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Under the floorboards

Mike Lamb on how underfloor heating and cooling systems can reduce energy costs and free up space in academic buildings

Posted by Dave Higgitt | June 02, 2014 | HVAC & lighting

Schools play a significant role in the UK’s energy output, accounting for approximately two per cent of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. With the Climate Change Act requiring the UK to reduce its emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, pressure is mounting on the educational sector to cut its omissions. Energy management in educational facilities, however, can be particularly difficult, as multi-use rooms and varying user demands and schedules makes predicting and maintaining a consistent energy consumption level a real challenge. However, underfloor heating and cooling technology provides an ideal solution for the school environment, delivering greater energy efficiency and less energy waste. The design of the technology helps to make the most of space as well as creating a comfortable working environment for students and staff.

More than anything, underfloor heating and cooling offers a high level of control over the 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.

Underfloor heating is proven to be the most efficient and comfortable way of transferring heat into a room, reducing energy use by 15-20 per cent compared to traditional heating systems. The mechanics of the system provide the ideal set-up for greater energy efficiency by radiating warmth across the whole floor surface area. This means that the heat is delivered where it is needed the most: in the bottom two metres of the room, creating a comfortable atmosphere.

Surface heating and cooling solutions can also operate at a lower temperature than conventional heat sources, cutting consumption and allowing the room temperature to be up to 2°C lower whilst maintaining the same level of physical comfort. Even if the temperature is lowered by only one degree, such a measure can cut heating bills by approximately 8 per cent.

The technology is also ideal from a health and safety perspective in academic facilities, as the underfloor location eliminates the need for dangerous hot and sharp-cornered objects, such as conventional radiators and air-conditioning units. The radiant effect of underfloor heating also reduces the amount of dust and bacteria that is transmitted in convection currents, resulting in a cleaner air quality that prevents infections being spread among students and staff.

Raised access flooring (RAF) is common in educational buildings to enable storage of electrical cabling but also to allow more flexibility with space, essential in the school environment where requirements are constantly changing. RAF is increasingly being installed combined with underfloor heating and cooling in new school builds. Unfortunately, many of those systems are incompatible and result in the underfloor heating system dropping, causing delays and additional costs.

In close collaboration with Kingspan, the world’s largest supplier of raised access flooring, Warmafloor has designed and developed an engineered clip that ensures the perfect fit with Kingspan’s product range, combining the two systems into one. Essential to the effectiveness of the system is the heating modules’ contact with the underside of the floor panels. The uniquely designed clip provides the exact latent reflex to hold the imposed loads applied by the heating module and the heating and cooling pipework. It ensures that the vital contact between Kingspan’s pedestal head and the warm-water underfloor heating and cooling panel is maintained throughout the lifetime of the system.

Warmafloor and Kingspan have already installed their solution in over 40 projects including the new Chobham Academy in Stratford that opened in September 2013. Underfloor heating was installed across 4,000 sqm over two floors, where RAF was fitted in 300 sqm throughout the learning resources areas and IT office areas. The underfloor heating system, along with other measures helped to minimise the buildings’ carbon footprint and enable the school to achieve a BREEAM 'Excellent' rating.

Mike Lamb is managing director of Warmafloor W: www.warmafloor.co.uk

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