Paul Wightman, Technical Specifications Manager at Albion Valves UK Ltd talks about the paradox of a growing population; an increasingly sprawling built environment and ever decreasing space for building engineers to operate in.
The modern buildings services industry has never been under more pressure. There is an ever-growing requirement for engineers and system designers to deliver better efficiency, performance, innovation and system control, yet the space in modern building design for piped services is ever-decreasing with little room for manoeuvre.
Diminishing space for developing, combined with an industry culture of oversizing is a compounding issue for building engineers. It has never been more important to ensure that a building’s internal systems are designed to make the very best use of space available. As a consequence specifying equipment designed specifically to save space has become a fundamental element of modern building design.
In new-build and major refurbishments, it is the decisions made in the design process that ultimately determine whether or not the building will run efficiently. The design team must take an integrated approach to all aspects of design to ensure they are fit for purpose, but without creating overcapacity.
Designing systems that optimize space can mean real commercial gains. In a piped system, using fewer larger valves and reduced pipework in risers not forgetting a reduction in plant room sizing, can create more commercial retail or living space – so potentially the size of an additional unit in a city apartment block!
At early stages of building design specifiers should consider incorporating products such as Albion’s Monolink, a preassembled factory tested valve arrangement, in which one single unit combines all the features required for a terminal end to meet a distribution pipe; including a strainer, bypass valve, balancing valve and drain cock with no need for assembly on site.
The Monolink is adaptable for a wide range of pipe connections; its H block structure comprises only four simple union joint connections instead of the standard 22. In addition, the simple and highly compact arrangement minimizes the time and space required to connect, allowing much easier installation than the traditional approach and with a much-reduced risk of leakage.
In accordance with the BSRIA (Building Services Research and Information Association) the Monolink also contains all the features required for the process of flushing, reverse flushing and chemical cleaning heating and cooling systems, prior to balancing and setting for standard operation.
Additionally, dynamic balancing allows engineers to control the requirement exactly where the energy demand is e.g. meeting rooms, offices or shop floor space. Using products such as the PICV which will work as a combined commissioning valve, differential pressure control valve and 2port motorised control valve i.e. a 3 in 1 product, means there is the opportunity to save on installed products throughout the system so no need for bigger balancing valves on branches or even bigger balancing valves on risers.
Ultimately, variable volume systems can help ensure that pipework, valves and fittings are as compact as possible, potentially helping to save space, installation and commissioning costs whilst ensuring performance and reduced energy consumption.
A system based on this design and product specifications can ultimately mean less access points or smaller risers and branch core spaces within the building, potentially creating more value added asset to the property.
In addition to their shopping list of space saving equipment, building engineers need to consider building occupancy, convergence factors and diversity to help prevent needlessly oversizing.
If we consider a commercial building designed to accommodate 2000 people, we should be mindful that the likelihood of all 2000 people being in that same building, at the same time is unlikely. An informed estimate would speculate that on any one day, a maximum headcount may be between 1600-1700 people and that is probably overestimating, yet the building caters for 2000.
If a building has an accurate terminal control, then better comfort catering for higher occupancy levels may be achievable within a given space so saving on original building size outlay. This a diversity calculation, when more people are in an area than anticipated the flow can be directed to these areas whilst ensuring a base load flow in lower occupied levels still ensuring comfortable conditions.
Engineers should also be mindful that there is also greater flexibility within dynamic controls and variable volume systems; the flexibility lends itself to long-term projects on installation. If we consider a new building, which is only part-finished when the first phase of tenants moves in, dynamic products allow that part of the system to be commissioned and made operational.
As development reaches completion and remaining parts of the building become occupied and the system becomes operational, there is no need for the original phase areas to be revisited or re-commissioned, as would have been necessary with traditional static balancing valves and control products.
Informed designers will fabricate a building with diversity in mind and intentionally undersize, so that although the system is built upon a design condition this may be less than 100% capacity, and in many cases is designed to meet in the region of 70-80% of capacity.
Therefore, if everything in the system called for full demand at once the system would be undersized and unable to cope. System control is paramount to ensuring that building performance is accurately adjusted and regulated demand is met 100% of the time without the inefficiencies of oversizing.
Modern dynamic products mean engineers can make extensive changes via the building management systems controls to meet demand, without having to ‘get their hands dirty’ with the complex task of altering pipework and valves.
Experienced designers can be confident that occupancy levels and cycles of movement of people and processes are such that in mixed use development e.g. retail, office, residential, there an extensive diversity of loads throughout the day and areas of priority change, so that the system whilst on the surface appears undersized will actually deliver perfectly.
So as population and our built environment grows, and paradoxically our space within it diminishes, sizing of piped services has a vital role in new building developments but will only deliver the best results when part of a fully integrated design that also considers diversity, convergence, building use and crucially the people using it.