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Underfloor Heating: Underfloor heating: a change for the better

Mike Lamb, chairman of The Underfloor Heating Manufacturers Association (UHMA) insists he has seen the future of the UK heating industry
Underfloor Heating: Underfloor heating: a change for the better
CHANGE does not always come quickly. There's a story about a salesman who visited the offices of a northern Town Council 20 odd years ago to discuss the application of underfloor heating to a particular project.

The young council engineer listened to the long list of advantages that the 'new' technology had to offer and seemed to be genuinely impressed. All was going well until...

The senior council engineer returned from lunch, discovered the subject was underfloor heating and ordered the salesman off the premises, with a threat to throw him down the stairs if he wasn't quick enough in going!

It took a brave man to put the case for underfloor heating in those days!

That senior engineer, of course, was old enough to remember the unhappy experience of the 1960s when electric underfloor heating was applied to poorly insulated buildings.

Even when that initial prejudice was overcome and sales of modern underfloor systems began to rise, a negative attitude remained in the minds of many.

Gradually those reservations - principally with regard to capital cost - have been eroded as the true facts emerged.

This sea change in the attitude of specifiers and building operators, combined with energy-saving legislation, has created a new world of opportunity. It's a world in which underfloor heating is now the first choice solution.

Capital cost

Until a few years ago, the application of underfloor heating to any building involved a premium in additional capital cost. This was not so much for the system itself, but rather for the insulation layer required to prevent downward heat loss.

Now Part L regulations demand insulation in the floor whether you heat it or not. In fact, most of the projects we get involved in have layers of insulation with a thermal performance far in excess of that required for the heating system.

The cost of the insulation material and the time taken to install it are no longer part of the underfloor heating package, so the best solution is now often the cheapest too.

The insulation premium is gone and underfloor systems can compete with radiators (and other technologies) on equal terms. And on a level playing field we can run rings around any opposition!

The time-saving advantages of underfloor heating are not limited to just the floor insulation. Unlike radiators, there's very little 'second fix' work to be done. This means fewer tradesmen on site in those vital final stages of the project when time pressure is really on.

New words

Capital cost, reduced time on site - these were once the watchwords of the building services industry. Of course they're still important but new words have now entered the professional's vocabulary. And when architects, consultants and clients use them, they mean what they say - they have to. Those words are 'life cycle costing' and 'low carbon emissions'.

On the basis of longevity alone, by the time a UFH system reaches the end of its service life - assuming the building is still standing - an equivalent radiator system will have been replaced three times. Compare the total savings in use of fossil fuels and the raw materials to make the systems on a 1:3 ratio and one can see just how much greener this technology really is.

The environmental impact of decommissioning a system is now covered by Building Regulations. Disposal of a UFH system at the end of its useful life is much less of a problem than might at first appear. Screed and concrete can be crushed in the normal manner. Those elements of pipe which cannot be removed during this process will create no more of a problem than the reinforcement fibres which are present in virtually all concrete materials and will cause no additional hazards where the material is being used as backfill or oversite.

By making the best use of condensing boilers, heat pumps and other heat sources low energy UFH systems can make a major contribution to reducing carbon emissions for heating systems alone.

However, the drive for 'greener' buildings means that underfloor heating and cooling is increasingly being considered as a viable alternative to air-conditioning. The same pipework matrix that heats the building in the winter can circulate chilled water during the summer period to create cooler, more comfortable conditions. Simultaneous heating and cooling of different parts of the building to cope with solar gains is also perfectly possible. It's a cost effective and environmentally friendly alternative method of cooling.

So, underfloor heating has come of age. It's cleaner, greener and more versatile by miles.

I've seen the future of the UK heating industry... and you can walk on it.
1 May 2006


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