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A lesson in heating efficiency

15th January 2018

For the many UK schools relying on commercial boiler plant for their heating, condensing boilers offer an affordable route to more reliable, energy-efficient heating.

Improving energy efficiency should be a priority for all organisations as it reduces energy usage, lowers running costs and cuts greenhouse gas emissions. With many schools located in older, sometimes historic and often inefficient buildings, there’s huge scope for energy saving. The Carbon Trust1 estimates that UK schools could reduce energy costs by around £44 million a year, preventing 625,000 tonnes of CO2 from entering the atmosphere. As school budgets grow ever tighter, optimising the energy performance of school buildings is increasingly important to maximise the funds available for students. And with space heating typically accounting for nearly 60% of a school’s energy use and 45% of its energy costs, it’s a good starting point.

Replacing ageing or inefficient non-condensing boilers with high efficiency condensing boilers is a proven, affordable route to significant energy savings and more sustainable operation while providing a more comfortable and productive learning environment. Schools in off-grid areas can also benefit from this cleaner, greener heating technology as some of the latest condensing boiler models are certified to run on Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG).

48% gas savings

So how great are the savings? The European Union puts the figure at around 20% for refurbishment projects where older equipment is replaced with products (like condensing boilers) that comply with the tighter efficiency requirements of the Energy-related Products Directive (ErP).

The exact savings will depend on the nature of the boilers in place as well as the new heating system design. But a good example is Ferndown First School in Dorset, which has achieved impressive gas savings since upgrading to condensing boilers. By replacing the school’s old boilers with Remeha Gas 220 Ace condensing boilers, Dorset County Council has achieved an impressive 48% drop in gas consumption, according to initial indications.

Minimum downtime, maximum reliability

Aside from high efficiencies, schools also need to prioritise heating reliability as if the heating fails, the school could be forced to close. So when refurbishing the heating system, schools should consider sharing the load across multiple condensing boilers rather than selecting one larger unit as this will provide greater heating security.

How? A multiple boiler arrangement provides in-built redundancy by design. The design also pre-empts any interruption to the heating service during routine maintenance work or boiler replacements.

What’s more, sharing the heat load across multiple boilers units maximises boiler performance as it allows the condensing boilers to operate at part load where they are most efficient. The arrangement also makes full use of the boilers’ modulating feature, so they can match the building’s heat demand more accurately. All of which increases energy savings for the school.

Rapid installation

A further advantage of condensing boilers is that multiple units can be installed quickly and easily on a cascade or rig system. Manufacturers like Remeha provide pre-assembled boiler cascade systems for up to eight floor-standing or wall-hung boilers. There’s also the option to install them on a bespoke-designed prefabricated boiler rig system. This can be manufactured to meet the exact requirements of the school project or site, for the ultimate in rapid installation.

The time and labour-saving advantages of cascade and rig systems are particularly beneficial on school projects as many refurbishments will need to be completed during the summer holidays. As these solutions require reduced on-site skilled labour, contractors can schedule the project team more accurately and carry out more refurbishments than would otherwise be possible in the same period.

Additionally, the compact dimensions of the boilers make it possible to install a high output in an extremely small footprint, offering enhanced design flexibility to overcome space restrictions.

Controlled heating

School managers will be familiar with the 10-80-10 ratio representing the costs of construction. While 10% of the whole life costs of a building are invested at the construction stage and a further 10% go on decommissioning, a huge 80% are spent on its operation.

This underlines the importance of improving school operational efficiencies. And where heating is concerned, this means ensuring good control. Adding the appropriate controls will achieve and maintain high performance operation, keeping bills and emissions low without affecting comfort levels.

An effective controls strategy will help to maintain optimum temperatures around the school while avoiding overly heated classrooms that can negatively affect productivity and result in unnecessarily high heating bills. Schools have varying heat requirements in the week and often no need for heat at the weekend, so adding time controls will help match the operating hours more accurately.

We also advise including weather compensation and optimisation boiler controls to optimise operation. On a multi-boiler cascade or rig system, adding a sequential control rotates the lead boiler, lengthening the serviceable life of the boilers. The heating controls must all be fully integrated into the Building Management System and thermostats and control settings should be checked regularly to maintain high system performance.

Whole life efficiencies

Maintenance plays an important part in increased whole life operational efficiency. For this reason, we recommend routine boiler maintenance and servicing as this will flag any potential issues early on.

Establishing a proactive, rolling replacement programme is also advisable, particularly for schools with several plantrooms, or school estates managers responsible for a number of sites. This is especially important where resources are tight as planned, phased replacements can be budgeted for in advance, reducing the chance of unexpected extra costs.

Waste not, want not

Demonstrating a commitment to energy efficiency is increasingly important to the reputation of schools and sets an excellent real-life example to students and parents. Condensing boilers help school managers reduce the building’s carbon footprint while delivering significant and immediate energy and cost savings. At the same time, improved comfort levels help generate the optimal learning environment for the benefit of students and staff. Schools – time for a boiler upgrade?

This feature originally appeared in HVR magazine.


1Carbon Trust: Schools – Learning to improve energy efficiency