How to futureproof homes’ heating


Darren Trivett of OMNIE and the Ridgspear Group counters the tabloid headlines and considers the key factors developers should address when specifying underfloor heating systems for energy efficiency on their projects. 

It is unlikely you will get through a news programme nowadays without hearing a story about energy prices, climate change or the pressures on the UK housing market: be they from the rising population or the effects of Government policy towards both landlords and mortgage borrowers. And of course, all of these factors have a direct or indirect impact on housebuilders. 

Significantly the latest official report on the UK’s progress towards net zero still shows the UK well down the European league table on the installation of heat pumps in our homes, though it must be noted that properties being built to meet the requirements of Part L of the Building Regulations can all be expected to exceed the insulation standards, which enable the mainstream media to constantly assert that having a heat pump will make people ‘colder and poorer.’

In reality, the vast majority of homeowners who have had an air or ground source heat pump installed by respectable companies (who take the trouble to specify the system correctly with regards to a building’s demand characteristics), enjoy good comfort levels, as well as overall energy savings compared to using conventional heating appliances. 

There is a wide choice of outputs available and factors such as compressor performance and the type of refrigerant employed to weigh up, but we do know that heat pumps in general run more efficiently at lower flow temperatures and the best way to achieve this is to use underfloor heating as the means of delivery. Yet there are very large variations in the efficiencies of UFH systems themselves, with their configuration and method of installation typically being dictated by the floor construction into which they are being incorporated. 

Although pipework clipped to rigid insulation laid under wet screed remains very popular, particularly for domestic ground floor layouts, ‘dry’ systems featuring very accurately produced floor panels are increasingly being utilised for upper storeys, in both new build and retrofit situations. These should also avoid the common problem of ‘thermal striping’ where pipe runs are spaced too far apart leading to poor heat distribution and comfort levels. 

The top performing panels have channel profiles and special foil diffuser layers to optimise output from pipe runs, while the latest generation even include a routed overlay board whose top
surface indicates where it is safe to position fixings. 

Other types of UFH system and ancillary products have been developed specifically to suit situations where the client is seeking to minimise overall build height – perhaps where a habitable roof space formed by attic trusses is being fitted out – or where it is intended to install ceramic tiling as the floor finish. 

The pandemic saw supply chains under real pressure, particularly for timber board products with prices reaching unprecedented levels, which may well encourage more national as well as regional housebuilders to embrace the availability of UFH panels, which can take the place of conventional particle board decking to be installed across engineered timber and other types of upper floor joists. 

An award-winning regional builder in Wales used the OMNIE Torfloor system successfully for its developments, including in combination with LG air source heat pumps for 24 three and four bedroom houses at Pludds Meadow in Laugharne, Carmarthenshire. Salem Construction, part of Sancler Property installed the systems across the ground and upper floors, based on the level of design assistance available and having a single source of responsibility.

Although UK politicians have a long track record of moving the goalposts for our industry and even relenting on some of the more onerous targets for building standards, we can be certain that the drive towards higher energy efficiency and an end for fossil fuels is backed by an unstoppable consensus. 

Underfloor heating is certain to have a large role to play in this and even if paired with a gas boiler at present, once the systems are incorporated into new build homes, they can effectively futureproof them for the efficient adoption of heat pumps, district heating or other green heat sources at a later date. 

Darren Trivet is chief executive officer at OMNIE and the Ridgspear Group