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The warming benefits of underfloor heating

Ross Verity, Managing Director of ForceDry, outlines why the technique is a commercially viable option for educational buildings

Posted by Julian Owen | December 18, 2018 | HVAC & lighting

Many of us may consider underfloor heating to be a relatively new thing; a stylish, invisible heating solution found in the most luxurious properties. In fact, the earliest evidence of underfloor heating systems can be traced back to 5,000 BC in Korea! Nevertheless, the past 100 years have seen all the major advances.

I have been in the plumbing and heating industry for 26 years and, even in that time, I've seen many improvements; by far the most significant has been the advent of flowing gypsum screeds. These liquid screeds are superior in many ways to sand and cement but, most notably, they can be force dried quickly and safely, provided the right equipment is used and best practice observed. Flowing gypsum screeds do not curl, they need no reinforcement, shrinkage is extremely low, and crucially for educational developments, large bays can be laid without risk of cracking.

Screed data sheets’ drying times are generally based on a fixed environment - 20 degrees centigrade and 60% relative humidity throughout the stated drying period. On this basis, an anhydrite screed, installed at 50mm depth, will typically be said to have a drying time of 60 days. However, it is rarely if ever possible to achieve these conditions naturally on a construction site in the UK, and drying times will often extend to 90 days or more.

I recognised the potential of force drying some years ago, and developed unique technology specifically for use with liquid screed flooring, launching the ForceDry business in 2013. Using this specialist technology, combined with strict environmental control and following the screed manufacturer’s instructions, total drying and commissioning time can be reduced to just 28 days.

Programme timings are critical to the success of any construction project; being able to shave up to 70 days off installation time for liquid screed floors by force drying represents a very significant cost saving and certainty to any construction programme.

In addition to the clear financial benefits, there is an important environmental advantage in using liquid gypsum screed flooring

We have worked on a wide variety of developments over the years, and I have often noted that developers will specify radiators in preference to underfloor heating when working on very restricted budgets. There seems to be a general belief that underfloor heating is a luxury specification, but I know that underfloor heating systems with liquid gypsum screeds are quick and economical to install; I was convinced these systems could be an economically viable alternative to radiators.

We undertook a study to see how the costs of both systems compared, working with leading UK contractors who responded to an identical brief with three different specifications: traditional radiators with a 75mm sand and cement screed; traditional radiators with a 50mm flowing screed; and a 50mm flowing screed with underfloor heating.

The results showed that, for 80m2 of flooring, installation costs for the radiators with sand and cement approach ranged from £3,003.72 to £3,483.10; for a 50mm flowing screed with radiators, costs started at £3,163.72 to £3,563.10; and for a 50mm flowing screed with underfloor heating, costs ranged from £3,464.63 to £4,082.30. The costs for the third approach also included force drying.

I recognised the potential of force drying some years ago, and developed unique technology specifically for use with liquid screed flooring

So, the underfloor heating method is only marginally more expensive to install than a radiator solution. However, when site running costs and penalty clauses for development over runs (which can be in the hundreds of thousands of pounds) are also taken into consideration, the significant additional cost savings are clear.

In addition to the clear financial benefits, there is an important environmental advantage in using liquid gypsum screed flooring instead of one comprising sand and cement. Liquid gypsum screed comprises 98% recycled waste material, requires less energy to produce and, because it is thinner, uses less material. As a result, a 50mm gypsum screed contains 20kg less embedded carbon per m2 than a 75mm sand and cement equivalent. In addition, liquid gypsum screed floors have excellent conductive properties, so are highly efficient and economical when used with underfloor heating.

Add the sustainability and environmental impact, and the combination of liquid gypsum screeds and underfloor heating is clearly the intelligent choice. This approach allows developers to deliver a superior product, building operators to benefit from the flexibility, economy and low maintenance the system offers, and students to enjoy a comfortable working environment.

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