Integrated products are impacting building design

By Louise Harris, UK Brand Manager for Zehnder

As the drive to reduce construction costs, whilst also providing more energy efficient and low maintenance buildings continues, so there is greater co-operation between manufacturers, designers and consulting engineers to develop integrated products and building services solutions which meet their requirements. In fact many of the current integrated products on the market have originally been born out of individual requests by architects and designers to achieve specific aesthetics, and it is these products which have then evolved to become the standard integrated products of today.

One important area of a building where integrated services are having a notable effect on their design and construction is the ceiling. Wishing to change the inertia of the building and move away from the long established T-bar ceiling, the basic concrete structure is increasingly being retained. Helping to keep the building cooler in the summer months, the concrete assists in overcoming issues of overheating in highly insulated modern buildings and also opens up many new opportunities for building design.

However by removing the T-bar ceiling new issues, such as how to incorporate lighting, acoustics, and the provision of additional building services, which were previously hidden within the ceiling void, have came into question. The result is the development of new and innovative integrated ceiling rafts, which, by incorporating the complete range of services required can improve building construction, aesthetics and energy efficiency.

The benefits of the integrated ceiling raft are far reaching, with advantages from conception, through design and construction, to the long term maintenance of the building.

Because an integrated ceiling raft combines any number of building services into one unit, and is suspended from the ceiling, it enables the architect to achieve far greater flexibility in building design and space management. Valuable wall and floor space is retained, giving the client a higher percentage of functional space.

There can also be unrestricted movement of loose and fixed furniture around the building and internal walls can be designed to be removed and relocated to adapt to the changing needs of the building’s users. Moreover, with no unsightly cables, radiators or pipe work around the room the architect/designer has a greater scope to achieve their desired aesthetic.

Due to the all encompassing nature of an integrated product, they logically lend themselves to offering greater customisation for individual project requirements. With numerous configurations possible they can be built to the exact specification of the client, and can include a wide range of services such as lighting, acoustics, heating, fire alarms, sprinklers, speakers, data and power cabling etc.

The ability to provide all the services from an elevated position also assists with health and safety requirements. By ensuring services are out of reach there is a reduced risk of injury and also of vandalism. This is particularly important in schools where the use of radiant heating ceiling panels negates the need for low surface temperature radiators.

The most sought after, and probably the most influential benefit in the growth of integrated products is their ability to make substantial cost savings from the initial construction to the through-life cost of the building. With most of the integrated services being factory fitted, and also much of the assembly work being completed off site, the result is a ‘plug and play’ product which can both significantly simplify installation and also compress the installation timetable.

For example, in the case of an integrated ceiling raft within a typical classroom, the suspension brackets can be fitted during first fix, and then the pre-assembled raft can be hooked on and plugged in during second fix. In real terms, this means in just two days, two engineers can complete the installation of the lighting, heating, acoustics and fire alarms/sprinklers etc for a classroom, considerably reducing the building programme and making huge cost savings in site co-ordination.

With regards to the through-life cost of building, once installed and operating within the building, the maintenance of an integrated product is also quicker and easier. With no wires or pipes hidden behind a suspended ceiling, the unit is fully exposed for greater accessibility in the case of servicing and repairs.

From an environmental perspective integrated products can also assist companies and local authorities in meeting their carbon reduction objectives. By incorporating a range of services/appliances into one unit there is a reduction in the overall amount of raw materials used, and the one install significantly cuts the number of people required to attend site to complete the installation.

In order to provide the highest possible level of performance, integrated products are in most cases fitted with the latest energy efficient components i.e. high optical efficiency lighting and radiant heating. This means they also provide an environmentally friendly and often sustainable solution across the building services.

In short as integrated products continue to further develop their aesthetic and technical specifications alongside the requests of architects and designers, so they will continue to offer yet greater creative freedom, energy efficient performance and those all important cost reductions.

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