Hot knowledge

Toby Howard-Willis of JG Speedfit explores some of the key considerations surrounding smart heating controls and how they vary between retrofit and new build projects.

As Government and the wider housebuilding industry work towards greater energy efficiency in housing, there has been a growing demand for properties which make use of underfloor heating and other intelligent heating products. That being said, the availability of retrofit compatible products means there is still significant scope for developers to improve the energy efficiency of existing properties and, therefore, their desirability within the market.

An understanding of the key considerations surrounding smart heating controls in retrofit and new build projects can ensure that the most appropriate solutions are specified, thus maximising the overall value of the project and return on investment.

With rapidly evolving legislation and technology, the process for specification can be complicated. The key is to pinpoint the optimal solutions to meet the unique demands of retrofit and new build projects, and to understand how to overcome them.

The demand for heating controls

When discussing heating controls, the differences between retrofit and new build projects are significant. While the majority of the growth of the heating controls market is driven by increased demand for energy efficient new builds, an important share of smart heating demand is still expected to come from the retrofit market. This development has been attributed to a growing tendency in times of economic uncertainty to renovate rather than buying a new property, the hope being that investing in the property will deliver financial rewards further down the line.

At the heart of this discussion is the drive towards greater transparency around energy consumption and energy efficiency, two topics which continue to fuel demand for smart controls. Smart controls are consistently making strides in functionality, affording end-users total control over a whole manner of heating applications, from underfloor heating to radiators, at the click of a button. The good news is that there is a range of solutions on the market which enable property developers to pass on cost savings and provide greater control over energy consumption to homebuyers.

Underfloor heating

Where new build and retrofit projects largely differ is in the floor construction, and the extent to which this will impact on the installation process. For any building more than twenty-years-old, this will most likely feature a joist made from solid timber, requiring the use of spreader plates. At 1mm thickness, these lie under the finished floor, be it floorboards or an alternative. In a retrofit scenario an installer would lift up the existing finished floor, exposing the joist below, before installing the spreader plates on top of the joists, running in the same direction. The floor would then be laid back on top. Conversely, an overfit system has a pre-grooved insulation board of 25mm in thickness. Suitable for use in both new build and retrofit applications, an overfit system is designed to be installed on top of a finished floor. This is only possible, however, if the design of the room can support a small addition to the floor height. Assuming the additional floor height isn’t a problem, it eliminates the need for installers to carry out additional work on the existing floor, shortening the installation time significantly.

In addition to satisfying the legal requirements around sustainability, energy efficient properties are more desirable as the energy-related running costs are inevitably lower. From a housebuilding perspective, such houses are significantly easier to sell. Underfloor heating eliminates the need for radiators, giving the homeowner and designer greater flexibility around how space is used. Furthermore, spaces can be more easily customised as required.

Legislation for new build

As mentioned previously, new build properties are subject to increasingly stringent legislation around energy efficiency. For example, developers now need to be aware of the requirement for zonal controls in spaces exceeding 150m².

The smart control market is growing rapidly and the ability to offer added-value solutions can provide a real source of competitive advantage and improve overall profitability for developers.

Whether working on a retrofit or new build project, it may seem that the two require different levels of heating controls or underfloor heating systems. However, while the installation may be different, the end result doesn’t have to be. With technical advice available from a leading manufacturer’s support team, developers can help modernise Victorian homes and ensure that new builds are as efficient as possible, meaning the end result of both a retrofit project and new build can yield similar energy savings.

Toby Howard-Willis is technical sales manager at JG Speedfit