A balanced approach

Tom Murray, Baxi Commercial Heating, heating, energy efficiency, controls, emissions, net zero

Recent reports of energy waste in UK commercial properties highlight that more can be done to improve the efficiency of our existing buildings. Where heating is concerned, says Tom Murray, we must continue to tackle the low hanging fruit

The government has called 2020 a defining year of climate action. Certainly, for the building services industry, this is set to be an exciting time of both transition and opportunity. And with 37% of UK emissions currently attributed to heat in buildings, this is a key area for improvement.

To help the building services industry ensure that the nation is on track to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, heating manufacturers are busy innovating to deliver a combination of technology and techniques that will meet the different requirements of new build and existing buildings.

This is likely to include advanced heat pumps in well insulated commercial properties and heat networks in dense urban environments. The feasibility of repurposing the existing gas grid to transport green gas is also being explored by ourselves and others to offer a low disruption option towards decarbonising our older building stock.

But with these existing buildings continuing to present one of the toughest challenges in the path to net zero, it’s important not to overlook the vital role of energy efficiency and retrofit as part of the drive for a greener future.

Take the recent report by the Green Alliance into energy waste in commercial buildings. Research carried out for the think tank revealed that office buildings are losing an eye-watering £60 million in wasted energy every year, with an associated environmental impact. The urgent need to cut energy waste has also been identified by the Committee on Climate Change as critical to reach our 2050 target.

So, with energy saving measures high on the business and climate agenda, let’s consider how best to tackle the remaining low hanging fruit while the longer-term options for grid decarbonisation are explored.

When it comes to improving heating efficiency in older buildings, plant replacement offers businesses a real and achievable opportunity to dramatically improve the energy performance of their buildings.

In a sizeable number of UK commercial buildings, reliance on ageing and/or inefficient boiler plant is all too often the cause of needless energy waste, pushing up emission levels and resulting in avoidably high bills.

Fortunately, there is a relatively straightforward and cost-effective solution. By retrofitting energy-efficient condensing boilers and adding the appropriate controls, we can ensure that the gas is used more smartly and efficiently, while creating a comfortable building environment.

With a variety of products to choose from, which factors should specifiers and contractors look to consider when selecting replacement boilers to ensure optimum lifetime performance?

Energy efficiency remains a top customer priority in commercial buildings to keep overheads and emissions low and employee comfort levels high.

But peace of mind over long term reliability is becoming ever more important for building owners and operators – hence the importance of choosing a robust boiler brand with a reputation for quality and reliability.

Is the boiler backed by a good warranty? The length and terms of the warranty act as a guarantee from the manufacturer of the product’s high performance. The market-leading warranties that accompany Remeha’s condensing boiler range, for example, reinforce confidence that their products will continue to deliver, year in, year out.

As each building has its own unique requirements, the opportunity to choose from a wide range of boiler outputs and models, all readily available, will be another determining factor.

With extended choice comes greater design flexibility, making it easier to overcome the common obstacles to refurbishment, such as space constraints within the plant room and restricted access.

A typical scenario in an older building is a high heat demand and a cramped, low-ceilinged plant room. Where wall-hung boilers are not an option, the opportunity to install compact high output floor-standing boilers in modular or cascade arrangements will enable designers to overcome such challenges in an extremely small footprint.

It’s also worth considering the frequent need to achieve hydraulic separation to protect the boilers and optimise lifetime performance. Forward-thinking manufacturers will provide time and spacing-saving solutions to smooth installation and enable easier maintenance moving forward. The opportunity to use pre-assembled low loss header kits or plate heat exchangers options with Remeha’s Gas 120 Ace, as well as providing cascade options, is one such example.

What about the long term? For an accurate assessment of the efficiency benefits of a boiler throughout its lifecycle, the ease of maintenance, servicing and part replacement must also be carefully considered.

Boilers designed with easily accessible parts will be easier to interrogate, while the inclusion of internal LED lights is a helpful detail, especially in dark plantrooms. Ready availability of manufacturer spare parts will keep the boiler and heating system operating as intended in the future.

Value-added services like a manufacturer’s out-of-hours technical assistance helpline will again help optimise boiler performance. All of these features will make it easier to maintain high operational efficiencies while keeping emissions and energy costs low throughout the lifetime of the boiler.

The degree of support offered by the manufacturer should be a further consideration when selecting boilers and other heating products. With their in-depth knowledge of their products, good manufacturers will be able to act as a helpful resource for both specifiers and contractors at every stage of the project.

From pre-specification technical and product advice to on-site support and after sales support, experienced manufacturers will be able to advise on the most appropriate, energy-efficient commercial boiler configuration in every building.

And as more complex hybrid designs are applied to reduce emissions associated with heating, designers will be able to tap into this specialist product and application knowledge to optimise both boiler and overall system efficiency.

No discussion around heating is complete without mention of controls. Put simply, effective use of controls is crucial to reduce energy waste and simultaneously optimise comfort levels and occupant wellbeing.

For this reason, it’s advisable to consider integrated controls when selecting boilers. Does the boiler need to be connected to a Building Management System? If so, choose a boiler that is supplied with volt free or 0-10V connections as standard and avoid additional costs. Boilers that are supplied with time and temperature controls, along with intuitive access to extended parameters, will benefit heating engineers at the installation, maintenance and servicing stages. At the same time, building operators and facility management providers will find them easier to use on a day-to-day basis, encouraging more efficient energy use.

As we prepare for a more sustainable future, we must continue to focus on energy efficiency. While this Cinderella of energy policies alone won’t achieve net zero, it will certainly take us a good way along the path.

It’s clear that we can and must do more to avoid unnecessary waste in our existing buildings. And retrofitting reliable, high-quality, energy-efficient gas boilers offers a real economic and environmental opportunity to do just that. With good manufacturers ensuring that today’s products are as energy efficient as possible, there’s surely no better time to tackle the easy pickings.

Tom Murray is Baxi Heating’s specification director

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