Optimising the efficiency of heating and hot water systems is crucial to the UK achieving its goal of carbon neutrality by 2050.
Heat pumps, heat networks, hybrid solutions and conversion of the gas grid to hydrogen have all been identified as options to reduce the emissions associated with heat. As manufacturers introduce new technologies and techniques, and engineers make existing equipment more efficient, system design and working practices will evolve rapidly. Unfortunately, as designs grow more complex, the gap between design and as-built performance can increase.
Respect the specification
As Covid-19 forces the nation to press the pause button, the building services industry can take the opportunity to implement improved ways of working that will help eliminate the performance gap. Specification, the starting point of a project, is the perfect place to begin.
A key recommendation of Dame Judith Hackitt’s Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety was for a clearer, more transparent and more effective specification process to put an end to cost-cutting compromises. Consequently, post-Grenfell, we have seen closed specification introduced for fire protection. When it comes to heating and hot water, however, we still see time-consuming, cost-cutting measures that can have a disastrous impact on safety, quality and energy efficiency.
The industry could establish heating and hot-water specification as a quality standard to be respected
Specification is, arguably, the most important aspect of a project – the result of detailed research, with specified products helping to shape and define a solution. It follows that any divergence runs the risk of affecting the overall efficiency and, ultimately, the safety of the system.
For example, if one particular heat interface unit model performs better than another at lower temperature circuits, switching the specified product on a 70°C/40°C heat network design could adversely affect system performance. As a result, the client will not get what has been promised by the architect and/or consultant.
Adhering to the specification minimises the risk of issues further down the line, and ensures a system that is compliant and fit for purpose. So how do we safeguard a more effective specification for heating and hot water?
Manufacturer code of conduct
Reforming the way product information is provided by manufacturers and communicated to users would be a good first step, according to a survey for the Construction Products Association.1 This need for consistency and clarity was identified in the Hackitt Review.
The survey calls for the introduction of robust and standardised product and performance information that will give everyone using the data – from architects, engineers and surveyors to contractors, local authorities and facilities management (FM) providers – a clearer indication of applications for which the product may or may not be suitable.
It reveals industry support for a manufacturer code of conduct to ensure that product information has been verified properly before publication.
As manufacturers, this is a move we welcome. With clearer, more detailed data enabling more effective product selection, the industry could establish heating and hot-water specification as a quality standard that must be respected. Introducing procurement contracts would provide a new framework to support specification, giving consultants ultimate power and responsibility for the integrity of the project.
Good manufacturers would have a dedicated team of skilled specifiers to offer added support on more complex hybrid designs. Early engagement with them will allow the designer to develop a robust physical specification alongside the design philosophy, rather than ad hoc. Providing manufacturers with a budget for the project at the outset would enable them to design to the specified allocation, so removing the need for cost-cutting practices.
Replacing the equal or approved status with equal and approved would also help ensure project success, as not all products are 100% ‘like for like’. The new requirement would make it possible to swap out a specified product only when it is proven to bring added value or real benefits above the specification. This would need to be recorded as part of the ‘golden thread’ of building safety information passed on to owners, contractors and FM providers.
Encouraging a whole-life costing approach when selecting equipment would, again, avoid potentially detrimental cost cutting by giving a more accurate assessment of the total cost of a product throughout its lifetime. Putting actions into place now to address best practice will enable us to optimise heat-generation design in our buildings and help our industry to emerge stronger.