Heating for healthcare: Low temperature, high performance

This article explores the challenges of choosing a space heating system for healthcare buildings

With strict legislation on safety and efficiency, choosing a space heating system for healthcare premises can be a daunting decision. Here, we speak to Ian Stuhldreer from Creda to find out what are the main drivers within the marketplace

Rising energy prices and increasingly-stringent legislation on carbon emissions have ensured that energy efficiency has risen up the agenda in recent years.

This is further heightened in the health sector with government targets which require new-build projects to achieve an ‘Excellent’ BREEAM rating and refurbishments a ‘Very Good’ rating.

The solution, inevitably, lies in a combination of energy efficiency measures, from insulation and lighting, to glazing and ventilation.

But one of the biggest factors that will inevitably impact the efficiency of any building is space heating.

Despite the introduction of more-efficient appliances, space heating remains one of the biggest consumers of energy in buildings. In the health sector, in particular, large communal spaces and high ceilings can result in high heat loss, while energy can often be lost heating unoccupied areas with wet radiator systems. It is therefore vital that organisations understand their own heating requirements – and choose the right system to deliver that heat when, and where, it is needed.

Striving for safety

For healthcare premises the need for energy efficiency is combined with stringent guidelines on the safety of heating appliances. NHS estates guidance notes state that the surface temperature of space heating appliances such as convectors and radiators should be controlled to prevent patients being burned, recommending a maximum surface temperature of 43°C. Applying to all ward accommodation, bedrooms and any public areas to which patients, residents and visitors have free access, the guidelines were set after concerns from the Health & Safety Executive over the number of burning incidents from hot surfaces in a range of premises.

For healthcare leaders and facilities managers, the ‘preferable solution’, as noted in the same guidelines, is the installation of purpose-manufactured Low Surface Temperature (LST) heat emitters. And, in most cases, direct-acting electric LST panel heaters could prove to be the standout option.

Electric avenue

Electric panel heaters are easy to install, require no regular maintenance, and are increasingly simple to use with modern, touch-screen user interfaces. As direct-acting appliances, they use convection heating to heat a space up quickly and create a comfortable environment by accurately holding the desired room temperature until the heater is turned off.

Direct-acting electric heating appliances offer fast warm-up and cool-down times. The other benefit of a fan convector is that the heater can be made more compact than other non-fan-assisted appliances of comparable output.Electric appliances also take away the need to consider the position and temperature of surface-mounted pipework for a centrally-heated system (that which is positioned within two metres of the floor), which would need to be securely insulated and boxed-in if carrying water above 43°C to conventional radiators.

A common misconception is that some electric heating appliances are less efficient and more expensive to run than others. In fact, all direct acting heating appliances are 100% efficient in converting energy into heat at the point of use. The key to meeting heat demand most efficiently and cost effectively, however, is in the development of highly-accurate controls – and manufacturers have taken huge steps to improve the technology in recent years.

Appliances that can offer the lowest variance in temperatures will inevitably be able to keep running costs to a minimum. More importantly, they will also minimise wasted energy, drive energy consumption down, and help to improve the overall energy efficiency of the building.