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Potential of chilled beams not yet realised

Chilled beams can provide 20%-50% in energy savings depending on the design of the system and the building details. Manufacturers are continually pushing the boundaries to deliver better performance levels and design value, but what makes a good chilled beam and a good installation?

Excellent thermal comfort, reduced space requirements, simple controls, low noise levels and low maintenance are some of the major benefits claimed for chilled beams. As a space efficient method of heating and cooling, chilled beams are widely used in hospitals, offices, laboratories, libraries, airports and auditoria and have wide appeal for architects, consultants and building systems designers.

“Contractors favour their ease of installation, facilities managers like their reliability and maintenance free advantages, while end users enjoy the environmental benefits,” claims Rick Edmondson, chairman of Waterloo Air Products.

Even though the technology has been available for several years, the past decade has seen considerable improvements and refinements and their full potential is still being realised.

“The basic tenet of any controlled environment is air flow. Introducing heating and cooling into an environment requires a good understanding of closed environments and thermal comfort. Only by understanding the boundaries of convention can products evolve,” comments Rick Edmondson.

Pushing the boundaries

“At Waterloo Air Products, by the careful application of airflow dynamics principles, confirmed by meticulous testing in laboratory conditions, useful and reliable beam performance improvements are being gained and the boundaries of where beams can be used in building design and ventilation are being pushed back.”

However, Rick Edmondson warns that chilled ceiling and/or beam performances do vary between different manufacturers and he advises checking individual manufacturers’ product literature and compliance to BS EN ISO 7730.

In accommodating architectural and site requirements, Rick Edmondson insists that the core components and configuration are never compromised.

“This is the part that has been rigorously tested and documented,” he explains. “When a customer requires other features and wants to incorporate devices such as lights, alarms or smoke detectors, these can be readily accommodated taking care not to compromise the documented performance. Architectural casings can also be changed to suit architects’ designs and aesthetics, with some installations requiring quite innovative approaches to meet modern design requirements.”

As an example, Waterloo was recently involved in the installation of beams in a library with a central open atrium and side floors — the beams being required to follow the contours of the room’s perimeter. By carefully configuring the casings to direct and control the airflow, the company was able to provide an economic, comfortable and appropriate environment in the shelving areas, while properly ventilating the open atrium and stairways. Dual coil circuitry reduced water resistance and lowered pump power consumption. Dummy infill panels were designed to provide a continuous visual effect, with the unconventional corners of the rooms calling for special custom design and manufacturing of the casings.

 Finding  solutions that fit

As one of the UK’s leading experts in sheet metal work, Waterloo says it can accommodate most architects’ designs without compromising performance.

“As a solutions-led business, wherever there is a requirement for energy efficient heating or cooling, we can design a solution and by testing in purpose-built laboratories we can demonstrate to customers that their design will perform as required. Our ongoing developmental testing highlights how R&D is continually pushing the boundaries and exploring new concepts.”

Mr Edmondson adds: “Waterloo is in the vanguard of chilled beams and is fluent in manufacturing standard and customised solutions and understands how they can be improved further. Every manufacturer wants to make the best product for the job, but often design envelopes are not challenged, and not enough consideration is given to the client or installer’s perspective and future requirements.”

A key part of the design process incorporates as much innovation as possible but, in parallel, a significant amount of thought goes into the maintenance implications, ease of access, future requirements and sustainability. How they are going to be delivered to site and subsequently installed are also major considerations and form a vital part of the jigsaw.

Thinking ahead

Full service, integrated service modules (ISMs)/multi-service chilled beams (MSCBs), which feature additional building services in one module allow pre-fabrication off-site, a superior build quality and enable all the services to be tested in a controlled environment prior to installation. Waterloo knows from experience that customers often do not plan ahead and think of future services that may be required. As a result, the company anticipates those requirements and all MSCBs have pre-drilled holes in expectation of future additions.

Building usage changes quite frequently, particularly in today’s climate.

“Chilled beams free up valuable office space while offering total flexibility if the end user wishes to reconfigure the occupied space to cater for changes in use,” says Rick Edmondson. “Anticipating these requirements and future proofing products ensures that chilled beams remain adaptable and flexible. This might happen when, for example, private meeting rooms or offices need to be incorporated into a space originally configured as a single open-plan office and separate controls for lighting and the environment are required. This also includes de-commissioning previous configurations and layouts by manufacturing products with 100% reyclable components.”

And ever more innovative designs, including the use of ground source heat pumps in tandem with chilled beams, are further improving the sustainability of buildings services systems, by reducing the amount of energy needed to heat or cool water — a primary source of building related greenhouse gas emissions.

“A system that uses minimal energy to achieve comfort cooling conditions, has no moving parts, a long lifecycle and is designed for decommissioning with 100% recyclable components ticks almost every box.”

However, as Rick Edmondson points out, good installations require close collaboration with all parties and comprehensive selection criteria to achieve a well-designed system and proper system operation. This should include design, performance, occupant activity, aesthetics, acoustics, access and cost. The importance of each consideration will vary depending on the particular requirement of the project.

Although chilled beams are not appropriate for every building project, further developments to accommodate legislative requirements to meet energy reducing targets are likely and will create a more persuasive case for chilled beam technology. Even now, large and unusually configured spaces such as larger auditoria and atria, and spaces where the opportunities and locations for the physical deployment of chilled beams were historically considered unsuitable, are now becoming mainstream opportunities.

“By forging close relationships we can ensure that whatever the project customers will get the right solution for their installation,” adds Mr Edmondson.


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