The long-term costs of value engineering
Small savings in cost at installation stage can be very expensive in the long term. Martin Wilkinson of Spirotech argues the case for effective dirt and air separation in heating systems.
Specifying the right products for the right applications is essential to the long-term health of new buildings or retrofits. Key to this is the co-operation between specifiers and contractors — ensuring that what’s outlined in the planning stage is actually carried out at build stage and that all parties involved in building and maintenance understand how to properly manage it to ensure optimum health and efficiency.
Where heating systems are concerned, though, this sadly is too often not the case. Rather than understanding why certain products have been specified, contractors will frequently strip out essential kit in favour of (often cheaper) alternatives.
The key component — the boiler — is rarely sacrificed. Rather it is the additional elements, which are key to long-term health, that are either replaced or removed without consideration as to what role these elements play in the overall system health.
The removal of dirt and air separators is far too common, despite the fact that good-quality products will safeguard against the costly breakdown of boilers and other system components by preventing the build up of dirt and air.
To avoid issues like this persisting, it’s key for all parties to understand the various stages of design, commissioning and installation, and how each one is interconnected.
The specifier and engineer may be very knowledgeable and understand all the key principles of design and installation, but if the value engineer or contractor chooses to strip out what they consider to be ‘unnecessary’ extras, then all the hard work can be quickly undone.
In many cases, the contractor is only obliged to carry out maintenance for two to three years after completion, so once this period is up, they have no responsibility for the long-term health of the building. As such, when a contractor decides which heating system to opt for, there is little incentive for them to specify a product that will ensure the system will not become clogged with dirt and air and one that isn’t reliant on inhibitors.
From a technological standpoint, very little can be done to improve the efficiency of modern boilers, so in order to maximise energy efficiency end users have to look at how system water can play its role in ensuring boiler efficiencies are kept at optimum levels. By not considering the impact of the build-up of air and dirt on modern boilers, systems simply cannot run at full capacity or meet their efficiency potential.
This insistence on cost cutting or a lack of joined up thinking between designers and contractors makes little sense in practice. Spending £100 000 or more on a top-of-the-range new boiler is not uncommon, yet to consider the relatively modest sum needed to safeguard systems from air and dirt as a luxury, rather than an integral part of the system, is short sighted.
Not removing dirt and air only serves to build in problems for the longer term, and the expensive investments in good-quality, high-efficiency boilers and other system components is wasted if steps are not taken from the outset — resulting in on-going maintenance problems.
Sometimes, it is less the case that a product has been removed from a plan, but instead altered or amended, usually in an attempt to reduce cost. One area where such alterations are made is the choice of expansion-vessel size. In fact, many errors in installation and associated problems come about as a result of the wrong choice of vessel and/or the incorrect sizing of connecting pipework.
In many cases, the vessel is undersized for the requirement, so it is unable to perform at optimum levels. The acceptance factor is what dictates the size of the vessel and the final pressure on the system; if the vessel is not large enough to meet the need then the pressure around the system will be inaccurate and the system installed will not function properly.
Cost is still a major factor in many decisions on what product is installed, so what the industry needs is for specifiers or consultants to be bolder and insist that the products being installed are right for the long-term health of the building and not poorer performers that will only save money in the short term.
System health will be greatly improved once the disparity between the design phase, consultant recommendation, hand-over to the lead contractor and the company tasked with the on-going maintenance is ironed out. There also needs to be a greater acknowledgement that the products initially specified are done so for the good of the building and its most valuable assets, of which the boiler is a key one.
Rounding off the process is also vital. A simple post-installation briefing with management teams can often save tens of thousands of pounds in unnecessary call outs, costly inhibitors or component malfunctions, as well as facilities managers gaining greater insight into how the systems work and, importantly, who to call if advice or guidance is needed.
Martin Wilkinson is Spirotech’s national sales manager — commercial.