Saving gas through better heating controls

If your community building’s heating controls are a bit short on energy efficiency features, part of what we do in HeatHack is meant for you. Read about how past groups have curbed their fuel use. We give help in our online guide and have a special event in Edinburgh to get you started.

Many community groups use our thermal monitors to find out their rooms are warm when empty or cold when occupied. A bit of this is inevitable – it’s just the laws of physics – but a lot of it isn’t, especially in buildings that aren’t in constant use. These buildings are wasting a lot of fuel and sometimes they are making themselves unattractive to the local community.

It’s a shame, because the solution is usually inexpensive: better heating controls. Sometimes what’s needed is very inexpensive. We had one group invest around £250 in a new timeswitch with optimised start control, with their engineer estimating they would save 1/4-1/3 of the gas they were using as a result. That’s exactly the same experience I had with my very first building back in 2009. It sounds extreme, but it’s what happens in buildings that are only heated a few times a week and the operators have to guess when to turn the heating on and off.

One of our groups found they are heating two halls whenever one is in use because at some point one of their controls was removed. They plan to check their motorised valves – 1960’s, but still with spare parts available – and reinstate a cheap control. Another has found that they have the right set of modern energy efficiency controls but because there is a loose wire somewhere, they have to run the boilers using the on and off switch. It’s harder to predict what fixing this would save, but it’s worth it for the staff time as well as the gas. In theory their fixes are easy and cheap. In practice, it can be hard to find workers who will find these jobs lucrative enough to do, but this is something we’re working on solving. Our experience is that many of the people wiring controls just do the same model over and over and don’t understand how to choose a suitable control, skipping the “best practice” of discussing the user’s requirements and setting the system up for them. We think the key is going to companies whose main focus is on heating controls but we also think there must be general electricians capable of handling at least the simpler cases.

There are several other groups that have found they are heating two halls because the pipework isn’t separated, or a whole hall to get heating in a small room. There are still solutions for this. Zoning systems by changing the pipework often isn’t that expensive or disruptive. It’s also possible to use smart TRVs as a kind of zoning. They also help ensure users don’t make changes that are going to affect the next group in. And there’s always independent heating for small rooms in the form of electric radiators or radiant panels – better than running a 200 kW boiler, especially if people are in there at odd times.

Changing the heating controls is often the first step our groups take even though they’re also planning long term changes. We’re experimenting with a “quick start” version of our programme that just looks at this control problem, starting with an event in Edinburgh on the 25th of January:

FREE Energy Efficiency Event for Community Venues Tickets, Thu 25 Jan 2024 at 10:00 | Eventbrite

It’s also possible to “do-it-yourself” using a commercial temperature logger and our Guide Book and other materials – if you use our advice, ask us questions and do let us know how you get on!