A lesson in maintenance and refurbishment
The focus on air quality and ventilation in school classrooms has been intensified as buildings reopen for the new term. But what impact will this have on the heating system? Andy Green, Technical Director at Baxi Heating, discusses
Ahead of reopening their classrooms for the autumn term, school operators have been vigilant in implementing active COVID-19 safety precautions to protect the safety and wellbeing of their pupils and staff.
Ventilation hygiene, air quality and cleanliness have been the key areas of focus to limit the potential risk of infection spreading. In terms of cleanliness, on a basic level, many schools have identified frequent hand washing as being at the core of their prevention strategy.
When it comes to ensuring good classroom air quality, in many older, smaller school buildings, it’s likely that the most practical solution will come down to opening windows wherever possible to allow fresh air into the building for improved ventilation. In larger, more modern school buildings, the emphasis will shift to introducing as much fresh outdoor air as possible into the mechanical ventilation and air conditioning systems.
But as school operators strive to ensure a healthy indoor atmosphere, what impact will this have on the heating and hot water system? Not only will the system likely need to work harder to maintain the required thermal comfort levels that are increasingly associated with optimal cognitive performance and productivity, but it will have to satisfy the increased demand for hot water.
The vital role of the heating and hot water service in schools is widely recognised as without it schools face closure. Yet, according to research from the Times Educational Supplement (TES), 57% of England’s schools have faulty boilers or heaters.
Then there are the financial and environmental considerations. One school energy and estates manager has already shared concerns that energy bills will rise due to a rise in energy consumption. And he won’t be alone in struggling to balance safety and comfort with energy efficiency.
So as we enter the heating season, ensuring that the heating and hot water system is operating as reliably and efficiently as possible is crucial to avoid unnecessary waste and needlessly high bills. As such, we in the heating industry have an important role to play, supporting school operators in identifying practical energy-saving opportunities that will result in reduced running costs and associated emissions.
Boilers are at the heart of the heating system in many school buildings. Like people and cars, boilers need looking after so that they can continue to operate reliably and effectively. For this reason, manufacturers recommend implementing a regular servicing and maintenance programme to keep both boiler efficiencies and comfort levels high.
An approved engineer should carry out a full boiler service on an annual basis, as per manufacturer instructions. This normally includes cleaning both the heat exchanger and condensate trap, undertaking flue-gas analysis and checking the gas pressure.
Ensuring that a full check is carried out can allow early preventative action and avoid the need for more expensive repairs further into the term – or an emergency replacement.
In some buildings, recommissioning the boiler plant might also be advisable. This would be particularly relevant in schools where conditions may have changed due to COVID measures – for example reduced occupancy in certain rooms, more classrooms in use, or staggered start and finish times resulting in extended hours.
Old and inefficient heating systems add an unnecessary financial burden to tight school budgets – and even well-maintained boilers will eventually come to the end of their serviceable life. So now would also be a good time to start implementing regular condition surveys with a view to assessing the efficiency of the existing equipment, identifying funding opportunities and planning staged replacement programmes moving forward.
When replacing dated boiler plant, it’s important to accommodate possible changes to the building’s size or use in the design. Fully modulating condensing boilers that are expandable and adaptable will help future proof the system, making it more cost-effective and efficient overall. This will provide greater flexibility and facilitate any plans to add low carbon equipment like heat pumps at a later date.
As we move into autumn, some schools will have taken advantage of the summer shutdown period to carry out boiler replacements. But what about those schools that missed the boat?
Use of prefabrication has come into the spotlight in COVID times as a safe, rapid solution that overcomes the challenges of carrying out refurbishments in the ‘new normal’. The option to use manufacturer prefabricated turnkey boiler rig systems for boiler replacement, for example, reduces installation and commissioning to days rather than weeks. And with the opportunity to use bespoke-designed rigs, all site and project requirements – including minimising disruption and overcoming space and access limitations – can be addressed at the outset.
Rapid solutions like these mean that upgrades no longer need to be restricted to the long holiday but can be completed in the half term break. And as fewer workers and fewer skills are required on site for less time, prefabricated heating solutions enable safety to be prioritised throughout the works.
Long-term performance is also addressed through the rig design as the boilers are easier to service and maintain, isolate, remove and replace, reducing labour and downtime throughout their lifetime. Further, as the boilers are identical models, only one service kit is required for further cost savings.
While we and other manufacturers are innovating with future green gas retrofit solutions, it’s likely that many UK school buildings will continue to rely on natural gas for their heating for the next decade. So it makes perfect sense to use this energy source more efficiently and ensure optimum performance from condensing boilers and water heaters. A combination of effective maintenance and timely replacement is a practical means of achieving this goal.
Strong technical and product skills combined with specialist knowledge of schools and the common challenges in these buildings make manufacturers like Baxi Heating well placed to support contractors, specifiers and school operators.
With consultants and engineers, supported by good manufacturers, providing expert advice on how best to achieve and maintain high heating efficiencies from their products, school building operators will have one thing less to worry about this winter.
Andy Green is Technical Director at Baxi Heating