David Rhodes of Albion Valves explains why specifiers should ask more of their valve manufacturers when it comes to today’s construction projects.
Buildings are becoming more complex in their design along with the desire for more efficient heating and cooling systems, in addition to this, new legislation is driving the use of low-carbon technologies to cut emissions from our building stock. As a result, consultants and contractors must access ever-more detailed information on the products they specify, install and ultimately hand over to clients.
This information can include BIM (building information modelling) data, installation requirements, commissioning techniques and maintenance instructions. It’s a lot to expect, especially in an industry where expertise in such diverse and specialist topics can be hard to find.
That’s why it’s imperative to work with manufacturers that can offer reliable advice and support for a project from cradle-to-grave. No one understands products better than their manufacturers, and the best of them will offer support for their equipment from the design stage to handover and beyond.
In the case of valves, for instance, their selection, installation, maintenance, and commissioning have a direct impact on the performance of heating and cooling systems, which inevitably affects the occupational comfort of the building. The ever-greater emphasis on operational energy efficiency of buildings puts the focus on heating and cooling as significant energy users. Accurate valve selection improves system performance, so finding a manufacturer that can help make the right choice early in a project pays dividends for contractor and client.
So, what features should consultants and contractors be looking for to find a manufacturer that can be a strategic partner rather than simply a product supplier?
It’s important to ensure the basics are in place. Getting product paperwork in order seems obvious, but it can be overlooked. Yet information on products within buildings is becoming more important to managers and owners. Dame Judith Hackitt’s independent enquiry into the Grenfell tragedy highlighted the importance of providing building owners and managers with information on equipment to ensure they know how their buildings should operate.
Designers and installers require manufacturers to supply clear and accurate performance information about their products available on the market. This enables them to make good and informed choices about the products they are selecting to better enable them to design combinations of products used within systems that will not only meet their clients’ requirements, but also those set out in building regulations
This has become known as the ‘golden thread’ of information, and manufacturers should be a key source of correct and current data for consultants and contractors.
Customers can be assured that our valves have relevant approvals such as WRAS for water and EN331 for gas, as well as product guarantees and supporting documentation such as technical datasheets, installation and operating manuals, and material certification. All can be downloaded from our website.
With the fundamentals of paperwork out of the way, it’s important to ensure that a manufacturer has the people and expertise in place to support a project from start to finish. An in-house project support team should be able to work with clients (consultants, contractors or distributors) to offer the detailed technical advice that will be required at every stage.
For example, designers can work closely with the manufacturer in the early stages of the project, to gain vital insights into factors that can affect the long-term energy efficiency of a building. In the case of valves, this might include the selection and combination of valves for a project and where they should be positioned in a system for optimum performance.
Valve selection depends on many factors, so involving a manufacturer’s technical experts from the design stage can help to identify any potential challenges that may occur during the installation and commissioning stages, through to the water treatment stages to ensure a successful project handover. For example, in a building where occupancy levels are likely to change across a 24-hour period, demand for heating or domestic hot water can vary widely. Selecting the right valves will help to keep the system energy efficient at each level of demand.
At the tender stage, manufacturers should be able and willing to provide insights into the correct products required, typically in the form of technical submittals. For valve selection, for instance, Albion discusses the requirements of the project to enable them to identify the right valves for each part of the system.
Valve technology has developed significantly in the past decade, so it’s vital to work with a team that can provide advice on the latest products, such as standard or pressure dependent control valves, hydronic control or pressure independent control valves (PICV’s).
Once a clear selection of products has been identified far more accurate costing for a quotation will be possible. Manufacturers can also be more precise about timings for product delivery if they understand exactly what an order will be. Albion Valves, for example, works with key merchants to exchange information on stock levels, making access to the right products easier – all the more important in our current economic climate.
The three most important factors to consider in sourcing valves are quality, reliability and accuracy. The first two of these can be identified through relevant approvals and warranties. For valve accuracy, ensure that a manufacturer can demonstrate their valves have been tested to provide accurate data on flow characteristics.
At Albion, we ensure that our products’ flow characteristics and independent flow verification are up to speed with legislation and industry guidance.
Commissioning a system sets it up for a long-term efficient and effective operation. For valves, this is a particularly important step in a project and one that as a manufacturer, we are very focused on supporting with information and guidance. The Albion team can offer on-site assistance too.
Valve commissioning, when done correctly, ensures accurate performance of the installed terminal units. This in turn means that heating and cooling are delivered as planned – supporting occupant health and comfort, with energy consumption optimised.
New projects are demanding a lot from consultants, contractors and installers. Balancing energy efficiency with occupant comfort, achieving rapid and cost-effective project delivery, making more use of technology such as BIM and digital tools – our industry is changing rapidly and keeping up is a challenge. I think that the days when manufacturers were simply suppliers of products supported with a warranty are in the past.
We now have to consider ourselves an integral part of the construction team and take that responsibility for technical input seriously. Specifying valves for your project should involve in-depth discussions about your technical requirements with a team that understands the demands on today’s buildings.
At Albion, we don’t think that’s asking too much…