Top marks for energy efficiency

By Mike Lamb, Managing Director of Warmafloor

A good education is one of the cornerstones of contemporary society and, in order for children to attain their highest academic potential, it is imperative that the buildings in which they are educated provide the optimum environment for them to learn and grow.

Children spend an average of 900 hours in school each year; these buildings are the very first and probably the most influential workspaces they will encounter, and must not only inspire and motivate, but also provide a safe and comfortable environ­ment in which pupils can develop.

Whilst the aesthetic appearance of a finished building is naturally a major considera­tion for architects, the Coalition’s intention of being the greenest government ever has elevated efficiency, sustainability and carbon management to the top of their agenda, as equally important concerns in the design process of new build projects.

The Government has set the target of reducing carbon dioxide emission levels by 80% by the year 2050 and, with the Committee on Climate Change saying it is realistic for the UK to achieve a 50% reduction by 2025, the construction industry is under pressure to demonstrate an immediate response.

Reading’s new SEN School and council office building, The Avenue Centre, in Tilehurst, is an example of how green ideals and functionality can be brought together to create a building that not only offers a practical environment in which students can thrive but also enables a higher level of energy efficiency, sustainability and cost savings.

We have long recognised the need to make sustainable construction the norm within the building industry. Although the Govern­ment has been accused of back­track­ing from its original environmental agenda at the recent Party Conferences, sustain­ability and energy efficiency will remain hot topics within the construction industry.

Sustainable construction

We can no longer ignore the fact that the heat used in our buildings is responsible for around half of all energy consumed in the UK, and accounts for almost 50% of the UK’s carbon emissions. We are still trailing behind Germany, Switzerland and Scandinavia in utilising sustainable building solutions but the way in which an internal space is heated is increasingly being recognised as a key factor in the delivery of energy efficient buildings.

The statistics speak for themselves. Schools account for 25% of the UK’s public sector energy costs, and heating can contribute up to 60% of an individual school’s energy expenditure. Therefore, the way in which educational buildings are heated is as much a financial decision as it is an ethical one. Installing a heating option, such as underfloor, that supplies a more consistent level of comfort, will result in an average saving of £17.85 in energy per pupil per year, and a reduction in carbon emission levels of 23%.

Under the spotlight

The James Review, which looked into procurement in schools, revealed that the maintenance backlog in schools in England and Wales could be as high as £22 bn, and has pushed the issue of minimising long-term upkeep cost under the national spotlight. Utilising a reliable and whole-life building system like underfloor heating can help take the pressure off since there is no need for manual operations, such as bleeding or painting. Pipes used within the floor have warranties for 100 years; ten times longer than steel and copper radiator pipes, which require routine repairs due to joints which leak, attract scale and decay.

Delivering a consistent level of comfort that is in sync with the demands of the users is equally as important for enhancing pupil’s performance levels.

Two-thirds of people questioned in a recent YouGov survey said they were up to 50% less productive in a room that is either hotter or colder than their optimum temperature, with 67% claiming they experienced drowsi­ness, 37% head­aches and 37% suffered irritation of the eyes, nose and throat. The Avenue Centre’s surface heating and cooling system incorporates intelligent controls that allow temperatures to be adjusted in line with the preferences of the occu­pants and the changing external climate, thus enhancing the comfort of building users and ensuring more efficient operation.

The brief for SEN School was simple – what was required was a low energy, low cost system that could offer a comfortable and stimulating space for students to study. The surface heating and cooling system that Warmafloor installed delivered against this brief and is an example of environmentally friendly design in action.

The underfloor system was combined with geothermal ground source heat pumps (recently endorsed by the Environment Agency) which provide water at 45°C, a much lower temperature than the 70-80°C required by radiators. These pumps also use a 7°C temperature differential consistent with the requirement of underfloor cooling, making them an ideal choice for the changeable UK climate. Installing such a system reduced energy consumption by 30% and helped the building achieve a BREEAM excellent rating.

Comfortable space

As well as the energy and cost saving benefits derived from surface heating and cooling, it can also deliver health benefits to the occupants of the building. A recent Health Canada study reveals that com­ponents of dust, specifically lead, can, even at low levels, have a detrimental impact on children.

Underfloor heating, as opposed to radiators, reduces convection currents in the air, which ensures that there are fewer disturbances of dust mites, fibres and other microbiological contaminants. This provides a purer quality of air for people to breathe, which is of critical importance in a school environment.

The fact that the heating and cooling system is laid underneath the floor also serves to increase the safety of the building, as it removes the need for hot and sharp-cornered radiators; a solution which also maximises the space available for versatile design.

Realise potential

Warmafloor has installed underfloor heating and cooling systems in over 1000 schools and it is an area that we are very passionate about. It is our responsibility as a nation to provide the best environment we can for our children so that they are able to realise their full potential.

We need to concentrate our attention on creating exciting and inspiring learning spaces which motivate and bring out the best in people’s abilities. Furthermore, in the context of ever rising energy costs and the threat of climate change, we need heating and cooling technologies that are future proof, cost effective and energy efficient.

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