Why businesses should act now to future proof their hot water systems

Regulations relating to non-condensing water heater replacement could well be changing in the near future. If businesses and organisations are to avoid costly, extended downtime in the months ahead, they need to start planning now, says Andy Green, technical director at Baxi Commercial Solutions.

In June 2022, the Government is expected to bring into force changes to Approved Document L2B of Building Regulations relating to the conservation of fuel and power in existing non-domestic buildings. At the time of writing, the government has yet to publish its response to the public consultation on the proposed changes. However, it’s advisable to note that non-condensing water heaters could be phased out in the next round of updates as part of its roadmap to achieving net zero emissions by 2050.

Given that hot water is a critical service, what will this mean for businesses and organisations? Many, including hospitals, leisure centres and hotels, rely on direct-fired water heaters to provide an efficient means of delivering large volumes of sanitary hot water in a short time. And many still rely on non-condensing water heaters.

At present there is still the opportunity to carry out ‘like-for-like’ replacements with non-condensing water heaters. The advantage of this ‘easy fit’ approach is that, as no major work is involved, they can be replaced quickly with minimal disruption to the daily operation of the building.

But it’s an option that could soon disappear. How, then, to ensure that businesses are protected moving forward? Our advice is to start planning now and future proof hot water systems.

Switching from non-condensing to condensing water heaters can and should be relatively straightforward. But it’s important to note that certain factors, such as flueing and condensate arrangements, will require additional planning to avoid the risk of costly and extended downtime. For this reason, we would encourage building operators to be proactive in asset management, conduct regular condition surveys, implement a robust upgrade plan, and budget ahead.

While any changes to legislation may create initial challenges, it’s worth noting that condensing water heaters are around 20% more efficient than non-condensing models. For businesses looking to reduce their carbon output and running costs, upgrading any non-condensing water heaters to condensing is one of the ‘low hanging fruit’ – a quick win for significant savings. It follows that the greater the building’s demand for hot water, the greater the savings from the switch.

As we progress to 2050, businesses should also be planning their own roadmap to decarbonisation. In older buildings, this is a huge challenge and one that, realistically, will not be achieved overnight. But even small steps along the path are better than kicking the can down the road. Encouraging businesses to follow a phased approach to refurbishment will help them achieve their longer-term goals.

Planning the upgrade from non-condensing to condensing water heaters might be the first stage. A natural progression, where budgets permit, would be to integrate air source heat pumps with condensing water heaters in a hybrid system.

Hybrid solutions can overcome the typical challenges faced when decarbonising older buildings by reducing the amount of building and heating system upgrades and so helping to minimise disruption. By meeting the hot water demand efficiently and more sustainably, with no issues surrounding system losses, legionella control or space, they maximise cost savings and emissions reduction.

Whether taking smaller steps or larger strides towards improved sustainability, moving from non-condensing to condensing water heaters or integrating low carbon technologies, protecting business operations and water safety is key.

What nobody wants is for buildings to be left in an emergency situation with no hot water supply. As manufacturers, we look forward to supporting contractors and specifiers with site visits, assisting with sizing and helping ‘triage’ the hot water system to achieve the most appropriate solutions at the right time. By working together, we can encourage businesses to plan ahead and help them achieve a smooth transition to a more sustainable, future-proofed hot water system – one that minimises disruption and will ultimately help protect the bottom line.

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