In an age when contactless payment cards are becoming a commonplace transaction method, it is not surprising that acceptance of technological advancements in our homes – and particularly for the provision of building services – are growing markedly.
The changes have come about as a result of both consumer attitudes and successive governments’ commitment to saving energy. Across both residential and non-residential markets, new builds now feature improved fabric insulation standards as well as higher-efficiency heating and hot water systems.
Condensing and fully modulating boilers have made the largest contribution to date, although the availability of subsidies such as the RHI are encouraging the uptake of air- and ground-source heat pumps as well as solar thermal and biomass solutions.
Along with the introduction of non-traditional heat sources, changes in the way heat is delivered are also gathering pace –many apartment buildings, sheltered developments and even whole housing estates are now being served by communal or district heating schemes.
As with prefabricated building systems and heat pumps, district heating has been tried here before, with varying levels of success. Early examples suffered from lack of control, as well as from leaks from badly installed and poorly insulated mains – and even infestations of Pharaoh ants. But with the advances in modulation, condensing, controls and renewable technology, communal heating systems are enjoying growing popularity in response to the challenges of reducing running costs and cutting carbon emissions.
The concept is straightforward, with everything from a handful of homes to a large-scale housing development being served by a central plant room. Heat can be generated using the widest possible choice of technologies including high-performance fossil fuel boilers, biomass units and heat pumps, or even full-scale combined heat and power plants. They can even feature the use of waste heat from sources such as incinerators.
Social housing providers are particularly in favour of communal heating because it offers the potential of reduced capital costs and avoids installation of individual boiler gas supplies and multiple flues with pluming problems. There is no need to gain access for the annual gas safety checks.
Instead, low temperature hot water is circulated through modern insulated mains, with the heat energy being delivered to individual customers via heat interface units (HIUs).
HIUs are also multi-functional. They incorporate heat metering, through a radio or M Bus System, or are accessible within a cupboard from a communal area. With ultra-high efficiency plate heat exchangers and controls, response is both rapid and reliable, while customers enjoy lower energy bills. Whether linked to heat pumps, solar panels, biomass or a cascade of gas boilers, HIUs deliver maximum efficiency and many benefits for communal heating systems.
Paul Sands is a sales & marketing director at Stokvis Energy Systems