Lifespan of buildings: a debate that blockchain and BIM can help to solve




Until now, the issue of building lifespan is based on experience and pragmatism, rather than an exhaustive knowledge of its components or the private and social assessment of the manufacturing processes involved.

The theory states that a building lifecycle includes: initiation, project definition, design, construction, commissioning, operation, maintenance, remodeling, replacement, demolition, recycling and re-use of assets (or their parts), including their components, systems, and services.

On the other hand, useful lifecycle considered in real estate investment projects is the calculated age to start making major re-investments for refurbishment and where the return begins to fall, usually 30 years for mortgage loans.

Currently, the topic is gaining relevance, due to energy consumption in the life-cycle of buildings and their consequent CO2 emissions into the atmosphere, becoming one of the most polluting productive sectors on the planet; and, also because of experiences in maintaining existing stock, calling the attention of having a reliable lifespan indicator of buildings.

The use of technology in construction will allow access to data, never available before, useful for decision-making process concerning how each construction should be developed.

In this sense, it is important to highlight new criteria considered in the current development of the real estate sector. While in the 1990s this sector was guided by the needs of supply, today it is oriented towards satisfying needs of the demand.

Indeed, in post-war Western Europe, the stock of residence and office buildings is already more or less achieved. Now the demand is focused on asking quality. The building must meet the user's requirements, which include severe legal rules, and specific cultural and social standards established by either the user or owner. In this way, the information delivered to the final buyer is critical. It should be user-friendly and related to the use of the building than to its technical aspects.

So, how shall we consider and use a real concept of the lifespan of buildings?

Is it more expensive to construct short-lived buildings, in a planned, economically and environmentally profitable way, as it is happening in Japan?; or, is it better to avoid spending energy on reconstruction, giving longer life to the building with high-quality components and low environmental impact?

Although the question has not yet been answered, technological and methodological tools such as Building Information Modelling (BIM), Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), blockchain and others, have come to support the investigation,  evaluation, and decision making on this matter. While these tools present important challenges, their integration could help to understand more accurately the potential duration and cost associated with different construction alternatives,  promoting greater confidence among investors and end users.

BIM's contribution

Building Information Modelling (BIM) is defined as a "process involving coordinated and structured exchange of a building's digital information throughout its life cycle" (Eastman et al., 2011).

Optimized use of BIM model makes visible virtual equivalents of the constructive elements and parts used to build a building. For example, BIM allows you to work with data on materials (quantity and properties), energy performance, lighting quality, construction site characteristics and comparisons between new construction and renovation. In general, all internal building information, including all engineering data such as load structures, all ducts and piping systems, and even sustainability information, allow simulations of building features at the design stage. It is also possible to access project management data such as progress schedule, human resources required, and costs at different stages of the project.

Thanks to this information, BIM is not only a useful guide for those involved in the design and execution phase of a construction, but it is also very useful for the operation and maintenance phases (whose costs represent between 70% and 80% of total life-cycle costs of a building); and, consequently, to reduce investment risks.

How Blockchain enhances BIM capabilities

In early 2018, U.S. consulting firm WSP identified blockchain as one of the most powerful technologies to increase productivity in the construction sector, ensure traceability and deliver confidence in energy sustainability. Transparency in the supply chain, integration of life-cycle assessment results, and the concept of circular economy help to meet sustainability goals for the materials that are tracked from the source.

Blockchain has the ability to distribute, among all parties involved in a project and in real time, all the information contained in the construction process. The distribution is done in a chain of blocks (blockchain) where each block holds the relevant and necessary data to construct the building, which is incorruptible.

In this way, by integrating BIM with Blockchain, it would be possible to guarantee that BIM information contained in Blockchain will be immutable and, therefore, it can also give complete certainty to investors and other construction participants that plans will be executed. In the case of the calculation of a building's useful life-cycle, managers of each stage of this cycle will be able to have complete and reliable information for optimal management as foreseen. Some of the potential uses of joining these tools are as follows:

  • Chronological storage of securities and asset transactions;

  • Manage Smart Contracts

  • Combine Smart Contracts to form an Autonomous Decentralized Organization (DAO)

  • Corroborate the existence of data from a Digital Identification;

The combination of these uses can allow different companies to use the data to ensure quality and reduce risks, impacting the entire value chain, where end-users will always benefit.

How Blockchain transforms the relationship with the end user.

Blockchain provides traceability, transparency, and collaboration for an end user who can be sure that committed attributes of the building will be real. Buyers and sellers will be connected through peer to peer (P2P) platforms without the need for intermediaries; tokenization will enable the acquisition of fractions of the dwellings for rent or purchase, and building maintenance will be carried out through connected devices and smart contracts.

But, there is another dimension to this new relationship between end-users and buildings, where technology becomes an indispensable pillar. This is Monitoring, Reporting, and Verification (MRV) technology, mainly used in industrial and infrastructure fields, which could help to monitor the real-time behavior of buildings.

Activities such as preventive maintenance or re-change of devices and components after a number of hours of use shall be considered in user’s routine. As in the case of other assets such as vehicles, where certain maintenances must be performed to enforce warranties, buildings could incorporate similar systems of maintenance that could be included in its price or common expenses.

Another case is that of household appliances, which also have the manufacturer's instructions for maintenance, warranties, user manuals, exclusions from obligations regarding misuse of the consumer, etc..

This leads to the conclusion that ensembling these technologies, in addition to generating "rights" such as horizontal relations between buyer and seller, trust, transparency and collaboration, can also install "duties" for a new type of customer, where 6D or 7D BIM dimensions can assist with the necessary information at the stage of operation and maintenance.


Equipo Blockbim y Pablo Pulgar Rubilar, Profesor UTEM, Depto Cs. de la Construcción. Coordinador Programa EFICONS.







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