Building services control in UK domestic buildings

People want attractive homes that are comfortable, healthy, secure and convenient to live in. They want to ensure homes are as environmentally friendly as possible, and that energy usage is low and the homes cost very little to run.

Developers and landlords are looking to provide these homes whilst being mindful of shareholder or stakeholder requirements to improve profitability, reduce costs and adhere to Net Zero targets.

The UK housing stock includes new build accommodation for sale and for public and private rent as well as a huge stock of existing properties. To understand how to improve these buildings, it is important to understand the building physics of each, and the way each is used by the occupants. Atamate also provide services to international markets where the issues facing buildings can be different to those in the UK. 

There are many services that need to be considered, and that can be automated and controlled in homes. On this page we cover;

Heating, ventilation and hot water

There are many approaches taken to providing to heating, ventilation and hot water to a building. Here we go through some of the options available, where they are appropriate and when they are not fit for purpose.

It is important to model buildings and designs as without the correct information, inappropriate systems can be specified leading to homes that are inefficient and not comfortable. And fixing them retrospectively can be very expensive and disruptive. Atamate Consultancy has expertise in thermal modelling and overheating analysis and is SAP & SBEM qualified.

Heating

Modern new build houses require very little energy for heating, and in fact preventing overheating becomes a much more important factor when maintaining comfort levels in the property. Higher quality fabrics and better air tightness mean that rooms often only need 200-300watts to heat. Unbelievably this means that the energy to heat a room can be as little as a couple of the old 100W light bulbs! When this is added to heat energy produced by fridges, cookers and computers, overheating (even in winter) can become an issue. People produce between 80-100watts each so when a person enters a room which is at a comfortable temperature, it can cause the room to overheat. Modern buildings need fast response heating that have little thermal mass. These can respond quickly to occupation, turning on when the room is occupied and as importantly, turning off quickly to reducing overheating risk.  Not only will this save energy (and money) it will ensure a more comfortable home. In comparison traditional wet heating systems,  such as radiators or underfloor heating are slow to heat up and cool down, often leaving residents no option but to control the room temperature by opening and closing windows.

Rising environmental standards require a move away from gas to electrical heating. Direct electric heating such as infrared and panel heaters when controlled using occupancy will provide both the cheapest first cost and lowest energy consumption in most buildings, benefitting both the developer and occupant.

Ventilation

Building lose heat through the fabric (lack of insulation) and air infiltration, which is the uncontrolled air movement through the building. Modern buildings combat infiltration by being built 'air tight'. Consequently there is a need to ensure the building is adequately ventilated for both the health of the occupants and to protect the fabric.  Part F of the building regulation specifies 4 systems:

  • trickle vents and local extraction
  • trickle vents and natural ventilation
  • trickle vents and centralised extraction, known as Mechanical Extract Ventilation (MEV)
  • Mechanical ventilation and heat recovery

All of these system can benefit from Atamate controls.

Hot water

In 'fabric first', new build housing hot water makes a similar, if not higher, demand on energy than heating. This becomes a larger issue when gas boilers cannot fitted. Designs for providing hot water need to take into account the buildings heating and ventilation systems as they will impact each other. Water is a very good thermal store, so can be heated by different sources and stored for when it is needed. Domestic hot water can be produced using;

  • solar thermal panels
  • air source heat pumps
  • micro exhaust air heat pumps
  • electric immersion.

Below we go through 3 options for heating, ventilating and providing hot water for UK homes. The first two are the most common approaches and the third is the Atamate approach to HVAC.

1. Traditional build

Heating: Gas boiler (radiators or underfloor)

Hot water: Gas boiler

Ventilation: Extractor fans and trickle vents

This is a popular approach as it is well understood by developers and clients. But, improved regulations have ensured that new build properties are more air tight and well insulated. With these homes domestic hot water provision has become a more significant proportion of the demand for heat. Ventilation which was not previously an issue becomes important to keep occupants and homes free from damp and condensation issues.

Atamate recommends:

From 2025, it will no longer be legal to install gas or oil boilers in new homes so alternatives to this traditional approach have to be found. Atamate can control the vast majority of M&E installations and improve efficiencies. Once a building has been modelled, a more environmentally and cost effective solution can be employed.

Atamate control:

Heating: Bluetooth TRV (thermostatic radiator valves) 

Hot water: Bluetooth relays and temperature and flow sensors

Ventilation: Bluetooth relays and indoor air quality sensors

Data: To identify fabric and service interventions to improve performance

2. Eco or PassivHaus build

Heating: ASHP (UFH/radiators)

Hot water: ASHP (with immersion) 

Ventilation: MVHR

This approach is becoming more popular particularly in co developments and fits in with the PassivHaus  methodology. Current regulations and grants favour the use of heat pumps and MVHR systems have become more widely used.

Atamate recommends:

This approach when installed in a low energy, air tight building with excellent fabric can have good results, but is is expensive to install. Air source heat pumps are not efficient in very cold temperatures nor at producing higher temperature water, which is required for domestic hot water. Capital cost of systems including installation costs can be high and they need professional maintenance to ensure good performance. MVHR requires a lot of ducting that can impact the overall building design and if not well installed and commissioned can be problematic.

Atamate control:

Heating: Bluetooth TRV (thermostatic radiator valves) 

Hot water: Bluetooth relays + temperatures and flow sensors

Ventilation: Auto boost based on indoor air quality sensors

3. The Atamate Approach

Heating: Electric

Hot water: EAHP 

Ventilation: DCV

Atamate believes the budget should be focused on the building fabric. With a good fabric there is less need to spend money on building services. Atamate uses direct electric heating which is switched on and off on occupancy and ventilation controlled on air quality. The benefits are simplifying the installation, reducing energy and maintenance costs, but will also provide the most healthy and comfy home.

Atamate recommends:

This approach, when controlled properly, is not only most energy efficient method, but has the lower capital and running costs.

Demand Control Ventilation (DCV) only ventilates rooms if the air quality is poor (preventing unnecessary cooling of the building). The energy from the exhaust warm air is usually lost to the atmosphere, is used to heat the hot water via an exhaust air heat pump. 

Direct electric heating is used when rooms are occupied and the temperature is below the set point.

Passive cooling strategies are applied in summer to prevent overheating of the rooms and regulation compliance.

Atamate control:

Heating: Relay control of electric heaters

Hot water: EAHP/unvented water tank from DCV

Ventilation: Relay controlled Demand controlled ventilation

Overheating

One of the problems with the improvement in construction of modern buildings is that they are at greater risk of overheating. Local authorities increasingly require compliance with TM59 standard to mitigate overheating. This can be particularly challenging in cites, which can create urban heat islands, and where external noise standards prevent opening vents and windows. In the past compliance was often achieved by using concrete to increase the thermal mass of the building but with the need to reduce embodied carbon means effective strategies are also required in lighter weight buildings.

Overheating occurs in four ways; radiant energy - sun shining through glass, conduction - higher external to internal temperatures, infiltration - warm external air entering the building, and internal gains - heat from people, appliances etc.

Atamate can provide building modelling to understand the building physics, specify appropriate mechanical systems (both passive and active) and with good control can mitigate overheating. Overheating does not need to have high first or ongoing cost.

Passive Cooling

Passive cooling controls heat gain using little or no energy consumption. Usual methods are using shading such as blinds, shutters or curtains to avoid solar gain, and night time cooling eg cross ventilation and passive stack using vents and high level windows to remove hot air. Although passive cooling is used to mitigate overheating it may not be completely effective with certain types of building design and on the hottest of days. 

What Atamate does:

  • Dual temperature sensors monitor every room to allow occupancy-based temperature control.
  • Shading systems can be integrated
  • Smart control of ventilation and windows to allow for passive stack cooling.
Active Cooling

Using mechanical systems such as fans or air conditioning to reduce the indoor temperature. These systems are very effective at lowering temperatures quickly, but they can be expensive to run and manage and often have a high energy consumption.

What Atamate does:

  • Controls systems on occupancy & temperature to reduce energy use
  • Linked to window switches to ensure air conditioning is not on when windows are open
  • Integration with heating and ventilation systems ensures high air quality, comfortable temperatures at minimal energy costs.
  • Atamate is compatible with common control protocols such as BACnet and Modbus.

Entry

Managing and monitoring entry into a property can be key to understanding the way a building is being used, as well as improving occupant security and peace of mind. Entry can be through PIN keypads, radio frequency identification (RFID) or near field communication (NFC) from a phone.

Access for deliveries and tradespeople can be managed remotely with set time windows for visits, and remote control and monitoring of entry for maintenance staff and tenants offers better security and convenience than using keys.

Reducing the number of keyholders increases security, reduces costs and makes entry simpler for residents and employees. Data from entry systems can be used to ensure that short-term lets are safely managed as PIN numbers can be simply changed and access to properties denied.

Using this data to understanding how a building is being used and receiving alerts when issues arise will reduce management costs.

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Lighting

Smart Lighting in homes can range from basic on/off to more advanced lighting scenes and pre-sets. Control protocols such as DMX or DALI can be incorporated into Atamate although Bluetooth dimmable and non-dimmable lighting is more commonly used in domestic homes.

Lighting includes;

  • Automatic and user controlled lighting
  • RGB (red, green, blue) colour lighting
  • Lighting for health and wellbeing
  • External lighting
  • Security lighting.
Switches

Smart lighting should be able to function using any faceplates. This gives both developers and end clients the flexibility to choose both the cost and design of the final product. These faceplates include;

  • Rockers/ Push switches
  • Bluetooth wireless switches
  • Atamate HAZE (which looks like a normal dimmer switch but is a multifunction controller for smart home systems)
Control of lighting

As well as using light switches, lighting can be controlled using;

  • Occupancy - using PIR and CO2 sensors
  • Ambient light sensors - used for lighting control on/off
  • Calendar - preset timing of lights eg lights to come on automatically in the evenings 
  • Linked to other services - eg lights coming on when Entry is activated
  • Any web enabled device.

Windows and shading

Automation of windows and shading can be a key element in reducing overheating in new build homes. Preventing incoming solar energy is the best way to keep a building cool. Control includes the automation of  blinds, shutters and curtains and includes;

  • Sensors measure internal light and temperature to optimise shading.
  • Windows automatically opened to passive cool a building, reducing workloads on mechanical systems.
  • Roof lights used for passive stack cooling.

Audio Visual

Integrate third party audio visual systems to make a house a home. Atamate links to most major providers of audio systems, including (but not limited to) Sonos and Google Chromecast. Control of audio can be done using the Atamate user interface or the Atamate HAZE, allowing for immediate switching on/off of audio in each room without the need for a phone/tablet.

Installation

Installation costs need to be considered as these can greatly increase the cost of a project. Complex whole house mechanical systems can be expensive to install and some may require specialist subcontractors.

Using Atamate will reduce costs and time on site:

  • No subcontractors - any qualified electrician can install a system. Only uses standard cabling and connections.
  • Bluetooth reduces complexity and allows for simpler mechanical systems to be specified. As all data is wireless this means no communications or control cabling.
  • Easy to retrofit in most buildings. Devices either take power from existing circuits or are energy harvesting, needing no cable at all.
  • Wiring schedules/site support provided.

The role of Data in Buildings

Data collected from smart buildings provides information to the building owners or managers, and can be used to improve the performance of a building. Atamate data can be split into 3 categories;

Real time data - data surfaced in real time to support management and maintenance of the building 

Historical data - processing data to provide insights into building performance for building owners and those tasked with environmental improvements in buildings 

End user data - used to allow access to the user interface, with different permissions to be granted to different users eg children allowed to control lights, but not heating.

Contact Us with any questions