Jeff House, Marketing & Applications Manager, Baxi Commercial, considers the heating options available to healthcare facilities and the increasing interest in prefabricated solutions
Healthcare buildings come in all shapes and sizes and serve a wide variety of needs. Although facilities may belong to one of a number of general types, each with broadly defined objectives, an individual healthcare location is likely to be a unique mixture of demands and solutions. Individuality can even be found in responses to a demand that applies whatever the location – the provision of heating and hot water. This diversity of solutions can be brought about not only by the characteristics and specific needs of the location, but also by the heating technology available when it was built.
Some sites, particularly in older buildings, may have a heating system centred on a boiler or boilers, delivering space heating as well as heated stored water for the domestic hot water system. Other buildings may be heated by a separated system, with boilers providing space heating and water heaters meeting the hot water demand. Following the introduction of renewable energy and microgeneration solutions it has become increasingly common for these energy sources to be integrated with existing as well as new heating systems.
The principal contributor to both a building’s energy use and its carbon emissions is its heating arrangements, so that as climate change policies and ever increasing fuel costs make actions to reduce energy use and carbon emissions imperative, centre administrators will be investigating how improvements can be made. There is likely to be a constant theme running through all of these deliberations, namely that any changes to building operating systems should be put in place without seriously affecting the delivery of the services for which the building exists.
One Made Earlier
As far as heating is concerned, a tried and tested answer in such circumstances is a prefabricated package solution. As the name suggests, the system is constructed off site and is delivered as an entity, capable of ‘plug and play’ installation.
This is what sets the prefabricated and complete unit apart from solutions with several independent components, as the potential for interruption of other systems and processes during installation is greatly reduced. As there is only one occasion when local services need to be shut down to enable the new system to be connected, complete and speedy installation in a single operation puts to rest all concerns over the likely damaging effects on service delivery of several, possibly lengthy, interruptions.
Flexible design is at the heart of every prefabricated package, as it is based on total awareness of the specific location for which it is intended. So, although the finished article is complete at the point of delivery, assembly has involved the coordination and integration of several diverse and complex elements. These will be of interest to facility managers, as they will have a bearing on the total energy, emission and, most importantly, cost reductions that the upgrade is intended to achieve. The elements involved concern determining the carbon and energy rating of the building, choosing the most suitable energy source or sources, sizing the equipment best suited to deliver the heat and hot water load and selecting the location for the system equipment.
Legislative obligations may already have required the carbon emissions and energy rating of a building to be assessed and recommendations regarding improving energy performance set out in an Advisory Report forming part of an EPC (Energy Performance Certificate) or DEC (Display Energy Certificate). Whether or not the implementation of the recommendations is obligatory, the long life of an Advisory Report, of either seven or ten years, does not allow for the fact that during such a period, heating industry initiatives in the use of a wide variety of fuel sources are extending the options available. This does not affect the assessment of the energy rating of a building, but it could mean that previous recommendations regarding improving energy performance, even if still valid, may not be appropriate when compared with the current recommendations that would be made in respect of the same building. Consequently, it might be thought prudent to obtain a fresh opinion and in this respect the heating industry may be of help, as leading manufacturers can provide technical information and explain appropriate solutions.
Although involving decisions that might need to take into account the potential funding available under not yet fully defined government schemes, it may be possible to select the type or types of energy source to be used.
Climate change policies promote the application of renewables, especially on an individual energy user basis, with financial incentives available under centrally funded schemes. Not every healthcare building will have the same options regarding renewable energy sources, indeed the preferred option may be for a source that does not use or rely on renewable energy, for example CHP (Combined Heat and Power). In essence, the renewables choice is likely to be driven by energy type availability and the financial gain to be derived. The timing of this decision is, however, not critical, as it can be delayed until full information is available without prejudicing a current project intended to improve energy performance.
No Holding Back
This is an important point, as the type of equipment to be used to form the heating system is unlikely to be significantly influenced by the energy source, as forward looking manufacturers provide equipment and systems that can be integrated with a renewable energy source after initial installation. This means that, whether or not a renewables decision has been made, the type of heating system and consequently the type of equipment to be used can be chosen. The system may be based on boilers only, or on a combination of boilers and water heaters, all of which will need to be sized to achieve the required building heating system energy rating.
This decision making process will be greatly helped by the pro-active way in which leading heating equipment manufacturers are responding to climate change policy aims. For example, one manufacturer can provide a package heating system in which condensing boilers and biomass renewable energy boilers are integrated. A further option is a system with condensing boilers in conjunction with a CHP boiler unit. In either case, the overarching principle of energy type flexibility still applies, as components in the system can still be’ renewables ready’ to allow for the subsequent integration of a non-fossil fuel energy source. For smaller applications, one manufacturer provides an innovative single cabinet solution that includes separated space heating and hot water functions.
The Perfect Fit
The general heating system packaging elements so far described are not the end of the story, as further factors shape the unique identity of each individual package. These include the measurements of the plant room where the system is to be housed, the location of the building services within that space, the dimensions and location of all access points, any stairs and lifts that must be negotiated and any other relevant matters that may affect installation.
Once these have been established, the prefabrication can be tailored to exactly match its destination. It may be possible to package the system on a single skid, but access may require separate modules for assembly in the plant room. The system connections to the building services will be positioned to enable direct and simple attachment. These tailored attributes ensure that system downtime is limited to the actual period of installation, with ‘plug and play’ features limiting installation to hours rather than days.
It should not be overlooked that the energy, emissions and cost saving benefits that can be built into the design of a prefabricated package are enhanced by other inherent advantages. Off-site assembly and construction at one location, with unified delivery, can greatly reduce project coordination, transport and installation costs. Single sourcing of components simplifies maintenance and part replacement. It is perhaps no coincidence that prefabricated heating systems are increasingly the refurbishment solution of choice for locations, such as healthcare facilities, where system individuality and installation downtime are critical considerations.
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