Space saving solution for instantaneous hot water

With a reduction in energy costs and installation flexibility for developers, instantaneous hot water units are set to see rapid-rise growth in UK homes – so says Mark McManus from Stiebel Eltron UK. 

The residential property sector faces a breadth of challenges in getting new schemes off the ground. The sector is on one hand bound by stringent housebuilding delivery targets, and on the other is tasked with delivering properties in a sustainable way to minimise long-term environmental impact. 

These two aims often conflict. From housebuilders building stock to sell on the open market, to developers building new PRS schemes in city centres, careful consideration has to be made to the environmental credentials of new developments without increasing costs and installation timescales. This is not least to ensure that they can go through the planning process smoothly.

Local authorities, 281 of which have declared climate emergencies, want to see developers using sustainable materials and sustainable methods of construction. And crucially the energy efficiency of these buildings in-use has to be accounted for too.

Sustainable source
Use of electricity instead of gas is key to this. Electricity is a sustainable energy source, which comes increasingly from renewable sources. And new innovation within the heating sector is responding to this.

For many years, instantaneous hot water (IHW) systems have been used to reduce the energy used in homes to heat hot water. These small, simple-to-install  units heat water when needed, rather than storing hot water for use later, as in a traditional unvented water tank. 

The reduction in energy waste amounts to as much as 0.23 tonnes of CO2 per year per home compared with a 150-litre direct cylinder with a typical specification. Not only does this represent a £60 saving for bill payers annually, it also is a significant reduction in carbon emissions over the lifetime of buildings – particularly for large schemes.

An improvement on energy efficiency of this scale could mean the difference between a scheme being granted planning consent or not – given their improved Standard Assessment Procedure (SAP) performance. 

Significant improvements in efficiency, like those that come with the specification of IHW units, could therefore help developers meet their obligations to meet housing targets, whilst at the same time ensure that new schemes meet sustainability targets.

Voltage issue
Despite all these benefits, the UK market hasn’t yet adopted IHW systems in the same way as other countries around the globe. The reason being one key barrier – the UK’s 240-volt energy supply, which many industry experts have previously considered to be prohibitive to the technology working in Britain, as it is too low to support units powerful enough to meet the whole requirements of a home.

However, we, alongside SP Energy Networks and developer Watkin Jones, recently installed IHWs at a 35-home build-to-rent scheme in Trafford Street, Chester. By collaborating with SP Energy Networks and the developer, we were able to adjust the typical phasing of the energy supply. This created a new way of providing 400 volts for every home in the scheme and meant that IHW systems could be installed. 

A breakthrough like this means that IHWs could be viable in developments around the country, vastly improving the sustainability of the UK’s housing stock.

As well as the enhanced sustainability these units bring, there are a range of commercial benefits for developers too that are set to increase demand. Key to this is the size of IHW systems. 

A traditional storage heater can take up as much as 10% of the internal space of a city centre flat. For PRS developers this equates to ‘dead’ income. 

Using IHWs, which are much smaller and are mounted on internal walls, developers can maximise floorspace in a scheme. And since their apartments are proportionally bigger internally, PRS landlords can gain additional rental income either by charging more for larger flats or, in some cases, by building more homes through the space savings achieved.

Less disruption
IHW units also don’t require maintenance like traditional water tanks, because the system doesn’t have the same issues with pressure or build-up over time. This means that disruption to customers as a result of maintenance is minimised.

These added benefits are hugely attractive at a time when PRS as a housing product is growing in popularity across the UK. While PRS in cities like London and Manchester is established, developers are doing everything they can to make schemes viable in other regions across the UK where the build-to-rent market is more embryonic. 

Following our installation for Watkin Jones, we expect many more in the residential sector to follow suit as a result. There’s a huge opportunity for IHWs to become the most popular water heating system for the UK new-build market. The gains available to developers in terms of space and sustainability make them a clear choice. Now that they are proven to work using 240-volt supply, we are set to see a boom in demand.

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