How offsite benefits the ‘new normal’

As buildings reopen and we adapt to living with COVID-19, energy and facility managers will be keen to forge ahead with cost-effective energy efficiency improvements to their buildings and heating systems. Tom Murray, Baxi Heating’s Specification Director, look at how increased use of prefabrication could meet the current challenges

A ‘new normal’ is taking shape across the UK as buildings start to reopen. While the COVID-19 crisis has forced many organisations to reflect on their priorities and processes, energy efficiency continues to make perfect economic sense for energy managers, offering win-win opportunities to boost profitability while reducing the environmental impact of our public buildings.

Practical efficiency measures, including replacement of older, inefficient boilers, offer a real and achievable means of improving the energy performance of a building, while maintaining a comfortable environment for its occupants and making it more cost-effective to run.

For energy managers, achieving the required efficiency savings with minimal disruption will be a major concern. Added to this is the need to ensure that safety guidelines around such work are adhered for the protection of occupants and workers – and that’s where offsite prefabricated heating solutions have a key part to play.

Prioritising health and safety

Health and safety should be a key concern at all times, but with tighter operating procedures in place, the focus has intensified. A major advantage of offsite fabrication is that it enables safety requirements to be more easily met and policed from the start of the project to its completion.

And fortunately, good manufacturers already offer tried-and-tested offsite prefabricated turnkey heating solutions – a case in point being the bespoke boiler rig modules used for multiple boiler installation.

Bespoke benefits

What exactly do we mean by a prefabricated boiler rig? Effectively, it is a mini plant room system, complete with a bespoke configuration of boilers, pumps, low loss headers or plate heat exchangers, and any ancillary items including controls, a dosing pot and a pressurisation unit.

Some manufacturers will offer tailored, prefabricated solutions for wall-hung and floor-standing boiler models – or even design modules combining the two, if required.

The ability to address and resolve the unique requirements of each project from the outset is a key benefit in current times as it ensures faster, safer installation and a quality result.

The maximum and minimum heat output is defined at the outset along with the number of boilers and whether to use a back-to-back or an in-line layout. But this is just the starting point.

Physical site restrictions can be addressed through a choice of header extensions and connections to improve access. A further option is to design the bespoke rig so that it can be split into smaller modules, with simple re-connection into a single frame in the plant room.

At the same time, integrating project-specific controls such as weather compensation, sequencing or building management system direct operation into the design will meet the requirement to optimise seasonal efficiency and keep heating costs low. The controls can also be pre-wired into a rig mounted control panel for speedy installation to reduce onsite labour and time.

Rapid solution for safer installation

The bespoke element of the prefabricated rig module means that even the position and size of the system connections on the rig can be designed to match the existing system pipework in the plant room. So, unlike site-assembled, flat-pack cascade packages, prefabricated solutions can require zero onsite fabrication.

As a result, hot works, the number of workers and the time spent on site required are all reduced, making it easier to adhere to safety requirements.

And as installation and commissioning time is reduced to a matter of days rather than weeks, using prefabrication techniques like these will give organisations the opportunity to clear any potential backlog of boiler replacements across their sites swiftly and safely. It also offers greater flexibility of planning – a school boiler replacement project, for example, no longer needs to be scheduled for the summer shutdown but could be completed in the half term break.

Early visualisation

As prefabricated solutions require the design to be front-loaded, energy and facilities managers can be involved in the project at the early stages. This provides the opportunity for input while bringing assurance of a quality outcome.

Typically, each boiler rig or module will be designed using BIM tools and 3D computer-aided design (CAD) systems.

This early visualisation is particularly useful on projects where boiler replacements need to be approved by a number of stakeholders. Only when the design is clearly identified does production take place.

The drawings then form part of a comprehensive operations and maintenance documentation manual, part of the building’s ‘golden thread’ of information, to facilitate easier future servicing and replacement.

Quality assurance

By carrying out most of the manufacturing offsite, using specialist machinery in a quality-controlled factory environment, the highest build quality can be achieved through improved control procedures and end-of-line testing. At the same time, this technique reduces waste, leading to a lower environmental impact.

When it comes to heating refurbishments – and boiler replacement in particular – using prefabrication techniques offers numerous benefits that are especially relevant in these challenging times.

Ensuring that the heating system operates reliably and efficiently is central to improving building efficiency – and replacing older inefficient boilers is a frequent starting point. Just as energy efficiency brings win-win benefits, so does use of equipment like the bespoke rig, providing a rapid, quality solution to high efficiency heating.

Benefits of offsite prefabrication in meeting COVID-19 safety guidelines

  • Meets physical distancing guidelines – number of workers required on site is reduced as is time needing to be spent on site
  • Improves onsite safety – can be designed for straightforward, easy connection, reducing onsite hot works
  • Clears backlog – enables rapid installation, allowing more projects to be completed in a fixed timeframe
  • Achieves goal for improved heating efficiency – designed bespoke to site and project requirements

Baxi Heating