Striving for better building performance
The 2016 Olympic Games and the ultimate in performance aimed for by the athletes prompts Paul Wightman of Albion Valves to apply the same philosophy to buildings and their services.
In any Olympic year high performance is the headline that prevails. This month in Rio de Janeiro, athletes are pushing themselves to their physical limits and peak performance in hope of striking gold —and all in environments designed and built specifically and precisely for purpose.
Likewise, impeccable building design with empathy for purpose and where all systems work seamlessly together to deliver sustained high performance is when building designers strike gold.
Like any great athlete being put though their paces, the foundations of a high-performing building are constructed on good design, endless fine-tuning and rigorous testing of the integral systems.
Good building design is not just about functionality, aesthetics and urban planning — it is also about social responsibility and should aim to reduce the environmental impact of the built environment on the population, be efficient in its use of energy and tackle challenges relating to health, comfort and well-being of people.
To boost the energy efficiency and comfort credentials of a building, the complete physiology of the structure, fittings and all its systems working in accord must be considered. If one system is compromised and if one cog is out of place the entire building can go out of kilter.
To achieve this gold standard, balance and control is key. Each system — including heating, lighting, ventilation and air conditioning — should have empathy with the others to create one complete smooth-running unit.
Glaring lights and screens can impact temperature, and building occupancy is often radically different to design specification — resulting in more people generating more heat and using more electrical devices.
This improper allowance for natural heat sources such as solar gain and powered devices ultimately places additional pressure on cooling systems not designed to cope with the load.
Similarly, an open window can impact the quality of air and upset temperature control. The immediate effect of an open door is hot air rising and increasing cooling loads on upper floors and overheating.
Draughts from over-zealous airflow is major cause of discomfort in buildings, especially offices. Although the temperature may be correct, the ‘wind-chill’ factor can be unpleasant. Self-closing door hinges designed in at the start of the build can eliminate these issues from the outset.
As a leading valve supplier, Albion suggests that the specification of equipment can help enable systems to ‘empathise’ and compensate for inefficiencies that occur in other systems that may negatively impact in the overall running of a building.
For example in a wet heating system, mixing valves provide the ability to regulate the temperature of the heating pipes in a climate by controlling the flow of hot water from the central supply system to the local heating zone.
By carefully adjusting the temperature of the water in the heating pipes, the heating controller can closely balance the energy applied with the heat loss, resulting in optimum balanced room temperature management.
The controller constantly monitors both the room and outdoor conditions and compares them to target values. It then calculates the desired pipe temperature required to sustain the current air target set point and positions the mixing valve to achieve this pipe temperature.
Temperature sensors are used to provide feedback correction for valve positioning. This function is known as ‘weather compensation’ and when done correctly allows the boiler to modulate its performance and deliver much lower temperatures into the system, thereby making the boiler more efficient.
Such adjustments would most likely occur on mild spring or autumn days when less heating is required and it is not necessary to create a high temperature.
Intelligent management systems not only inform engineers and help create better performing buildings, they can also compensate for human error.
A typical example is a building’s central heating system being operational and a window having been left open to let the heat out. Intelligent control could isolate and shut off the heating in a specific part of the system to help prevent energy wastage.
Some systems do this by responding to a rapid drop in temperature in a particular zone. The zone is isolated automatically by a 2-port motorised valve that only opens again when the room temperature stabilises.
In addition, when a building is unoccupied at night, 2-port motorised valves can prevent circulation of water flow in closed circuits and also in open circuits such as WCs and basins to reduce the risk of water wastage, leaks and energy loss.
Another common application driven by an intelligent management system is a heating and hot-water system with a 3-port motorised valve to divert hot water to the cylinder when it needs topping up, even though there may be a call for space heating.
Whilst the heating may be off for a short time, diverting flow to the hot-water cylinder ensures there is always hot-water delivery at all times. The function is simple but effective. The flow is sent to the cylinder first when required; when the cylinder satisfied flow is resumed through the heating circuit.
Also, with the increasing specification of renewables such as biomass or solar, a 3-port motorised valve is often used for its diverting function to ensure the renewable energy source is used as priority until its capacity is exhausted and more-conventional energy sources used.
Strategically designed and well-maintained operating systems create an environment that is fit for purpose, comfortable to live or work in and with sound energy credentials.
The performance of any building’s internal systems — from temperature control, air quality, water distribution, boiler control and numerous other air and water elements — is subject to the fine tuning and design of the building’s network of valves and fittings, all of which have a crucial role to play in maintaining a building’s vital statistics.
Paul Wightman is technical specifications manager with Albion Valves UK.