK government regards fossil-fuel based heating as a massive potential step on achieving its objective by 2050. In fact, if we don’t move away from gas, it’s unlikely that we will meet that target.

A sound opportunity

For the building services sector, heat pumps are an ideal opportunity, particularly in large-scale domestic or mixed-used developments.

A number of leading installer companies are already adding heat pumps for heating to their air conditioning installation services.

It is a technology that is well-supported by leading manufacturers such as Mitsubishi Electric, who offer a range of solutions to suit different project requirements.

Rather than a leap into the unknown, heat pumps offer a sound opportunity for those looking to extend their offering.


In the field of new legislation that is impact on building services, perhaps the most significant has been the F Gas directive.

Phasing out environmentally-damaging chemicals from the air conditioning sector means that familiar refrigerants such as R22 are no longer available for new systems or top-up.

The speed of phase down is pretty rapid, given that owners don’t always pay too much attention to their air conditioning system as long as it’s working!

But for designers and installers, F Gas rules offer an excellent opportunity to speak to building owners about their air conditioning – whether it’s a VRF system or an AHU.

Planning ahead is key to ensuring that customers can maintain their systems in the long-term – there’s no point fitting ‘new’ air conditioning that uses a refrigerant that won’t be available next year and which is already seeing rising prices.

Clients are looking for sound advice – so there is a business benefit to understanding the new rules and what they mean. Again, manufacturers are offering full support on these refrigerant changes, so be sure to gather as much information as you can.

Embracing the ‘new’

New market requirements are proving to be one of the most interesting areas for building services.

At MBS, we have written quite a few articles about the ‘new’ workplace and what it means for designers, installers and FM professionals.

As occupants want more flexible working spaces, building services faces the challenge of providing high quality, productive environments that can also be changed from an open space to meeting rooms to a café within the space of two years.

WeWork, for example, offers just this kind of convenience and over the past five years has been the largest purchaser of commercial property in London.

And because mobile technology means that we can all work pretty much anywhere, almost everywhere is turning itself into a drop-in office with appropriate facilities.

Pubs that used to be empty in the mornings are serving coffee, desks and free wi-fi for the footloose freelancer community (which is growing rapidly, by the way).

So, connectivity, comfort and convenience are all watchwords to bear in mind when thinking about the services for these types of project.


And of, course, ‘wellbeing’ is the hot topic of the day (and I realise it’s likely to cause some eyeball-rolling).

Yet, let’s not forget that at the end of June 2019, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) introduced its draft ‘Indoor air quality at home’ guidance.

While the focus of the document is on dwellings, there is no doubt that people are now far more aware of the dangers of poor air quality than they were 10 years ago.

The issue is another opportunity for those with the expertise to offer advice and appropriate action on fitting (and maintaining) air conditioning and ventilation systems that deliver healthy air into workplaces.

Karen Fletcher is editor of Modern Building Services