Franz Huelle, head of technical at Rehau Building Solutions, explores how electrical contractors can use underfloor heating (UFH) together with smart controls to deliver more efficient and intelligent buildings for end users.
How the nation’s buildings are heated has changed dramatically over time and, as industry becomes more sustainable, so too must heating innovations. In order to drive efficiency and adaptability in a variety of buildings, many are increasingly opting for UFH technology. To regulate and optimise such systems, building professionals are also starting to implement smart controls into these solutions.
For any building project, whether new-build or refurbishment, choosing an efficient, future-proof heating solution is important to developers or contractors. Once thought of as an expensive, high-end solution, UFH is fast becoming an efficient space heating solution in any development. More flexible and scalable than traditional central heating, a building can benefit from the adaptability of underfloor heating throughout its working life, as layouts and occupant habits change.
As the world works to become more environmentally friendly, the nation’s building stock must also be constructed with sustainability in mind. Lower flow temperatures in UFH systems compared to their more traditional radiator counterparts distinguish them as a more sustainable, high-performing option. Specifically, according to research by the British Electrotechnical and Allied Manufacturers Association (BEAMA), warm water UFH installations are 25% more efficient than radiators when paired with a modern condensing boiler, and 40% more cost-effective with a heat pump.
On top of this, growing use of technology such as smart controls, drives further efficiency by optimising and regulating space heating throughout a building using data learned from occupant habits over time. As consumer demand for this technology grows, so too will the expectation that energy efficient heating solutions and smart controls will be present in all modern buildings.
Smart controls are growing
In recent years, smart home technology has grown in popularity and use at an exceptional rate in homes across the world. Continued development of our national 5G infrastructure, along with sector growth, demonstrates the UK’s own smart home market, already worth over £900 million in 2017, will see enormous expansion.
Yet though smart controls can optimise a multitude of building functions, when integrated with technologies such as UFH, they can start to deliver savings on energy bills over time while keeping occupants in optimal comfort. However, end-user requirements can vary, and, with this in mind, it is important that an electrical contractor knows their customers’ distinct needs when they are installing a system.
Understanding end-user requirements
How we use buildings, both residential and commercial, is changing constantly. Whether through growing numbers of multigenerational households, or office spaces becoming flexible coworking spaces; occupant requirements and overall trends vary greatly across the nation’s building stock. This is even more the case for mixed-use developments, where the blend of commercial and residential property presents an even more complex assortment of end-user needs.
When it comes to providing building services, such as heating for these diverse uses, it helps to have a level of flexibility from a system. Smart controls can alleviate complications associated with these varying heating requirements. With an efficient means of space heating, such as UFH, every room can be heated to each occupant’s exacting requirements, whatever time of the day that is required.
For many end users, a heating system must be energy efficient to keep costs to a minimum, whilst providing a comfortable level of warmth. Smart controls offer an excellent way to do this, gleaning information from occupant habits and times of peak demand to efficiently adjust the system’s overall energy consumption. By doing so, valuable savings can be passed onto the end user.
It is clear end-users across many building types have varying heating requirements, yet ensuring a property remains future-proofed and cost-effective is a common concern. In this respect, it is key for electrical contractors to get ahead of the smart control curve.
For electrical contractors fitting these systems, it is important to know what smart controls can deliver in order to provide the best results for customers. In order to deliver solutions across developments and projects, systems must also be quick and easy to install and set up so contractors can meet tight deadlines.
Connected smart devices use data from sensors, the internet and information learned over time from a building’s efficiency and occupant habits to optimise the heating of a space. With other technologies like geofencing, which determines the location of a building’s occupants and heats their rooms accordingly, these solutions can work with UFH systems to continually optimise a home’s space heating.
Often working from an internet-connected base station, smart controls can cover a wide array of underfloor heating zones within a property. Depending on the technology available, these singular zones can be divided up into subgroups that can be programmed individually to fit the building’s needs. With this kind of functionality, electrical contractors can easily separate spaces in-line with end-user requirements. For instance, separate floors belonging to different organisations in an office building can be regulated distinctly, or apartments in a block can benefit from their own separate system.
Initially, programming smart technology can seem a daunting and complicated prospect. However, most systems provide electrical contractors with easy installation and are designed with flexibility and adaptability in mind. Indeed, the most up-to-date systems often feature a simple tool-free set-up with an intuitive commissioning wizard for more complex systems, guiding contractors through process and system checks.
The internet connectivity of these smart devices also provides contractors with a host of other possibilities, including remote access to installed systems for servicing. With end-user permission, system data is now capable of being accessed through dedicated apps, delivering more intuitive maintenance, while saving time and increasing customer satisfaction.
As technology’s progress continues to march on, these smart control systems will also continue to develop, offering a multitude of temperature control functions, such as air conditioning and ventilation. Such innovations will be viable to electrical contractors as they seek solutions in a world where sustainability is an increasing priority. With that in mind, smart controls represent a technology that can help key stakeholders keep up with rapidly changing end-user demands, while also improving overall energy efficiency and future-proofing buildings for years to come.