Creative heating solutions

David Simoes, brand manager at Zehnder Commercial, explores the radical changes to the landscape for heating and cooling products over the past decade

Over the past decade the landscape for heating and cooling products has radically changed. With continued investment in R&D manufacturers have worked hard to develop progressive technologies and materials which further improve the efficiency and operation of their products. The result has been a host of new products which offer greater flexibility in design, an enhanced choice of aesthetic and improved functionality.

A material world

A key component of any piece of equipment is what it is made of. So with materials technology advancing at a rapid pace it is no surprise that the HVAC market continues to see the introduction of new substances. Utilising organic and in-organic materials, many of which have previously been used in other industries, manufacturers have been able to create more efficient, durable and/or environmentally friendly products. Examples of this include the introduction of natural graphite into heating elements for radiators and radiant heating panels. Initially developed for insulation products in buildings, the natural properties of graphite; light weight, high thermal conductivity and high corrosion resistance, make it an excellent material for heating systems as well. The lower mass rate and excellent conductivity of graphite products means that they can react immediately to changes in temperature, lowering running costs and reducing emissions. Polymer also remains a relentless substitute for many materials across industry and the HVAC sector is no exception. Already in widespread use for underfloor heating, pipework and fittings, polymer is now penetrating the metal stronghold of radiator manufacturing. Hard wearing, long lasting, light weight and corrosion resistant it is surprising it has taken quite so long.

Modular construction

Two key motivations for change, which are to some extent inextricably linked, are modern methods of construction and the aesthetics of the building. As the desire to reduce construction costs, increase efficiency and minimise maintenance has continued to drive the market, many manufacturers, architects and consulting engineers have found themselves in collaboration to develop more sophisticated products for their projects. In general terms these can be categorised by functionality or integration:

1. Functionality
Products with dual functionality will, by nature of their name, reduce purchase and installation costs, consequently adding value to their product offering. One example of this is radiant ceiling panels. When operating both a heating and cooling function they are an ideal ‘single’ solution to year round indoor climate control for large indoor spaces such as offices, schools, hospitals, factories and warehouses etc. Another example is designer radiators. With many magnificent designs available their stylish looks mean they can be used as room dividers or focal pieces within commercial or domestic properties. Likewise, customised configurations of traditional designs such as multi-column radiators within balustrade, railings or benches, make an interesting addition to reception areas or walkways that require heating without any obstruction to space or people.

2. Integration
With current building design demanding greater use of space, increased natural light, and in many cases the invisibility of mechanical services, manufacturers have also worked hard to develop products to meet these requirements.

Integrated ceiling rafts which incorporate lighting, heating, cooling, data cabling, fire alarms and sprinklers etc. offer the benefit of providing a range of services within one product. Pretty much manufactured and assembled off site, with plug and play connection, the valuable multi-functionality not only significantly reduces installation time and costs, but also gives architects greater control of the aesthetics. Ideal for use in commercial offices and the education sector they make the provision of services quick and easy. More frequent use of wall to ceiling glazing has also lead to an increase in the use of perimeter heating such as trench heating. Providing a cost effective heat curtain against the glass, trench heating does not impact on the aesthetics of the building and enables architects to create an essentially invisible heating system. Systems which are fully integrated into the fabric of the building structure are increasing in popularity. Underfloor heating has long since featured in this sector, but additional wall and floor products are also entering the market. With heating and cooling elements now incorporated into standard plasterboard panels, a whole heating system can be fitted as part of the general construction. Saving considerable time and money on installation, these specialist panels are ideal for use in buildings where space, design and climate are extremely important, i.e. hotels, hospitals and care homes.

As technology and construction changes the specification of a heating system it is becoming a more integral part of the building design and structure. With so many options available architects and specifiers must understand exactly what type of building they are looking to create and how it is going to be used in order to successfully specify a HVAC system. They can also afford to be much more creative and look to install original and tailor made heating systems which not only operate effectively, but can also provide added value or create a real point of difference.