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Smart use of UFH

Franz Huelle, head of technical at Rehau Building Solutions, explores how underfloor heating (UFH) can meet the challenge of providing efficient and cost-effective space heating for multiple commercial end-users 

As properties adapt over time, specifiers are increasingly opting for flexible and scalable solutions like UFH, often used with smart controls to deliver efficiency and lower long-term costs. 

Once a high-end space heating method for luxury residential developments, UFH is becoming the clear choice for commercial developers in multiple applications. Offering greater flexibility and aesthetic appeal than traditional central heating, the latest UFH solutions can deliver great heating performance while reducing occupants’ energy bills.

As industry works to become more sustainable, the nation’s building stock must also be constructed with the environment in mind. UFH systems must therefore function effectively with alternative heat supplies like heat pumps and utilise technologies such as smart controls to optimise and regulate space heating throughout each zone. However, it cannot compromise on performance especially when commercial end user requirements can be so demanding.

Commercial end user requirements

For commercial end users, space heating solutions must deliver optimal performance in any area. Atop this, the solution must minimise energy costs, reducing the occupiers’ monthly overheads. With sustainability a priority, specified systems must also be future-proof, providing flexibility and reducing environmental impact during the building’s working life. 

With this in mind, the lower flow temperatures required in UFH systems compared to their radiator counterparts distinguish them as a more sustainable, high-performing option. Specifically, according to figures from the British Electrotechnical and Allied Manufacturers Association (BEAMA), warm water UFH installations are 25 per cent more efficient than radiators when paired with a modern condensing boiler, and 40 per cent more cost-effective with a heat pump.

Additionally, commercial premises layouts and functions can change over time, presenting different challenges. Developers therefore need to select space heating solutions that can easily adapt to layout changes. Disruption caused by rerouting pipework and radiators could make UFH technology, which can be rezoned to new layouts, a more practical option.

Building use changes

Trends around end-user requirements are also influencing building design. For instance, as the world becomes increasingly digitalised, professionals are opting for remote working. Particularly in recent times, the traditional office has changed dramatically, with coworking and flexible working spaces fast becoming the norm. As office buildings change in purpose, being used by different occupants or standing unoccupied at varying times, flexible heating systems are vital.

Designing solutions for mixed-use developments could also present challenges for developers and contractors. By bringing together residential and commercial zones, the building inherently requires space heating that suits end users with completely different performance and cost requirements. To service varying time and temperature demand, the chosen solution must optimise and adapt to all occupants’ needs.

Smarter heating

With such demanding occupant requirements and building uses, developers and contractors face a monumental space heating challenge with commercial projects. No matter the project’s size or purpose, building professionals need flexibility and scalability within an easy-to-install system. However, it must also deliver excellent performance and efficiency, providing end users with cost savings and efficient heating throughout the building’s working life.

To address this issue, developers and contractors could implement smart controls with UFH systems. For instance, smart controls such as the NEA Smart 2.0 from Rehau equip UFH solutions with the modularity and adaptability to meet site-specific space heating challenges. Using internet data and information learned over time from building efficiency performance metrics and occupant habits, smart control systems can efficiently deliver space heating for any commercial space.

Often working from an internet-connected base station, smart controls can regulate up to 60 underfloor heating zones with the NEA Smart 2.0. These can be divided into up to five subgroups that can be programmed individually to fit the building’s needs. For instance, office buildings with multiple floors occupied by differing organisations can have their individual heating requirements optimised separately.

Smart room thermostats can be either hardwired or connected wirelessly to the base station. This gives complete flexibility at point-of-installation and, crucially, later on in the building’s life, as its layout and function changes. With UFH technology in place, new zones can be determined using the system’s application without additional, disruptive heating installation work. To alleviate installation concerns, systems like the NEA Smart 2.0 have been designed to be installed ‘out of the box’. With a simple tool-free set-up and commissioning wizard for more complex projects, it allows for intuitive remote servicing through the internet, with access to systems via a dedicated app.

As their popularity grows, employing smart controls with UFH can reassure building professionals that their commercial projects will satisfy end user demands long into the future. As the challenge to ensure efficient and sustainable space heating continues, flexible and modular UFH smart control systems could futureproof developments, no matter how the heating industry or building requirements change.

9 September 2020

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