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Article Date: 18th August 2020

Zehnder - The Heat is On in Education: Key Considerations for Heating Specifiers

Zehnder, Heat Specifiers

Heating and cooling ceiling systems

The ever-increasing pressure on schools to tighten budgets and save money, coupled with the government’s ambitious target of achieving net zero emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050, is driving the education sector to optimise energy performance.

The perfect learning environment includes thermal comfort, which requires a safe, controllable heating system. Here we discuss the key considerations for specifiers when updating heating systems in the education sector and why the heat is on to provide safe, efficient and cost-effective solutions.

First let’s consider the challenges.

Key challenges when updating heating systems in education

Specifying heating for the education sector comes with a unique set of challenges. Budget, energy efficiency, logistics (in particular strict install/time deadlines), maintenance requirements, and health and safety, are just a few of the factors that have to be weighed up in the specification process.

Further complexity comes from an array of highly specific heating requirements, from assembly halls and indoor sports facilities, to atriums, classrooms, libraries, corridors, office space and sanitary facilities. Meanwhile, the global Covid-19 pandemic has intensified the focus on health and safety.

Thermal comfort in the classroom has been shown to impact learning outcomes, so heating solutions are also increasingly relevant in the debate on how to improve attainment levels in schools.

The state of heating in the UK’s schools and investment challenges

Many of the UK’s education buildings are equipped with outdated heating systems that are costly to maintain and run. A report by the National Audit Office exposed 40% of the schools building stock as being over 40 years old, with 60% built before 1976 - a time when energy efficiency wasn’t so high on the agenda.

A Guardian investigation last year revealed that one in six schools require urgent repairs. Funding cuts over the last decade have contributed to a decline in building fabric across the sector. Schools and colleges have adapted to the funding squeeze by increasing class sizes and shelving non-urgent refurbishment plans, including heating upgrades. Some schools have even limited heating use to save money.

A report by the Carbon Trust explains that UK schools could reduce energy costs by about £44 million per year simply by updating heating and investing in the fabric of the building. Simple things like, ensuring a heating system’s operating hours match the times in which it is required helps. But the biggest savings come from installing modern heating systems, which over time offer significant long-term efficiency savings.

According to a government advisory document on improving sustainability in schools, case study evidence suggests that an average secondary school could save up to 20% off its energy bills through replacement of heating and cooling systems, and lighting.

Up to now the lack of investment in schools has prevented any radical overhaul in heating. But change is in the air. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has set out a transformative ten-year rebuilding programme for schools across England.

It is the first major rebuilding programme to be launched in years and schools will soon benefit from substantial additional investment. Schools and colleges will also receive funding this year to refurbish buildings.

How can specifiers ensure schools get heating systems that deliver on core requirements, provide on-going energy savings and stand the test of time?

Let’s take a closer look at how modern solutions stand up.

Key considerations for specifiers

  • Cost and energy efficiency
  • Heating load requirements
  • Controllability
  • Health and safety
  • Space

Health and safety: Within education, health and safety considerations are critical. Convection heating is especially suitable for environments where quick heat demand response times are needed (it can handle temperature fluctuations) but where there is also a requirement for low surface temperatures.

Conversely, such a solution wouldn’t be appropriate for a sports hall where wall-mounted heaters become obstacles and the heating requirement is significantly different and better supported by radiant ceiling panels.

Distribution of heat via water rather than air, as with radiant ceiling panels, helps eliminate the transfer of pollutants such as dust, mould, fungi, bacteria and viruses which can all have damaging health effects.

Energy efficiency: Balancing energy efficiency with cost and thermal comfort is at the heart of the specification process. Different areas within schools, colleges and universities will pose their own challenges.

Assembly, dining and sports halls in particular are problematic as they are large spaces that are generally utilised intermittently, which makes the efficient use of energy much more difficult. Also, for sporting environments, the solution must provide heat without making the hall too stuffy. The biggest challenge is to provide heat to the people using the space without having to heat the entire volume of the building.

For large school halls radiant ceiling panels offer several benefits:

  • Flexible installation options (freely suspended panels or fitted into a closed ceiling)
  • Minimised risk of injury and trip hazards
  • Space saving
  • Radiant heat is highly energy efficient as it warms bodies directly rather than air

Balancing radiant needs: Heating requirements in schools are fairly complex, so it is not uncommon for specifiers to advise on multiple products within the same school.

Heating needs to be responsive, operate as and when required, and take into consideration occupancy levels and usage of a space, to create an environment where students will thrive.

Let’s take a look at some specification examples.

  • Nursery and Key Stage
  • Slim, smooth fronted radiators minimise the impact of accidental knocks
  • Fine mesh grills on top to prevent objects, such as pens, pencils or sticks, being inserted into the heat source
  • Surface temperature needs to be compliant and safe to touch to prevent the risk of burns

Zehnder’s ZVL LST convection heaters with smooth front panelling, rounded edges and topped with fine mesh grills offer an excellent addition to both new and refurbishment projects, where safety requirements are a key consideration. Robust and easy to install, Zehnder’s ZVL LST conforms to safety regulations (low surface temperature, tested to current EN442 requirements) and can be upgraded to include an anti-bacterial finish. Featuring front access, they are also incredibly easy to clean and maintain.

Primary, Secondary and higher education classrooms and corridors

Most schools opt for durable radiators, especially in corridors and classrooms. These should be incredibly robust to ensure they weather inevitable knocks and bumps, and also need to be easy to install, clean and maintain.

The benefits of choosing a convector radiator rather than underfloor heating or fan coil units include cost-effective installation, improved responsiveness to heat demand, ease of maintenance, and heat distribution by convection without having to pump air around the room, thus limiting the spread of allergens.

Zehnder’s Charleston multicolumn range has been favourably specified in schools for the last 90 years. Its classic design sits well in traditional school buildings and is available in an extensive range of sizes, and colours from the Zehnder colour chart. The Charleston’s high heat capacity makes them an ideal solution for older buildings with a high heating load.

Or for a more modern look, Zehnder’s flat panel Nova range is increasingly selected for schools, colleges and universities. The Nova panel radiator consists of flat oval precision tubes; its slim, durable design precludes any risk of physical injury, making them the perfect choice for educational buildings where there is a high level of human traffic. The contemporary-styled Nova radiators have a low water content and are very efficient.

Both ranges offer short heat response times, which means rooms and corridors can be heated up quickly. They are also compatible with a heat pump or low temperature systems, which are becoming more common in new projects as we move towards zero carbon goals.

Primary, Secondary and higher education classrooms and halls

Multi-purpose halls need to remain free of radiators for safety reasons. Radiant ceiling panels offer an ideal solution.

The heat effects from radiant panels are immediately noticeable because they warm the body directly rather than the air. This helps create very attractive energy cost savings.

Radiant panels are able to achieve a higher perceived temperature than actual room temperature, so less energy is needed to create the same level of thermal comfort

Zehnder’s radiant ceiling panels offer:

  • Comfort
  • Energy efficiency
  • Minimal need for maintenance
  • Ball deflector grids offer resistance to ball strikes
  • Acoustic absorption
  • Quick reaction time

Hygienic Zehnder’s new ZFP radiant ceiling panels heat and cool a building comfortably and efficiently. They can be used in all rooms from approximately 2 m to 50 m in height, making them ideal for sports halls, and compared to other systems, they can achieve substantial energy savings. These radiant ceiling panels also have multiple design possibilities thanks to their modular construction

In addition, Zehnder Alumline radiant ceiling panels are perfect for integration into all types of lay-in ceilings, especially into traditional grid ceilings, which are commonly used in school classrooms, assembly halls and hallways. The Alumline panels are also extremely energy-efficient due to their short system response time and high output performance.

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