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Decreasing your overheads... underfloor

When specifying an underfloor heating system, it is essential to ensure that all the parts involved in the system are as energy efficient as possible, including A rated pumps, says Michelle Taylor

Underfloor heating has established itself over the past few years as a major form of heating in the commercial sector. When first introduced, it was hailed as the solution to creating additional space by removing the need for radiators, but since that time it has also proved a major asset when used with renewable heat sources too.

The growth in the renewable sector and the use of much lower temperature systems has also led to the underfloor system evolving, and now it is even more important that every aspect of the system plays its part in maximising energy efficiency. Most recently, the focus has turned to the non-heat generating elements of the system, and rightly so.

The efficiency of the circulating pump, for example, should be given due consideration when designing the system. It seems counterproductive to specify a low temperature underfloor system with a renewable heat source and to install a circulating pump with lower energy efficiency. A truly efficient system should comprise products all of which are as energy efficient as possible; otherwise, any one product which is less efficient can have an adverse impact on the coefficient of performance (CoP).

With pumps, this now means insisting on an A-rated pump for every application. The alternative is simply to waste energy.

It is equally important to ensure that all the component parts of an underfloor system are compatible and designed to work together. It is tempting to shop around and put a pack together from lots of different sources, but some items aren't quite as mix and match as you might wish. The best plan is to opt for a high quality package which includes everything you will need from a single source, ensuring that each part of the system will work harmoniously with all the others.

Anything else is normally a false economy as you will experience issues with making the products work together effectively, which may involve more time on site and return visits to fix problems. The payback period on underfloor may also become longer as a result of compromised efficiency.

Knowing when to use underfloor heating as the best solution is essential. As it takes longer to come up to temperature, it is best suited to properties which require heat consistently over long periods. In some settings this is invaluable, for example in care homes or special needs units in which vulnerable residents need a constant temperature. Hotels and leisure facilities also often need a fairly constant temperature as their rooms are used for large proportions of each 24 hour period.

Good where space is lacking
Underfloor heating is still a good option when space is at a premium. In retail settings, for example, freeing up wall space adds to the availability of display for all types of retail offerings from decorating equipment to clothing, and from books to audio visual equipment.

The safety benefits which underfloor heating can bring are also considerable in certain applications. In nursing homes or special needs schools or nurseries; wherever the very young or the elderly are being catered for, underfloor heating can provide an exceptionally safe heating option. Designed to be out of sight beneath the floor covering, underfloor heating can also be a lot harder wearing in applications where radiators would take an unusual amount of wear and tear from contact with luggage, wheelchairs, buggies and other equipment.

Underfloor heating is suitable for both newbuild and retrofit projects, though it is important to choose your system carefully.

Hydronic systems are usually favoured in newbuild situations, although they can be successfully retrofitted, especially in major renovations and where extensions or conservatories are being added to an existing property. In established rooms within existing properties, when updating and refurbishing kitchens and bathrooms, for example, innovative electrical mat systems can provide comfort heating underfoot without causing any problems with altered floor levels. Combining this type of underfloor heating with a towel warmer can free up wall space for additional cupboards.

In some settings, homeowners like to use a mixture of underfloor with other heating products, in order to take advantage of their ability to cool more rapidly. In bedrooms, for example, where a cooler room can aid sleep, some end users prefer to use other heat emitters, such as radiators or fan convectors.

These can provide rapid heating when needed, but allow the space to cool quickly when required too. Fan convectors can be particularly useful in these areas particularly if they offer cooling during warmer months as well as heating in winter.

As underfloor heating is easily zoned, each area can have a separate timing sequence and can work alongside zones with heating provided by other methods. A common arrangement now is to have underfloor heating on the ground floor with other methods such as radiators on the upper floors. To get the best from each application, it pays to take the holistic approach, ensuring that every part of the system works together to produce the most energy efficient and comfortable end result. Fortunately, getting either right helps to achieve both aims.

// The author is product manager for Myson //
13 May 2013

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