With modular being hailed as a way to address the sustainable challenges facing construction, Dave Lancaster, senior segment manager at Uponor, explains how pre-fitting pipework and radiant heating systems in modular developments can provide a multitude of green benefits
It is rather misleading to refer to modular as a modern method of construction as it has in fact been around for many years. Some date it back to 1837 when London-based carpenter Henry Manning designed and built homes that were then transported to Australia.
In more recent times, offsite construction has been associated with post-war era prefab homes, which were designed as a temporary solution. However, modular construction has developed immensely over the years and is now far more superior than simply building modules or pods off site.
It is about constructing high-quality fully fitted out structures and is now seen as a faster way to address the growing housing demand whilst also meeting the need for better methods of sustainable construction and energy efficiency for our buildings.
A greener method of construction
Carbon efficiency is at the top of everyone’s agenda, particularly with COP26 taking place in the UK in November, and central to this is an emphasis on reducing both embodied carbon during construction and operational carbon throughout a building’s lifetime.
Modular construction is seen by many as a greener way to construct and could play a major role in reducing the building sector’s carbon footprint. For example, when compared to onsite construction, factory assembly allows production methods to be more streamlined, which results in higher efficiencies and less waste.
Energy use can also be better controlled in a factory environment and carbon emissions reduced as fewer lorries – and people – are required on the construction site.
Companies are increasingly adopting new technologies to meet the demands for high quality, more sustainable solutions; and the benefits of offsite construction are being realised by many manufacturers and project teams as a way to improve collaboration across the supply chain.
Pipework for both domestic services and heating – as well as radiant heating and cooling systems – are ideal products for factory-based construction.
By adopting methods such as manifold plumbing, the number of fittings in a system can be reduced, which not only saves on cost but also minimises the potential risk of leakage.
The little offsite waste that is produced can also be more closely controlled, which helps to avoid contamination and allows materials to be recycled and even re-used on future projects.
A further benefit of installing such systems offsite is that those involved in the work specialise in a specific area, so installation tasks can be carried out to a high standard, leading to greater precision and increased quality control.
Optimum thermal comfort
The emergence of new technologies and innovative systems means that underfloor heating (UFH) is an ideal way to provide thermal comfort for buildings constructed off-site. Radiant emitter systems are well suited for use with low temperature, energy-efficient heating systems and can be used to either heat or cool an area at a constant temperature.
Rooms, or zones, such as an individual bedroom, kitchen, or classroom can be controlled by a dedicated thermostat that gives the optimum thermal profile for that specific area’s need, resulting in a more efficient way of heating or cooling.
This has the added benefit of reducing the amount of energy required and is estimated to be between 20-25% more energy efficient than convectional heating.
“We are starting to see more construction projects benefiting from the advantages that modular construction and close supply chain collaboration can bring”
As radiant heating systems generally have a larger area heat emitter than traditional radiators, they are ideal to work efficiently in conjunction with renewable heating technologies such as air source heat pumps, which helps to reduce a building’s operational carbon footprint.
Modern air-source heat pumps are becoming both more compact in design and more efficient, which means they can often be an ideal system to be used to supply pre-assembled volumetric buildings and can be easily fitted and connected to a UFH system in an off-site factory environment.
Ultimately, utilising radiant heating systems in offsite assembly is the ideal way to optimise energy use and provide the best thermal comfort, particularly for large scale residential or office buildings.
The best use of space
Many climate change studies suggest that indoor temperatures will rise above the comfort threshold of 26°C in the near future, meaning the energy needed for cooling will exceed the energy required for heating.
To overcome this, future-oriented temperature control must include both heating and cooling while being as energy-efficient as possible.
Radiant systems can be installed under the floor or behind a wall or ceiling, which makes them the perfect fit for modular constructions where space can be limited. These installations not only take up less room than convectional systems, such as radiator heating system, but they are also relatively easy to use for cooling too.
Hydronic cooling systems work by passing water through the pipes which absorb the heat within a room cooling the environment and preventing overheating, even in today’s well-insulated buildings and properties.
The system’s temperature controls prevent the build-up of heat during longer, warmer periods of weather by reducing the degree to which building mass heats up.
The result is that surfaces are kept cooler and the internal ambient air temperatures are kept at a more comfortable level for the building’s occupants.
Raising the bar
We are now starting to see more construction projects benefiting from the advantages that modular construction and close supply chain collaboration can bring.
Volumetric developments such as Ten Degrees Croydon – the construction of which we were involved in – where pods or modules are pre-fitted with plumbing, heating, electrics, doors, and windows and then commissioned before leaving the factory to ensure there are no defects, are becoming more and more popular.
Efficient production is achieved through careful planning and scheduling, while design flexibility allows the best use of space on delivery vehicles, which also helps to reduce carbon emissions.
No time to lose
Modular construction is not new, but it has advanced considerably over the years to become a truly modern method of construction that can go a long way in meeting today’s sustainability and productivity challenges.
They say that slowly-but-surely wins the race, but unfortunately we’re running out of time. As a sector, we need to act now if we want to make a difference when it comes to global warming.
We must collaborate and rethink our methods of construction, as well as consider the environmental qualities of the products and systems we specify in order to make real change.
There is no reason why we cannot start today.
Main Image: Dave Lancaster, senior segment manager, Uponor
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