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In hot water

Changes to Part L of Building Regulations will drive the shift from non-condensing water heaters to condensing units. Neville Small, Key Accounts Director at Baxi Commercial Solutions

In December, the government published updates to Approved Document L2B of Building Regulations relating to the conservation of fuel and power in existing non-domestic buildings. One of the changes relates to tighter water heater efficiency standards. From 15 June 2022, the minimum heat generator seasonal efficiency for direct-fired water heaters will be 91 per cent (GCV) for natural gas and 92 per cent (GCV) for liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). All indirect-fired water heaters will be required to achieve a minimum seasonal efficiency of 91 per cent (GCV) for both natural gas and LPG. The more stringent standards, which will apply to both existing and new non-domestic building stock, will effectively phase out non-condensing water heaters in favour of condensing water heaters. Many organisations still rely on non-condensing water heaters. While exceptions may apply in ‘exceptional circumstances’, in the vast majority of buildings, the current opportunity to carry out like-for-like non-condensing water heater replacement will disappear.

Move towards greater energy efficiency

The uplift is part of the government’s roadmap to help the UK move towards its net zero target by 2050.

Condensing water heaters are, on average, at least 20 per cent more efficient than non-condensing models. Models like the Andrews Water Heaters ECOflo, MAXXflo EVO and SUPAflo EVO, for example, can achieve near maximum efficiencies of up of 98 per cent.

Switching to more energy-efficient condensing water heaters will help organisations make vital progress towards their sustainability goals while delivering immediate and future savings in operational costs. The shift to condensing technology also encourages a reassessment of the building’s hot water requirements. Many organisations will have experienced changes in building occupancy in the last two years altered hot water usage. Ultimately, taking the time to resize the hot water demand could point to a smaller water heater now being required, which would reduce both initial capital expenditure and longer-term running costs.

Future proofing the system

For organisations looking to reduce their carbon output and running costs, upgrading any non-condensing water heaters to condensing units is one of the quick wins. If the tighter water heater efficiency standards are a Government stick, then the immediate energy, carbon and cost savings are the welcome carrots! But here’s the caveat. While the move from non-condensing to condensing water heaters can and should be relatively straightforward, certain factors, such as flueing and condensate arrangements, may require advance consideration. With a robust asset management programme in place, facilities managers will be better equipped to prepare for future change. This will simplify the replacement process, and, in turn, help protect the company coffers.

Pathway to greater sustainability

Proactive planning will also make it easier to plan the organisation’s pathway to net zero. Driving the move to improved sustainability can be a tough challenge for FMs, particularly in sectors most affected by COVID. As organisations deal with the aftermath of lockdown and continue to face the unknown, investment in facilities is likely to come under greater scrutiny.

Upgrading from non-condensing to highly efficient condensing water heaters can be an important first step in a phased refurbishment programme to bring the building up to code. A natural progression would be to integrate low carbon air source heat pumps in a hybrid system, once budgets permit, to continue the stepwise route to decarbonisation.

Remove risk

At the end of the day, no organisation wants to risk its building being left with no hot water supply. Unplanned replacements can result in downtime, expensive call out fees and disruption to business activities – all of which will negatively impact on the company’s bottom line.

That’s why we would urge facilities managers to proactively plan ahead now. The clock is ticking. By conducting regular condition surveys and inspection of plant room assets, facilities managers will be able to prepare for future change and avoid putting business operations at risk.

About Sarah OBeirne

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