Designing for reliability

10th August 2020


As schools look to reduce energy demand and waste in their buildings, Dan Martindale, Baxi Heating’s Commercial Sales Director, identifies practical, cost-effective ways of maximising heating and hot water efficiency


Heating and hot water is a critical service in schools and often the largest and most expensive energy user, according to the Carbon Trust. So ensuring that the system operates effectively and efficiently should be a priority to drive down running costs, reduce environmental impact and create a comfortable learning environment. Yet in a review by the National Education Union (NEU), 19% of the 670 members surveyed reported unreliable or faulty boilers in their schools. And, despite growing evidence that poor thermal comfort in schools can negatively affect children’s health and academic performance, nearly three-quarters of participants complained of classrooms being either too hot or too cold.


With pressure on school funds only intensifying and tighter environmental targets in place, what practical, financially sustainable options are available now for schools to optimise heating performance?


  1. Tackling the low-hanging fruit

    Carrying out routine heating plant condition surveys and replacing any ageing or inefficient boiler plant with high efficiency gas condensing boilers is a good starting point. Heating manufacturers are innovating with a combination of longer-term heating low carbon technologies and techniques, including hydrogen-ready boilers, that will meet the different requirements in old and new school buildings. But all the while we have an eye on the future, it’s important not to overlook the current opportunities to improve energy performance in our existing building stock.


    And when it comes to schools and their heating, in many of the UK’s older and heritage buildings retrofit may well be the only viable solution at present for efficiency improvement. As such, a cost-effective upgrade to gas condensing boilers continues to offer a real and achievable means of achieving more comfortable and less wasteful buildings.


  2. Selecting for long-term reliability

    The focus, however, must be on maximising long-term high performance. When selecting the replacement plant, reliability now ranks alongside energy efficiency as a key requirement for local authorities and trusts. Given that a failure of the heating system can result in closure for a school, it’s increasingly important to ensure that the heating equipment selected can be relied upon to deliver high operational performance throughout its lifetime.


    One means of addressing this is to identify boiler brands with high quality components and a proven reputation for reliability and high performance. Another is to assess the length and conditions of the warranty as this tends to reflect manufacturers’ confidence in their own products. The industry-leading warranties that accompany the Remeha condensing boiler range, for example, provide welcome peace of mind of their ability to keep on going and going.


    Considering ease of future maintenance, servicing and part replacement from the outset is also essential as this will help maintain high performance throughout the product’s lifecycle. Checking that manufacturer spare parts are readily available will also make it simpler to keep the heating system operating as intended in the future.


  3. Taking it offsite

    While boiler replacements can and should be straightforward, school heating refurbishments can present a number of challenges, from fixed project schedules to restricted plant room space and access constraints.


    For this reason, bespoke, offsite fabricated systems are proving a popular solution to high-quality multiple boiler installation in school buildings across the country.


    Take Remeha’s bespoke rig design and prefabrication service for its wall-hung Quinta Ace series and offsite cascade arrangements for its floor-standing ranges. A key advantage of applying offsite heating techniques like these is that project and site-specific requirements can be addressed and resolved from the start.


    Working collaboratively, the designer, contractor and manufacturer can define the layout to ensure that best use is made of the available space. Project-specific requirements from controls to plate heat exchangers can also be integrated into the design to maximise system efficiency.


    There is also the option to futureproof the rig or cascade so that another boiler can be added at a later date. This is beneficial in schools that are planning phased boiler replacements or anticipating an extension to the school building.


    Once delivered to site, connection to the system is straightforward and rapid, making it easier for the project team to meet tight deadlines. And as many school heating refurbishments are scheduled to take place within the holiday period, contractors are able to complete more projects within the fixed timeframe.


    The design also addresses long-term performance as the boilers are easier to service and maintain and, ultimately, to isolate, remove and replace, reducing labour and downtime. Further, as the boilers are identical models, only one service kit is required for further cost savings.


  4. When two are better than one

    Understanding the hot water demand in the building can enable the system to be designed to further reduce energy demand. In a traditional heating system, condensing boilers will often be specified to meet the requirements both for well-regulated space heating and a reliable supply of hot water. However, in certain school buildings, separating out the hot water and heating generation may prove a more appropriate and effective option. This is particularly relevant where the hot water demand is high, for example in school sports centres.


    Why? Sizing the boiler(s) to meet peak demand in the colder months could lead to oversizing during the summer months when space heating is not typically required. Aside from energy waste, boiler efficiency can also be affected due to short cycling, low firing rates or an inability to operate in full condensing mode. Installing a dedicated condensing water heater to satisfy the hot water supply will therefore remove the need to run boilers to heat water during the warmer months.


  5. Value added support

Finally, it’s worth noting that, when recommending various pieces of equipment, choosing to use one trusted supplier will simplify delivery, minimise on-site disruption and avoid potential delays to the project.


That said, a good manufacturer or supplier should be far more than a box shipper, so choose one that will provide expert customer service at every stage. Whether it’s in-depth technical and product advice at the design phase, or on-site support during installation, or a 24/7 technical helpline to call for advice, knowledgeable manufacturers can be instrumental in delivering the quality result that the school expects and deserves.


A relatively simple, affordable heating plant upgrade continues to offer local authorities and trusts the opportunity to transform energy performance and comfort levels, especially in our older school buildings. As the knock-on effect of the more efficient heating system is lower running costs, this effectively frees up funds for use elsewhere.


Early engagement between specifiers, contractors and manufacturers will enable us to evaluate the most suitable options in each building. That way, we can work towards creating the more comfortable, more efficient and more sustainable learning environments in which our school children and teachers can thrive.




Reliability of heating service is top requirement at secondary school


Corfe Hills School in Broadstone, Dorset recently carried out a full heating upgrade following a successful Condition Improvement Fund (CIF) grant bidding. The project presented a number of challenges, with the works needing to be carried out with minimum disruption within a live school environment, limited project timescales and space restrictions within the plant room.


Consultants Smith Consult specified two Remeha Gas 610 Eco Pro (6 section) condensing boilers to meet all the project requirements.


The Remeha boilers were selected for their high efficiency, compact design, ease of installation and, more importantly, their known reliability,” said Contactor Steve Preston, Projects Director at Accolade Building Services Ltd.


As with all condensing boilers in the Remeha range, the Gas 310/610 Eco Pro series is backed by an industry-leading seven-year warranty, including parts and labour, to provide customers and end users with added assurance of continuing reliable high performance.


“The installation went very smoothly,” Preston continued. “As the boilers are provided with integrated wheels, this allowed the plant to be manoeuvred into position relatively effortlessly without the need for specialist movement equipment. Given the budget and time constraints on this project, this was a huge benefit.


“We have no doubt that the efficiency of the boilers and state-of-the-art integrated controls system will provide the school with significant running cost savings for many years to come.”


This article first appeared in HVR Magazine