Feeling the Squeeze

The eternal problem of small plant rooms can be easier to manage with pre-planning and the application of the latest technologies. Chris Caton, Head of Commercial Product Management at Ideal Boilers, shares his views.

M&E contractors and building services managers looking to maximise space within plant rooms have a checklist of utilities to consider - heating systems are just one of many to juggle. And boilers are just one piece of the plant room jigsaw that needs to slot into place. However, with strict guidance and legislation around the area required for ventilation, access for handling units and clearance in line with manufacturer’s guidelines for maintenance for example, it is a headache for many.

The first key, and potentially obvious, piece of advice when prioritising space within a plant room is to think ‘small boilers’. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean less power thanks to developments in recent decades where we have seen high efficient, smaller condensing boilers lead the way - as with the case of the Ideal Commercial condensing boilers range.

Smaller footprint boilers or a modular system will help with plant room design, as space is often at a premium in many cases; M&E contractors need to make the most of the space in small or otherwise filled plant rooms.

Installing new, condensing boilers as part of a replacement or retrofit programme can aid space creation in a plant room or allow for a change to building floorplans. Condensing boilers can often provide similar outputs in a smaller area, even if new flues, water treatment and system separation are required.

Space saving

Installation of Ideal Commercial Imax Xtra boilers at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool allowed the plant room to be halved in size, allowing the Gallery to create valuable new storage space.

Legislation around BS6644 should also be taken into consideration, especially the amount of ventilation that is needed for the safe running of a boiler. The obvious checks need to be considered such as space around the boiler, which should always be in line with manufacturer’s guidelines for servicing and commissioning checks.

There should also be no space constraints with regards to the flue – servicing access should never be restricted. Identifying the safe parameters within the legislation should always be checked with the flue installer or manufacturer.

Sometimes, a building refurbishment can mean that boilers and heating systems need to be relocated to other parts of a building, away from the original plant room. In some cases, these can be relocated to the roofs of buildings – a common alternative to a standard plant room and something that is now being picked up by many M&E contractors.

The other alternative is to relocate the boiler to a purpose-built annex. This will mean the need for replumbing and allocation of space for both water treatment and system separation components – but this is a complete waterproof unit that will house the boiler and heating system adequately.

A good example of this in practice was the installation of 20 Ideal Commercial Evomax 150kW wall-hung commercial condensing boilers and five Frame and Header kits to Southampton City Council in five of its residential tower blocks. A plant room needed to be constructed within each block to accommodate the Evomax boilers and other appliances. The decision was made to refurbish the old drying deck, located at the very top of each building just below the roof, as this was previously a wasted space and offered the capacity required, albeit with space constraints.

Easy lifting

The requirement for compact easy-to-install boilers was then critical, as the appliances not only had to be installed in a confined plant room space, they also needed to be transported to the very top of each 13-storey block via the lifts without overloading them or causing damage.

With the fitting of any boiler the system separation and water treatment processes are a necessity meaning adequate space needs to be allotted and factored in.

Both processes are designed to not only maintain the life of the boiler – but they also help to keep downtime to a minimum. Corrosion of pipes and boiler parts from no or incorrect treatment can mean that heating systems fail or at worse are out of service for a lengthy period – this is something that needs to be avoided at all costs.

In truth, system separation does take up room within a plant room, however, it is a vital aide to the healthy running of the boiler. Modern day plant rooms must and should incorporate both processes to ensure the effective running of heating systems.

This article first appeared in MBS magazine, June 2018.

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