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UFH growth in high-rise heating

Mark Dowdeswell, senior category manager at Uponor explores the attributes of underfloor heating (UFH) that makes it so suitable for the high-rise sector

Underfloor heating (UFH) is becoming increasingly common, with research indicating that it is heading for between 4–6% growth over the next four years. The popularity of UFH is not just growing in standard housing, it’s also becoming a must-have feature within luxury high-rise developments.  

A versatile solution 

Few high-rise developments are the same, however thanks to the versatility of UFH, builders and installers can be confident that there will be an appropriate solution available for the project they’re working on. 

For concrete and steel framed high-rises, it’s likely that a traditional UFH system would be used by incorporating it within the screed on top of each storey’s concrete slab. Being built into the floor means that the screed layer acts as one large radiator, creating a radiant and even heat across the entire room. This is a very efficient method when compared to traditional systems such as radiators, which use more energy to warm a room as the heat only rises from one spot.

While timber framed buildings tend to dominate the shorter end of the building spectrum, there are an increasing number of timber-framed high-rises being developed. Typically, these projects won’t include concrete floors due to the structure not having the strength to support this weight until after the floors have been added near the end of the building programme. 

Low-profile UFH systems are the best option here, as they can be laid on top of most substrates and don’t take up much space or add significant weight. While there’s no screed to act as a giant radiator panel, low-profile systems sit nearer the floor’s surface and the pipes are laid closer together, so they still provide an even heat output with only minimal energy required. 

Getting heating under control 

Another advantage of UFH is the level of control that it provides. Solutions with in-built automatic balancing are available that continuously monitors the temperature inside the apartment and regulates the space accordingly. This means that the heating is able to constantly react to the weather as well as any structural changes, or changes in usage patterns without manual adjustments. Not only does this mean a more even temperature and faster system reaction times, but it’s up to 20% more energy efficient than alternative solutions. 

The ability to control and update the heating system through smart devices is particularly useful in high-rise apartments that are only occupied at certain times of the year and it also means that servicing can be done remotely. 

Coping with pressure 

An important design consideration when thinking about installing UFH in a high-rise development is to ensure that the water pressure throughout the building is not too high or too low for the UFH to work. Whilst true of UFH in any building, high-rises are unique in that the water will need to be at a higher pressure to get up to each level and then it will have to be converted to a lower pressure to go through the UFH’s pipes.

UFH typically requires 0.3 bar to work; in a high-rise this will mean that each apartment will require a heat interface unit with pressure reduction valves to control the water pressure from the mains at the point where it enters into each residence. 

Under floors and behind walls

In addition to heating, cooling in high-rises can be tricky due to the size, scale and complexities of the buildings. Systems similar to UFH can be installed behind walls and ceilings to help efficiently cool rooms down. Running cold water in pipes embedded into radiant panels behind these surfaces turns the walls and ceilings into highly effective heat transfer surfaces to lower the room’s temperature.

This technology is a great alternative to blown air systems, as it does the same job but cuts down on dust circulation and unwanted air drafts, which can lower comfort and hygiene levels.

Futureproofing 

Lastly, a significant advantage of systems like UFH is that they are well suited to the sustainability guidelines which are going to increasingly determine how buildings are heated. 

For example, the Part L building regulations state that by 2022 any new heating systems installed need to function at 55°C. This means that gas and boiler systems operating at 82°C will not be viable. 

Not only does UFH require less energy to heat the same amount of space as traditional systems, but it is also better at working alongside renewable heating technology. For high-rises in particular, air source heat pumps (ASHP) are going to become more common due to their environmental benefits. However, the temperatures ASHPs run at are too low for regular radiators, so oversized radiators which take up a lot of space would be required. UFH can easily run off the hot water of an ASHP and radiant panels can simultaneously use its cold-water output for the cooling system. 

The ability of UFH to provide an easy to install and easy to manage heating system combined with its futureproof sustainability credentials explains its rise in popularity. As mentioned, it’s important to bear in mind that no two developments are exactly the same and therefore it’s important to discuss UFH requirements with a specialist during the design stages of a project to make sure that the appropriate solution is specified. 

26 May 2021

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