Air conditioning has long been considered the solution to managing our indoor climates, but it’s not actually very good for our health, our wellbeing or the environment. There is an alternative argues Sheldon Cooper, Pre-Contracts Director for climate control specialist Radiana
If you’ve ever sat under an air conditioning unit, the chances are you’ve felt a chillier than your colleague sitting some distance away. This is because the units blow out directional cold air and don’t distribute it evenly across a room. The systems also recirculate air, which isn’t good for our health and in order for them to work, they need to extract warm air from a building, which they do by throwing it outside – creating the heat island phenomenon which we’re increasingly experiencing in our cities.
So what’s the alternative? Radiant systems. It would be fair to say that as a nation, we’re a bit sceptical of change, particularly when it contains the word ‘radiation’. Radiant heating and cooling is completely safe however and the term ‘radiant’ simply refers to how heat is transferred. Hot always travels to cold – you put a cold drink in the fridge for example, the fridge doesn’t cool your drink down, rather the relative warmth of your drink is pulled towards the cooler walls of the fridge, and so your drink begins to chill.
Radiant climate control works in the same way. Radiant ceiling panels, by this I mean plasterboard systems which contain a network of cold-water pipes, pull the warmth from objects in a room towards the relative cool of the ceiling. The heat then transfers through the plasterboard by conduction, the water in the pipes is warmed, fed through a heat pump, and then channelled back around the ceiling until the desired temperature is reached in the room.
If the technology exists and it works, why aren’t radiant systems being installed as standard, or being used to replace outdated air conditioning units in our offices and communal spaces? There’s actually nothing new about this form of climate control – it’s been used in mainland Europe and Scandinavia for years but in the UK, as with any new entrant on to the market, there’s an expectation that this technology might be expensive. Yet if you took a typical three-storey London office block and got a price for a good quality air conditioning, including ventilation with fresh air supplied and installed, the cost would be the same if you had a radiant cooling system installed.
The running costs of these systems are also typically 40-50 per cent less than air conditioning, and the maintenance per year would be around half of that of a traditional A/C system. What’s more, radiant cooling systems can have a life expectancy of 25 years – twice that of most air conditioning systems.
Energy saving is a big consideration too. Figures from installations are recording a reduction in bills of around 40 per cent against traditional air conditioning systems, with much of this saving achieved because radiant systems operate via an air to water heat pump – a far more effective alternative to the air to air systems we’re used to seeing. But the positive impact radiant systems can have on our environment is far greater than that. It’s estimated that cooling in air conditioning systems accounts for around 10 per cent of the UK’s electricity consumption – and the energy consumed by the air cooling sector, globally, is set to increase by 90 per cent by 2050. What’s more, the refrigerants used in air conditioning produce more potent greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide (by 1 to 3 thousand).