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UFH - leaner and greener

Underfloor heating can help provide the Priority School Building Programme with much needed certainty over long-term energy and cost saving, according to Mike Lamb
Schools play a major role in the UK's energy output, accounting for approximately 2 per cent of the nation's greenhouse gas emissions and 15 per cent of the public sector's. There is pressure for this to change however, with the Climate Change Act requiring that the UK reduces its emissions by at least 34 per cent by 2020 and 80 per cent by 2050, below 1990 levels.

This is no mean feat, particularly given the education system's increasing dependence on technology such as desktop PCs, laptops and interactive whiteboards, all of which are very energy hungry. Server rooms too need to be kept cool, often by air conditioning, which contributes to schools' energy consumption.

As contractors involved in the Priority Schools Building Programme are legally required to predict the likely utilities consumption and running costs of the entire 25-year term of their contract, a whole life cost approach is needed. Contractors need to 'invest to save'; allocating more money in the design stage for energy-smart systems that can deliver long-term benefits. Whilst it may be at the less exciting end of the energy efficient opportunities scale, an effective heating and cooling solution is still one of the most effective ways of reducing emissions and achieving a more predictable building performance.

The key principles on reducing emissions remain the same: use less energy; use energy more wisely and, where possible, use renewable sources of energy. Underfloor heating and cooling can help on all three fronts.

Energy efficiency in schools is important from both an environmental and economic perspective. Recent reports suggest that the average national temperature could rise by as much as 8 deg C in the next century and schools need to have systems in place to accommodate this if they are to be truly future proof. Underfloor heating and cooling is ideally suited for our variable climate, ensuring a comfortable internal environment throughout the year; heating in the winter and cooling in the hotter summer months, when overheating is a problem.

Connecting underfloor heating and cooling systems to renewable technology such as solar panels, natural ventilation, wind turbines and ground source heat pumps can maximise efficiency, ensuring that the cheapest and most effective option is used first. The Carbon Trust estimates that such energy saving measures can save a school as much as £21,500 per year; equivalent to the salary of a newly qualified teacher.

In line with contractors' needs to understand the long-term cost of their buildings, underfloor heating and cooling provides a low-cost whole-life solution. Being located underneath the floor, these systems are less susceptible to tampering and require minimal maintenance. Compared to radiators which often have leaky pipes that attract scale and decay, the pipe work in underfloor systems can offer a guarantee of as much as 100 years.

This is particularly significant considering the long and expensive backlog of maintenance and repair work that many schools have, which averages around £87,250 a year in secondary schools and £25,500 a year in primary schools.

More than anything underfloor heating and cooling offers contractors and building managers a level of control over their buildings' energy output. The system can be built around separate zones that offer heating and cooling at different times, in line with the school's timetable and the needs of the building users.

This precision limits the need for any localised heating or cooling and thus helps to keep energy consumption and bills to a minimum. Comfort can often be retained while reducing the room temperature, a measure which, even if only by one degree, can reduce energy demand and heat loss, and cut heating bills by approximately 8 per cent.

The recent drive towards sustainability in our schools marks a major change of direction in policy and there is a real desire to make it happen among those working on the Priority School Building Programme. The biggest change is that contractors are increasingly aware of what they can do to help and I'm pleased to say that underfloor heating and cooling forms part of that picture. After all, building energy-efficient schools doesn't just save the planet; it also provides a powerful tool for teaching children about the environment and the importance of energy conservation and climate change.

Chobham Academy, Stratford
Warmafloor was commissioned to design and install an energy efficient heating solution to deliver comfort to the 1,800 students at Chobham Academy, in Stratford, which is due to open this autumn. Designed to improve the level of education and serve as a focal point for local families living at East Village and the surrounding neighborhoods’ for generations to come, efficiency and sustainability were at the core of the brief, and underfloor heating was specified as the ideal way in which heat could be delivered consistently and accurately.

Warmafloor installed its underfloor heating across 4,000sq m over two floors, utilising four different types of floor systems including wire grid, tacker, sprung batten and raised access floors. Radiating heat from beneath the floor reduces the risk of heat stratification in the classrooms, which boast floor to ceiling windows, and the foyer, which boasts a four-storey high ceiling height.

To further enhance the buildings’ sustainability credentials, several environmentally friendly features such as natural ventilation, site-wide energy integration and earth ducts were implemented. Along with the underfloor heating system, these measures helped to minimise the buildings’ carbon footprint and enable the school to achieve a BREEAM ‘Excellent’ rating.

// The author is managing director of Warmaflor //
17 April 2013


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