Going for gold

The 2012 Olympics represent a golden opportunity for Britain to shine, not just in the sporting world, but architecturally. The massive programme of building work that is expected to take place will provide us with some of the finest sporting facilities in the world, and will stimulate the regeneration of many areas. But whilst the construction industry is rubbing its hands and looking forward to a decade of buoyancy, there are a number of lessons to be learnt from recent projects, most notably the disastrous delay in the opening of the new Wembley Stadium.

For the Building Services sector the business potential is huge. Just like our athletes, it is vital that our buildings and stadia don’t just look good, they also have to perform well, inside and out. They are going to play host to large numbers of people from around the world during the (hopefully!) hot summer months, so clearly buildings are going to have to cope with the heat that is generated by these conditions, and still maintain a comfortable environment.

It is vital that we treat any construction for the Games as a long term investment in our infrastructure, and that therefore these buildings have to be able to cope with year round conditions, as well as meeting the demands of the Building Regulations and the EPBD in terms of energy efficiency and performance.

Because we are going to be on show to the rest of the world, it might be tempting to impress our international audience by using avant garde systems as potential sustainable options for controlling ambient temperature. The question that has to be asked, especially in light of the ongoing programme problems faced by the ambitious Wembley project, is can we afford to take risks when we have to deliver the scale and performance of construction necessary for such a prestigious and public event as the Olympic Games?

It is a fairly safe assumption that the majority of the public buildings involved are going to need some kind of HVAC system. It is also safe to assume that the best way to be certain of the effectiveness of that system is to use tried and tested methods of moving conditioned air (warm or chilled) around a structure, and that means ductwork.

This is not to say that innovation has no place in finding solutions for building services, quite the opposite. In fact, many of buildings on the drawing board for the Olympics will feature steel structures, which may benefit from not having to accommodate the weight of traditional galvanised sheet steel ductwork, plus lagging.

Weight is one consideration, but as the Wembley debacle has demonstrated, programme can be just as important. The programme of construction involved is a huge undertaking, and there is clearly going to be a time pressure to have everything in readiness before the Games start, so anything that can speed up construction or facilitate predictable project completion times is an advantage.

Other issues include energy efficiency. The Building Regulations will obviously ensure minimum standards, with air tightness now playing an important role alongside insulation, but again products that enable ease of compliance and provide predictable performance will aid the complex task of calculating overall carbon emissions. In fact, as one mantra of the London bid was sustainability, it may well be that the energy efficiency levels of the Olympic stadia are enhanced above the levels mandated by Building Regulation which will put an even sharper focus on the issue.

Public safety is obviously of the utmost importance in these applications, so the fire performance of the materials specified is also a major concern. Finally, whilst overall performance is by far the most important factor, we also want to put our best face forward for the world stage with buildings that look good throughout.

So what kind of solutions can humble ductwork offer to all of these issues that will ensure that the ductwork industry is on the podium when it comes to design choices? The answer – pre-insulated ductwork.

Pre-insulated ductwork manufactured from rigid phenolic insulation weighs a mere 15 percent of the steelwork equivalent and is capable of being installed up to three times faster than sheet steel, not including the time then needed to insulate the latter. It also offers first rate fire performance, achieving Class O rating and negligible smoke emission. With a thermal conductivity as low as 0.018 W/m.K and the ability to achieve very low air leakage rates, pre-insulated ductwork can easily meet the Building Regulation requirements, and high levels of moisture resistance ensure that the product performs well in terms of longevity.

As a final bonus, pre-insulated ducting requires no unsightly lagging. The aluminium facings present a streamlined, high tech appearance, so even where HVAC systems are exposed to view, this need not detract from the design, and could even be a feature. The opportunities presented by the 2012 Games construction programme for such a product are clear.

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