Radiators at the heart of heating innovation
Nicola Martin, Sales Manager at RadiWarm,® explains why electric pipeless radiators are ideal for many commercial and public buildings.
Electric pipeless radiators, usually water or silica-sand filled, are widely seen as an innovative heating solution, easy to install and use. End users and contractors like their flexibility, low maintenance and cost-effectiveness. Already popular in domestic settings, they are now being specified for commercial and public sector buildings too. And whereas once they were considered only suitable as an addition to existing gas or underfloor systems, they are now heating entire new or refurbished buildings. Hotels and public libraries are just two successful examples. The radiators generate the same comfortable heat as traditional “wet” systems and, crucially, are energy efficient and benefit from excellent controllability. Furthermore, being electric, they are obviously more sustainable than gas or oil.
There are also regulatory reasons why electric radiators are popular. One is, obviously, the ban on new gas boiler installations from 2025 and another is LOT 20 regulations in force since January 2018. LOT 20 requires any new space heating appliance to be compliant with set energy efficiency standards. Put simply, they need to incorporate intelligent timers, controls and sensors rather than simple on/off settings. Additionally, many are IP44 rated* enabling them to be used in bathrooms.
A Yorkshire hotel in a magnificent Georgian building recently upgraded its heating system and installed electric radiators as part of a major refurbishment. The existing cast iron radiators and their bulky pipe-work were inefficient and costly to maintain. But installing a new wet system throughout the hotel would have been expensive, creating upheaval for guests and staff. So, the hotel replaced the entire wet system with the water-filled range.
Any heating system in a commercial building needs a good control system. Thankfully pipeless radiators are controllable either individually or grouped in a zone. As an example, we offer a 7-day controller system. It’s based on a 7-day programmable thermostat and timer device whereby each radiator can be connected by radio frequency (RF) link to the control unit so heating can be controlled, zoned and operated from a central point in the building, with a different setting for each day of the week and up to 3 programmes per day, if needed. For the Yorkshire hotel, this system was ideal. The RF programmer controls the radiators allowing the staff to set the exact time and temperature when the radiators will come on and go off. After the work was done, this improved heating controllability contributed to overall lower running costs. The hotel also benefits from the fact that annual service checks on the radiators are no longer required.
An alternative and sophisticated option, offered by many radiator manufacturers, is remote controllability though not every building will need this. A Smart Controller can use a gateway that plugs into an existing wifi router, so that the radiators can be independently and remotely controlled from a web-based app on a smartphone or tablet.
These control systems offer many functions and options and, usefully, intuitive charts and graphs to show energy use in real time.
Contractors and consultants working on public buildings know how vital safety is. In the case of hot radiators, scalds or burns are a real danger for the vulnerable and elderly. Some water-filled radiators have the option of a protective low-temperature cover. When an M&E contractor was looking for a low surface temperature (LST) heating solution to refurbish two public libraries in the West Midlands, the team looked to pipeless radiators for simplicity as well as LST protection.
The libraries are old buildings that need a constant temperature to keep visitors comfortable but without any risk of contact burns.
Many LST models also meet strict NHS safety guidelines making them perfect for hospitals, nursing homes, schools and children’s nurseries.
Furthermore, the contractor for the libraries found, as expected, that the radiators displayed all the characteristics of comfortable ‘wet’ central heating. The radiating heat from the water-filled emitters dried the air far less and was, therefore, more comfortable for library users than conventional electric panel/convector heating. Breathing dry air can aggravate respiratory problems such as asthma and sinusitis and exacerbate allergies.
For many end-users, part of the appeal of pipeless radiators is the self-managing aspect with almost no additional costs or downtime once they have been installed. For public sector buildings in constant use, this is a significant benefit.
Lower bills were one of the advantages the hotel enjoyed from pipeless radiators as we have seen. But how is such efficiency achieved whilst maintaining comfortable ambient temperatures? The answer is smart radiators. This particular installation has an internal patented miniature boiler, pump and thermostat with software to reach and maintain the set temperature. So, when a room reaches it, the software will switch to eco-saving mode to maintain it. For the duration of the programme, typically it only needs to consume electricity for 1/3 of that time and then is switched off for the remaining 2/3 of the period.
Ever less suitable?
Pipeless radiators are well-designed and sleek using industry standard shells like Type 22. But in some commercial properties up-to-the-minute interior design is important perhaps requiring a bespoke radiator design. Many manufacturers cannot currently offer this cost-effectively.
Although the radiators are offered in a variety of sizes, including upright options, some spaces and rooms have insufficient wall space where no radiator would be suitable. And there are some situations where internal walls are so thin that they cannot support the radiators, not even with special load-bearing discs.
Many manufacturers offer interactive guides to help specifiers calculate the correct size of radiator they need to heat any room.
Pipeless radiators, once considered suitable only as additions to main heating systems, are now proving themselves capable of heating large commercial and public sector buildings. With outstanding controllability and energy efficiency combined with simple installation and no on-going maintenance, they are becoming the heating system of choice for many contractors and end users.