Turning down the heat

Stricter building regulations demand new homes be better insulated and more efficiently heated. Phil Marris reports on the latest in heating and ventilation

Energy efficiency is no longer solely the concern of environmentalists. Both corporations and the general public alike now accept that the world’s finite resources must be preserved to ensure survival of the planet. As a result, increasing pressure is being put on the heating and ventilation sector to provide solutions that help to conserve fuel and energy resources while providing a comfortable environment.

Spurred on by Part L of the building regulations that have recently come into force, homes will need to be better insulated and use more efficient heating systems to conserve fuel and power by improving the efficiency of space heating and limiting heat loss. The market has provided further incentives for change in the form of rising energy costs for bill payers.

The National Energy Authority maintains that energy efficiency is the only rational solution to fuel poverty and that much greater priority and resources should be allocated to improving the energy efficiency of both commercial and public buildings.

Consumers are also becoming increasingly aware of the need to select greener products. Cost savings are the biggest factor affecting such a decision. But the positive impact that energy saving has on the level of domestic fuel usage and consequently the environment is increasingly becoming a consumer concern. Companies that do not adhere to regulations or act on the growing public consciousness run the risk of being regarded as pariahs rather than leaders.

Politicians are also recognising the need to go green. Investment in the environment figured centrally in Gordon Brown’s recent Budget. Brown rejected calls for the abolition of the climate-change levy and instead put a tax on the most polluting companies in attempt to cut carbon dioxide emissions further. He also showed a desire to make homes greener by promising new incentives for piloting smart metering and also a new labelling scheme for energy-efficient goods. Further initiatives were discussed including, after reaching an agreement with energy companies, an additional 250,000 homes to be better insulated over the next two years. A new £1 billion energy and environmental research institute is also to be set up and funded by government and private industry.

Whether or not these measures will make a difference remains to be seen but if they are properly implemented then it is likely they will start to. What they certainly do illustrate is the drive towards making a greener Britain.

Encouragement towards energy-efficient heating systems is also coming from the EU. The European Commission is promoting economical behaviour for energy use and also attempting to make industries more accountable for their choices and actions. This is a necessary move considering that the 160 million buildings in the EU account for over 40% of Europe’s total energy consumption through heating and lighting alone. It has been estimated by the EU Commission that the EU could reduce energy consumption by 20% by 2020 if regulations are met and additional voluntary measures are carried out. This would release billions of euros a year for other investments and would help to conserve dwindling resources.

In response to this need to limit energy usage, an ever-increasing number of energy-efficient “low-H2O” (low water content) radiators are being specified in order to obtain long-term cost savings and environmental benefits. Energy-efficient low-H2O radiator technology delivers maximum heating with minimum consumption.

They contain as little as one tenth of the water in an equivalent panel radiator, and this combined with their low mass (also typically only one tenth of that of a panel radiator) means virtually no thermal inertia. Their low mass and low water content enable the heat exchanger to reach its maximum operating temperature much quicker and to deliver rapid heat at a rate typically three times faster than traditional high-mass steel-panel radiators. The room temperature then remains closer to the desired level, adjusting to fluctuating indirect heat sources, and maximising the free heat available from sources such as solar radiation and electrical appliances.

This flexibility is essential for optimum heating operation – whereas traditional radiators store excessive amounts of heat energy and consequently respond poorly to changing temperatures throughout the day. Traditional steel panel radiators also take much longer to reach optimal operating temperature and subsequently begin to overheat a space even after thermostatic controls have stopped calling for heat. Once they have cooled down, there is a further delay when the room temperature falls and the radiator needs to come on again.

Energy-saving heating systems are also a must in the social housing and local authority building sectors. With over 1.5 million families living in social housing that does not meet the government’s Decent Homes Standard, social housing providers need to look at improving the energy efficiency of their heating systems.

Low-H2O heating solutions result in reduced energy costs which means more affordable warmth for social housing tenants. An additional advantage to residents of social housing is better air distribution and heat circulation. Low-H2O radiators are designed to improve this and ensure that the entire room is heated evenly to the same controlled temperature preventing hot spots, excess humidity and or mould formation. A traditional radiator will heat up the adjacent wall before heating the room, the elements within low-H2O radiators however ensure that heat is spread evenly around the room.

In an independent study undertaken by the Building Research Establishment, low-H2O radiators were shown to have an energy saving of 5-15% (depending on the weather) compared with traditional steel-panel radiators. The energy saving aspect of low-H2O radiators not only benefits the environment by helping to conserve the Earth’s sparse resources but also goes some way to ensuring that local authorities meet their commitments under the Climate Change Levy by lowering their greenhouse gas emissions.

Developments in energy-efficient low-H2O technology will only add to the energy savings that are already being made.

Recent innovations have come in the form of intelligent air-refreshment systems that deliver powerful and energy-efficient heating as well as controlled ventilation and managed air quality.

With such a system, the indoor climate can be analysed and regulated and the exact quantity of clean fresh air that is required will be delivered. As the amount of ventilation depends on how stale the air is in each room where the units are installed, rooms with clean air are not ventilated unnecessarily. Certification in Holland shows that an energy saving of up to 20% can be achieved using this kind of system compared with traditional heating and ventilation solutions.

Other advances have come in the form of heating systems that contain intelligent thermal activators that fit on to the low-H2O heat exchanger inside the radiator. This kind of heating solution gives a far more precise climatic control through the provision of both automatic natural comfort heating and dynamic boost output. The units work in unison with the room thermostats to deliver intelligent temperature regulation.

This kind of system leads the drive towards energy-saving heating and sustainability. This results in cost savings for building owners or occupiers

as they can save an average household 15-25% on its energy bills every year.

Such a system will also emit about 1.5 tonnes less carbon dioxide a year and is ideal for use with lower water flow temperatures such as those produced from a ground source heat pump.

According to the December 2005 Proposals for Introducing a Code for Sustainable Homes from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, “a building built to the recently announced revised standards will be 40% more energy-efficient than one built only five years ago”.

As increasingly innovative low-H2O technology systems are produced, it shows that we are moving in the right direction for the preservation of our world and the finite resources belonging to generations to come.

Phil Marris is director and general manager of Jaga Heating Products (UK)

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie