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Heating and cooling should be top of the refurb list

When repairing and refurbishing the UK’s school and college buildings, we must put heating, hot water and ventilation systems high on the list.

These services support the wellbeing and productivity of students and teachers and can also improve energy efficiency while cutting carbon emissions.

Unfortunately, many of our schools and colleges need urgent repairing and updating, with a cost that has been estimated at around £11 billion. Of that total, £2 billion is the cost of updating mechanical services such as boilers, air conditioning and pipework.

It is the second-largest proportion of repairs, after electrical services such as lighting and IT infrastructure, at £2.5 billion.

Building services such as heating, hot water and cooling contribute to healthy spaces

Mike Egan Mike Egan Business Development Manager

Decarbonisation and education

At the same time, the estate of around 32,000 schools and colleges in the UK has environmental goals to achieve.

The Department for Education (DfE) has a milestone target of 50% emissions cut from its estate by 2032 (against a 2017 baseline). And a further 25% is expected by 2037, bringing the total to a 75% cut in 14 years.

So, refurbishing existing HVAC systems must go beyond like-for-like updates and carefully consider factors such as energy efficiency and carbon emissions. Because achieving those challenging targets means cutting energy use in school and college buildings and decarbonising heating and hot water systems.

For example, swapping old gas or oil boilers for heat pump heating systems is an excellent option for these buildings. Modern heat pumps can provide hot water as well as heating, and they can work in a range of buildings, from classrooms to gymnasiums and offices. The Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme (PSDS) has already funded many heat pump installations in schools and colleges, so it’s a familiar technology already delivering results.

A fresh approach to IAQ

As we’ve all learned in the last few years, good ventilation is fundamental to occupant health, particularly in schools.

Moreover, good indoor air quality (IAQ) has been shown to help with concentration and learning. With energy efficiency in mind, solutions such as mechanical ventilation with heat recovery (MVHR) can help deliver predictable ventilation with optimum efficiency.

Ventilation is becoming more important as school and college buildings improve insulation. Tightening structures to retain heat enhances efficiency but can negatively impact ventilation.

So when planning for this type of building improvement, it’s important to consider insulation and ventilation in tandem to avoid stuffy, unhealthy classrooms.

Taking back control

Control of HVAC systems is also essential. We’ve all seen school buildings where controls are too complicated for busy teachers to use correctly. Or where systems are too complex for the caretaker to maintain. These problems lead to poor energy management, equipment breakdown and an overall poor internal environment.

Good control strategies are vital for success in school and college buildings to support occupant comfort and energy efficiency. But there are rarely facilities or engineering experts on hand, so usability is the key to success.

For example, controls can help to ensure that, at the simplest level, systems don’t operate when they’re not required. For example, this means that ‘off’ is the standard position for all switches on heating and cooling systems, so if people leave a classroom and forget that the air conditioning is running, it will switch off in a few minutes. 

This can be achieved using PIR sensors included in the equipment for easy installation.

Healthy learning spaces

Building services such as heating, hot water and cooling are crucial for modern school and college buildings. They contribute to healthy, optimised spaces for teachers and students.

Therefore, refurbishment of schools and colleges should always include consideration of these systems because, with them, a building will be a pleasant place to work or learn.

We have produced a White Paper on these issues, which aims to help school and college management teams understand the impact of building services on their energy use and carbon footprint.

In addition, it highlights the benefits of modern heating, cooling and ventilation systems and explains how best to engage with contractors and installers when discussing the various options available for upgrading existing systems.

Mike Egan Business Development Manager