Winning the heat generation game

Commercial building refurbishment continues to grow in importance as the UK struggles to tackle a burgeoning budgetary deficit and Government finances get ever tighter. However, although the fiscal outlook looks bleak, the downturn does offer a real opportunity for the commercial heating sector to play its part in raising the energy efficiency of existing buildings and lowering their carbon footprints and energy costs.

The vast majority of these buildings were erected before the latest energy efficiency regulations. Indeed, the Building Research Establishment claims that of the buildings that will be standing 40 years from now, 60% are already built and 40% will pre-date 1985 (when Building Regulations relating to the conservation of fuel and power under Part L were first introduced). That’s why existing buildings offer the biggest pay-off in terms of a reduction in carbon emissions and energy consumption.

While it is true that the designer suffers restrictions in existing buildings that are not present in the blank canvas offered by new build, this should be seen as a challenge rather than a constraint.

So, on the assumption that we agree that attacking inefficiency in existing buildings is a good thing, commercial heating manufacturers can, in my view, help to fight the battle on two main fronts. First, we can develop products that help reduce energy consumption and cut fuel bills, thus saving the public sector millions of pounds and helping to balance the Nation’s books. Secondly, we can supply equipment designed to cut harmful emissions and thereby help the Government meet its tough carbon reduction targets.

The consultant has a vital role to play because it is he or she who will specify the systems that will probably be operating for the next 15 or 20 years. Modern heating equipment offers a range of features that ensure it cuts energy consumption to a bare minimum. For example, the latest condensing boilers have energy efficiency levels of 110% NCV, a vast improvement on the figures of only a few years ago.

Despite increasing legislative and market pressure for low carbon buildings, the principal drivers for deciding to refurbish a building remain primarily to update the ‘brand format’, improve the quality of the building for the occupants and attract higher rental values and new tenants.

However, carbon emissions from energy use in non-domestic buildings account for almost a fifth of total emissions in the UK, making this the best reason to upgrade.

Besides, says the Carbon Trust: “Our experience has shown that delivering a low carbon refurbishment doesn’t require significant increases in complexity, or adoption of high risk or unproven technical solutions. On the contrary, nearly all refurbishments offer opportunities to reduce carbon emissions beyond the standards set by building regulations.”

But, it warns: “Conventional refurbishment projects often miss the opportunities available, leading to unintentional and unnecessary increases in energy use and associated emissions.”

I would argue that this last point is why it pays consultants to seek the advice of manufacturers. Heating equipment manufacturers can help consultants develop the best possible designs by offering advice based on experience and expertise of heat generation developed, in some cases, over decades.

However, manufacturers aren’t available only to lend a hand in terms of selecting individual pieces of equipment; they can also help the consultant develop a sustainable heating system.

Indeed, this is where the real environmental and financial pay-offs come. After all, it is no good specifying the most efficient heat generator possible if it is going to be left running even when it is not needed. By the same token, the most efficient controls in the world won’t be producing their best if they are asked to manage an inefficient boiler.

The best manufacturers are well placed to understand the integration of controls heating technologies and heat emitters. Every building is different and refurbishing commercial premises throws up particular challenges. However, well established manufacturers will have seen it all before and can offer valuable insights into the best combination of components to produce an outstanding heating system design.

That is why I believe it makes sense to involve the manufacturer early in the refurbishment design process. After all, consultants have a lot on their plates; they must consider every aspect of the building services design and can’t afford to limit themselves to a single facet such as heating.

Heating manufacturers on the other hand, by their very nature, can and do concentrate on heating and the finest of them know – and, just as importantly, can impart to the consultant – the right information at the right time.

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