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Smart controls to the rescue

Franz Huelle, head of technical at REHAU Building Solutions, discusses how smart control systems can mitigate problems that come with temperature control in commercial premises, particularly newer sealed buildings


Efficiently heating and cooling buildings with suitable HVAC solutions is a key priority for many contractors and heating installers. However maintaining air quality and ensuring energy efficiency relies on the careful management of temperature within the structure’s space. 

In efforts to become more environmentally friendly, there is more pressure than ever on developers and contractors to deliver efficient heating and cooling systems. On top of this, however, occupant comfort and safety are key drivers in building services specification that must be preserved despite sustainable development.

One method of heating and cooling across many commercial buildings, as well as some residential developments, is fan coils. These units use hot and cold water to temper air, meaning spaces can be heated or cooled from the same source. Heating and cooling together in any space can bring up difficulties in terms of air quality, particularly in sealed new build developments, so careful transfer between the two is required. 

Often concealed within a ceiling cavity, fan coils are used more and more in high-end buildings as they are frequently more visually appealing than traditional radiators and air conditioning units. With higher occupant expectations of comfort and often more expensive building materials within the space, getting air quality and efficiency balanced is even more important.

Air quality matters

In 2020, as part of the Future Homes Standard 2025 consultations, Approved Document L: Conservation of Fuel and Power of the Building Regulations was identified to be intrinsically link to Approved Document F: Ventilation. This is because in order to achieve lower emissions from the nation’s building stock, new buildings now need to be airtight to waste less energy. Contractors and specifiers must therefore ensure that ventilation is sufficient to ensure the health and comfort of occupants, which is why Part F and Part L have been consulted simultaneously.

Evidently, air quality and occupant health and comfort are the main drivers behind building services specification for those working on sealed new build developments. However, they must also ensure that the mechanical heating, cooling and ventilation solution they use contributes to overall efficiency rather than worsens it. When it comes to fan coils, they may find implementing smart controls could be a practical decision to reduce energy consumption.

Humidity considerations

Implicit when switching between heating and cooling, condensation and ensuing moisture can all have serious implications on air quality. If humidity in a space becomes too great, mould can become a persistent issue in a building, which can have a dangerous effect on occupant health. 

On top of this, moisture in a space can have a damaging effect on materials. With many buildings of varying types, from offices to apartments and hotels, being expected to be finished to the highest quality, this could risk some very expensive furnishings and fixtures.

Getting smart

In order to regulate heating and cooling to deliver on both efficiency and air quality, a practical solution for many construction professionals is the integration of smart controls. Using intelligent algorithms to gradually change a space from heating to cooling, systems that have fan coil integration, such as REHAU’s NEA Smart 2.0, can ensure efficiency is maintained through careful temperature change that wastes less energy.

Systems such as this can use data from smart sensors to not only effective measure and adjust temperature carefully in a space, but also to measure air quality. This includes evaluating humidity levels in a space and calculating the dew point to adjust heating or cooling, ensuring moisture does not increase. By locating such sensors under floors, in walls and in ceilings, temperature reading for the entire room can guide heating and cooling intensity. This can help to efficiently heat a space by ensuring there is not excess energy demand on the fan coils, and means that any expensive wooden flooring or furniture present is protected from moisture damage.

As smart technology becomes an expectation of commercial and residential end users, integrating smart controls with efficient space heating and cooling solutions is integral to futureproofing buildings. With Building Regulations and occupant requirements piling on the pressure to deliver efficiency and comfort, such systems can be a quick to install and commission solution to solve both challenges at once.

21 July 2021


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