Why radiant heating and cooling (RHC) systems are the perfect solution for healthcare settings

There is increased scrutiny on the facilities used in both private and public healthcare. Key objectives are focussed on achieving cost savings, increasing energy efficiencies and ensuring the comfort and safety of both patients and staff. In this review, we look at how radiant heating and cooling systems and, in some cases, specialist radiator models can be instrumental in helping healthcare providers meet these objectives.

A safe and comfortable environment

1. Comfort

RHC systems achieve an even distribution of heating and cooling. And, importantly, they do so silently without the noise that other systems emit.

The cooling offered by fan coils is extremely uncomfortable to anyone located in proximity to the unit – it can feel like standing in a cool draught.

2. Health

Healthcare settings require an increased level of comfort and ensured safety, due to the condition of the patients within. Keeping patients not only comfortable but also free from the risk of infection, illness or danger is especially paramount in healthcare environments.

Any heating and cooling system that relies on the distribution of air runs the risk of increasing the spread of air-related problems. The radiant panels are heated by hot water and give off energy to the room. This energy is converted into heat only when it comes into contact with the human body or other objects. This method reduces the incidence of harmful air-related problems, such as air-borne germ spread, mould and condensation.

3. Risk prevention

RHC systems can be supplied with an anti-bacterial coating, which prevents the growth of harmful bacteria such as E. coli and MRSA and can help reduce the likelihood of infection and illness.

In addition, as the RHC system’s panels are located in the ceiling, any risk of blood or other bodily fluids spilling on to the panels are removed. This helps prevent health concerns such as bacteria spreading at certain temperatures, or floor cleaning impacting on underfloor heating solutions performance and longevity.

4. Safety

Radiant ceiling panels provide a heating and cooling solution from the ceiling. This eliminates the risk of injuries or discomfort being caused when touched.

In terms of maximising space within the building, it also means that wall and floor space can be kept clear for vital equipment and beds.

In operating theatres for example, with space at a premium, perimeter heating can take up valuable space and create uncomfortable temperatures and potential safety issues should someone fall against the surface.  In this environment, specialist Low Surface Temperature (LST) radiator models provide a safe, robust option which is durable without presenting a risk to patients or staff who may come into contact with them.

Energy efficiency

5. Energy savings of up to 42%

Radiant ceiling panels heat water to generate heat, which is more energy and cost effective than heating air. Further savings are made by the way they work: only objects and occupants in a room are heated, rather than the entire space of the room. This reduces energy use and increases efficiency.

While there are short-term cost benefits to be achieved in choosing an air-based system, these very quickly prove to be a false economy. We’ll go on to look at issues of the cost of maintenance next, but here it is RHC system’s sustainable level of performance that should be highlighted.

According to an ASHRAE study that compared variable air volume (VAV) and RHC systems, the capital cost of radiant solutions was much lower because ‘the energy savings of the radiant system compared to VAV in the second and third year of operation was 42%’ (source)

It is also worth noting that RHC systems have very low inertia whether heating or cooling, making them very easy to adjust and control, and also making them much more energy efficient than high inertia systems such as underfloor heating.

Low maintenance

6. Reduced maintenance costs and disruption

Radiant ceiling panels have no moving parts. This reduces maintenance needs and also makes them incredibly simple to clean.  Just a cloth and a mild detergent are all that is needed.

Underfloor heating systems, on the other hand, require entire wards or healthcare facilities to be evacuated or closed whilst the floor is taken up for servicing. The disturbance caused when servicing or cleaning radiant ceiling panels is minimal.

There are no serviceable items in RHC systems and this means they have a very long lifecycle and are fully recyclable.

Similarly, any air-based heating and cooling system – whether fan coils, chilled beams or a centralised air handling system – will inevitably lead to higher maintenance needs due to the resultant hygiene-risk of the build-up of dirt.

7. Adaptable to building requirements – Provision of heating and cooling

Another key feature that RHC systems offer is that they can cool as well as heat. This offers healthcare facilities an energy efficient solution for both requirements and one which requires no additional servicing or alterations.

A flexible heating and cooling solution

8. Easy to adapt to changing needs

With the healthcare sector under increased pressure to reduce costs through efficiencies, it is critical that the heating and cooling system chosen offers an easy way to respond to changes in the structuring and organisation of the building’s space.

Through the use of radiant ceiling panels, changes in the use of building space can be easily accommodated. These can be located appropriately to provide required heat output based on ‘active’ areas within a building, where more people are located for example.

RHC systems are also very well suited to handling the heating and cooling of areas which are not consistently occupied, or which people pass through, such as corridors, storage spaces or reception areas. Panels will only direct heat where activity and occupancy are detected, so heating is not wasted in areas which are often empty or just being used occasionally.

Why RHC systems are ideal for healthcare

All healthcare buildings face strict regulations and guidelines, covering issues such as energy efficiency, safety and use of space. They are also judged by best practice standards in terms of how the building performs.

For example, Regulation 15 of the Health and Social Care Act 2008: Regulations 2014, states that ‘all premises and equipment used by the service provider must be ‘clean, secure, and suitable for purpose’. The Health Technical memoranda (HTM) 03-01, goes on to offer ‘specific advice and guidance on the ‘design and management of heating and specialised ventilation in health sector buildings’. 

It’s vital to show that standards are being met, to reassure patients and families that the building is a safe and healthy environment, and for staff, who often work long hours and are likely to spend long periods of time within the building.

Choosing specialist heating systems will help demonstrate:

  • A commitment to delivering clear health benefits in healthcare settings
  • A concern for comfort and safety
  • A focus on achieving energy-efficiency and cutting costs
  • A long-term awareness that the building may adapt to future changes

And that’s why it offers the perfect solution for the healthcare sector. Heating and cooling ceiling systems commercialorders@zehnder.co.uk.