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Winning the panel game

Warmaflor favours precast panels and, here, explains their use in underfloor heating applications
Structural conditioning is a concept that has been developed from the science of underfloor heating theory, using unseen pipework to provide buildings with a heating or cooling system depending on the time of year.

Coils of pipe are embedded within a concrete structure, something that started to grow in popularity in the early 1990s. These concrete slabs are subsequently fixed into the floors, walls or ceiling of each storey of a building to provide thermal comfort, reduce energy use and offering a cost effective alternative to conventional air conditioning.

With today's buildings constructed to such high specifications, the actual heating load is often offset by internal gains, with heat energy being created through lighting, solar, computers and people, even in severe winter conditions. All these factors combined result in a net seasonal cooling requirement.

Originally, the air conditioning concept was seen as the only way to cool air in a building. However, this is beginning to change. Such systems can damage the environment and require huge amounts of energy to run efficiently. This is costly in light of the Office for Budget Responsibility's prediction that energy prices will rise 7 per cent this year and a further 3 per cent next year.

The history of precast concrete floors dates back nearly 50 years but, in the wake of the alterations to Parts E and L of the Building Regulations, have grown in popularity in recent years. The Part E requirement to reduce impact and airborne noise was a particular catalyst. Noise nuisance is the single most common complaint in multi-residential developments and this greater mass of concrete absorbs noise dramatically, giving huge reductions in the impact sound. Other disadvantages of timber floors, such as creaking boards, are also avoided.

Acoustic performance is not the only benefit of precast concrete floors. They are more cost effective than timber and enable thinner floor zones as well as longer spans. In addition, they provide a safe working platform for ongoing construction. Critically, as discussed above, the introduction of large heat absorbing mass in the structure of a modern building reduces temperature fluctuations by acting as a heat store. Not only does this make the structure more comfortable, but it also reduces the reliance on air conditioning and reduces costs for the building owner.

Added to this is the intrinsic fire resistance, an important consideration for a modern home littered with potential fire hazards, as well as its compatibility with other precast concrete components, such as stairs and balconies.

Varying room layout
Another more obvious advantage for concrete floors is the ability to vary room layout without worrying about floor loadings. This feature applies equally at first-floor level, avoiding the concern about the positions of supporting walls. A heavy duty first floor ties the masonry structure together, making the total framework and the building much more solid. Concrete is not susceptible to wet/dry rot and woodworm. Furthermore, masonry does not shrink to the same extent as timber drying out. This means that gaps under skirtings, cracks to block walls and door openings out of square will become a thing of the past.

Concrete floors are the preferable option when using an underfloor heating system. Heating pipes are traditionally placed in a concrete screed, thus offering the highest thermal capacity and maximising uniform heat transfer.

Warmafloor and Creagh Concrete have joined forces to launch SpanTherm, helping to contribute towards the Code for Sustainable Homes. This is a pre-insulated precast concrete flooring system designed specifically for residential and mid-sized commercial ground floors.
13 May 2013


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