Plant rooms are instrumental to the seamless operation of domestic and commercial developments, enabling important heating and hot water supply to run throughout a premises. However, when it comes to plant room upgrades, there are many considerations that architects and contractors have to make, in order to ensure these works are undertaken as safely and efficiently as possible, so that disruption is kept to an absolute minimum. But what are the considerations and challenges exactly and how can they be overcome?
UK cities such as London and rural locations have seen record purchases for luxury homes in recent years, with Savills data revealing a record 522 sales of luxury £5m-plus homes in 2021 in the UK capital. Luxury developments can range in shape and style; some might be an Edwardian or Victorian building, whilst others a more modern domestic development that was built within the past few years. Either way, these developments must perform with high efficiency, to ensure that those living in these spaces can do so at the highest level of comfort.
Importance of plant rooms
Key to the efficiency of buildings are plant rooms. Plant rooms are at the core of a building, housing essential equipment that is needed to supply ventilation, electrical distribution, water and other building services, and have to be regularly maintained and upgraded to ensure a building performs correctly.
Although essential to building operation, during the design phase plant rooms are quite often an afterthought and are built in inaccessible locations. This current approach has implications when it comes to plant room upgrades as typically the small or imperfect location of a plant room can make it difficult to access or take out the equipment that needs replacing. This could mean it is necessary to take a plant room offline to replace a boiler.
What’s more, breaking down the existing boiler is very complicated and can take up a lot of time, which means that heat and hot water supply can be cut off for long periods, compromising occupant comfort. To avoid taking a plant room completely offline and causing high levels of disruption, it’s key to use a temporary boiler.
A temporary boiler is needed because quite often contractors will be reconfiguring and changing various pieces of equipment, which means they need the guarantee that they’ll be able to keep the heat on when these big changes are happening.
Whilst it can be tempting to keep a plant room live during an upgrade and tinker with the equipment, taking it offline and installing a temporary boiler gives clients the flexibility, assurance and time that they need. By taking a plant room offline and using temporary plant, clients have a blank canvas to do even more with their site upgrades. For example, older, non-condensing boilers tend to be large and heavy. When upgrading to a newer appliance, the existing pipework needs major reconfiguration. Modern appliances, which are condensing, need more drainage through them as they are extracting heat out in a more effective way. This subsequently changes the ventilation parameters of the room.
What needs to be considered?
When it comes to plant room replacement and installing a temporary boiler, numerous considerations must be made. Depending on the nature of an upgrade, a temporary boiler may be in-situ for a period of time. This means that attention should be turned to whether there is a safe route for the hot pipes; where an oil tank can be placed; and whether there is hardstanding to the plant room. On some high-end builds, the plant room is a significant distance away, meaning that there needs to be secure surfaces (hardstanding) in which to make pipework connections and transport equipment.
Furthermore, an increasing amount of the UK’s existing housing stock is being decarbonised to meet government’s net zero aims. If a plant room upgrade is being done to decarbonise a building and take gas out, it’s key to consider that the incoming equipment might be bigger. Generally speaking, heat pumps – which are alternatives to gas boilers – are much larger in size. Their size also means that existing pipework will need to be amended to match the flow rate of the heat pumps. On mainly residential and commercial developments, heat pumps are being designed to be installed on roof gardens, which may affect not only the overall appearance of a roof, but its practical design too.
Tech can be key
When it comes to plant room upgrades, building management systems (BMS) are a great consideration. The likes of Ideal Heat Solutions’ temporary boilers have in-built IQ VISION monitoring technology to ensure temporary plant performs efficiently. Not only can these systems offer visibility and control of key building systems, they also enable energy to be saved – a big requirement given the UK’s focus on reducing carbon emissions. This ensures that a building can continue to perform to the standard that is required.
BMS also dials in and connects to under-used equipment so it can be ‘exercised’ in order to maintain the operational life of the equipment. For instance, mechanical components such as valves can be swapped over, opened and closed if they haven’t been used.
Whilst plant room upgrades may vary in scale and duration, the one certainty is to engage and use a temporary boiler solution that will ensure that vital heat and hot water supply is kept on. Doing so will keep disruption to building occupants at an absolute minimum – which is a key requirement on all retrofit projects.
As featured in FC&A, please view the digital archive here: https://www.fca-magazine.com/magazine/digital-archive/2824-november-2022-issue