Across the UK, some of our oldest and most prestigious buildings lie on the campuses of our universities. Our rich heritage of university education dates back centuries and in many cases, the original buildings are still in use. Durham University, the University of Oxford, the University of Glasgow – all examples of existing universities that have buildings as old as the 19th century – or in some cases older – still being regularly used to teach the next generation of academics.
Of course over the years, there have been many retrofitting projects undertaken to ensure that they are still safe for occupants and are suitable for students to either live or study. However, one area of retrofitting that has perhaps been neglected is their suitability to comply with pressing energy targets. One example of this would be the means by which they heat the premises.
Cutting Carbon, Cutting Costs
Universities in the UK are currently working towards a target of saving 38% on carbon emissions by 2020, and 80% by 2050. It is all well and good designing new buildings from scratch that adhere to BREEAM standards, but the biggest gains in hitting these targets must surely come from modifications to the existing structures. Modifications to a heating system will improve a building’s lifetime running costs whilst reducing energy consumption, but can also improve the comfort standards for the building’s occupants, making it more attractive to students and thus having a direct effect on the quality of the learning environment.
Let’s take radiators as an example. If old, heavy, inefficient steel-panelled radiators are still the main source of heat across a campus, it is a hefty burden on energy demand. But by specifying low mass, low water content alternatives, the total energy use required to effectively heat the radiator can fall by as much as 16%. They are considerably more responsive, which helps to limit wasted heat once they have been switched off – meaning students will remain comfortable at all times, whilst the outdoor environment is not being exposed to unnecessary carbon emissions.
In terms of financial feasibility, making a sustainable step such as installing modern radiator technologies is entirely logical too. Energy is the largest controllable operating expense on a university’s balance sheet. Now consider that many of these buildings are in use 24 hours a day – libraries for example. Saving 16% on heating energy over the course of 365 days a year is a substantial cost saving, which can then be reallocated towards improving the greater standard of education or through other future investment strategies such as the aesthetics of the university.
In the UK in particular, with the relatively recent rise in university fees that should be stable for the next few years, there is the added pressure of expectation from students. Universities will be expected to invest the extra revenue wisely, and making their premises more sustainable should be considered a major facet towards achieving this.
Retaining the Heritage
One of the most concerning matters for universities is the impact that retrofitting a heating system might have on the aesthetic appearance of the building. The good news is that the wealth of options available, all of which incorporate energy efficient heat emitter technology, means that there is a heating solution for any circumstance.
It could be traditional wall-mounted radiators that can be specified in numerous sizes, lengths and heights; it could be trench heating that can be subtly installed within floor trenches to keep it hidden from occupants’ line of sight. By seeking the correct, most qualified installers of energy efficient heating solutions – who are best positioned to know the most suitable, satisfactory products – universities can find a perfect solution for any given historical building.
With a little help from the experts, it is entirely feasible that the ambitious – yet necessary – energy targets can be achieved. If we have the technologies to retrofit existing buildings with sustainable heating solutions that can reduce energy consumption by as much as 16%, whilst being adaptable enough to complement the existing historical aesthetics that represent our proud educational heritage, then surely it is worth reaching out to the people that can help make it happen.
Some of the leading research on climate change is carried out within our top universities, so it makes sense that these establishments should be leading examples of how we can reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions – by doing so, it further iterates the importance of the issue to the generations that will be pressured to make drastic cuts in fossil-fuel thirsty energy consumption.
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