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Using Silicone To Improve HVAC Insulation & Energy Efficiency
Using Silicone To Improve HVAC Insulation & Energy Efficiency

The modern technological world is filled with ‘extrusions’. They are all around us, in the form of small and not-so-small cross sections. The function of an extrusion is to form seals between components of complex machinery and keep them functional. And, depending on the ‘type’ used, they can make a big difference to how a machine operates. Some of the most desirable types of extrusion — and especially for use in HVAC systems — are those made from silicone. Silicone, which is a type of rubber, has a robust set of properties. For one, silicone can withstand extreme temperatures, both high and low. Semi-Exterior environments Ranging from -60°C to temperatures exceeding 200°C. (And there are even higher grades that can be manufactured to withstand temperatures well above 200°C.) Ideal for HVAC units that work round the clock to keep large numbers of people in large buildings comfortable in summer and winter conditions. In addition to this, silicone is also one of the more resistant properties to the constant vibrations of working machinery. It can be difficult to locate the source of the problem if a tiny extrusion has dislodged. Vibration-resistant properties make silicone extrusions less likely to disengage or fall out of place, therefore minimizing the need for costly repairs. Finally, silicone is also more durable than most other materials when it comes to exterior or semi-exterior environments, such as that of rain or ultraviolet light. Protecting electrical components Silicone is useful in HVAC systems because it offers enhanced sealing and compression protections As a result of this favorability, there is already a considerable number of different types of silicone extrusions that can be found in a lot of HVAC systems. These include HVAC sealing gaskets, hatch seals and vibration isolation pads. But also silicone sponges, which act as a protective layer of thermal insulation. As well as providing thermal insulation, silicone sponges can double-up as a form of acoustic insulation, with considerable noise reduction and anti-squeal properties. Silicone enclosure gaskets protect electrical components, and environmental seals — as the name suggests — help to keep everything protected from the sometimes harsh elements of the environment outside. Silicone is useful in HVAC systems because it offers enhanced sealing and compression protections over most other materials. Closed cell structure On a material level, silicone has a ‘closed cell structure’, which helps to keep out moisture ingress, along with water and dust. The combination of a closed cell structure, along with sealing and compression benefits, makes silicone ideal for exterior seals and gaskets in and around HVAC systems. The softer grades of Silicone have an excellent memory and low stress relaxation, which in turn helps to prevent common faults with HVAC systems — usually caused by gasket failures made from other materials that soften and compress inaccurately. The low stress relaxation properties require minimal force on behalf of the engineers sealing the enclosures, while the memory-properties of the silicone allow it to conform to awkward shapes and gaps of various widths. Manufacturing HVAC systems proactively with silicone in mind can allow more design flexibility on behalf of the engineers. Inevitable rapid movements General purpose solid silicone or silicone sponge is suitable for many HVAC applications And, as mentioned above, vibration isolation pads work as dampers to protect against the inevitable rapid movements of the systems as they power along. But also to help withstand the vibrations of HVAC units on transport systems, such as buses and trains, which naturally vibrate as they run over imperfections on rail and road tracks. As it happens, general purpose solid silicone or silicone sponge is suitable for many HVAC applications, not just those discussed above. The designs of the extrusions would be different, reflective of their function, but the material would be the same. In some instances, customers may also require a flame retardant silicone — certified to UL94 specifications — in order to meet safety standards in certain situations or environments. Great temperature ranges For all its material advantages, silicone is generally more expensive than the other types of material rubber that are used to manufacture extrusions, such as ethylene propylene diene monomer (EPDM). And while other materials do of course have stand-out benefits of their own — EPDM for example is more hard-wearing than silicone — silicone is still often the extrusion ‘type’ of choice because of its ability to withstand great temperature ranges. This is very important for heating and air conditioning systems. Because some of the most common factors that cause HVAC systems to break down are as a result of seal and gasket failure, which can come about as a result of an overheating unit. Very cold environment Chances of a unit overheating can be just as likely — in fact perhaps more so — where the system has to operate in a very cold environment. With the threat of climate change etched more than ever into the public discussion, we can predict that there will be a steady increase in the amount that this material is used to make up the HVAC seals. And not just because, as temperatures continue to increase and summers get hotter and more prolonged, there will be an increased demand for them. Effective public relations It is no secret that HVAC systems can be relatively expensive to run It will become a matter of effective public relations for managers, building regulators and transport officers to make sure that the equipment they are using — and making — is ‘green’. By using the right materials that help conserve energy and increase efficiency, this will not only sit right with the general public, it should also be more economical, too. It is no secret that HVAC systems can be relatively expensive to run. Minimizing wastage, and the time spent on call outs and repairs will make a notable difference. Of course there are many other ways to also set about making air conditioning and heating units more efficient. Using seals or gaskets made from silicone is just one small piece of the puzzle. But utilizing them will almost certainly be more beneficial than you might imagine. And anything that is a step in the right direction is a welcome change.

Now Is The Time To Prepare For A Boom In Heat Pump Sales
Now Is The Time To Prepare For A Boom In Heat Pump Sales

As the UK continues to battle through the coronavirus crisis, HVAC business owners and installers can be putting some of their enforced downtime to good use. This period of subdued trading is a rare opportunity to get into better shape for when economic activity picks up. One way of doing this is by sharpening the focus on markets which promise strong growth – and few markets are growing faster than that for heat pumps.   The potential here is huge. Some 28,000 heat pumps are currently installed in the UK every year, and before the pandemic this number was rising annually at a rate of 15-30%. That equates to sales doubling every three to five years. New-builds account for the majority of those sales, but 30% are retrofits, and about 30% of those retrofits are in private residences. This means there’s a big opportunity for doing conversions from oil boilers to heat pumps at rural homes not connected to the gas grid. The ‘New Normal’ and Heat Pumps It is only realistic, of course, to expect a lingering dip in HVAC sales of all kinds, including heat pumps, until the post-pandemic world gets back on its feet. But when we do turn the corner into the ‘new normal’, heat pump sales will again climb strongly. One reason for this is consumer demand, the other is government policy. End-users are now increasingly aware of the dangers and disruptions threatened by carbon emissions and climate change – informally known as ‘the Blue Planet Effect’ – and more are being guided by their consciences to make environmentally-responsible heating choices. An Expected Spike In Demand Many end-users are also encouraged by the prospect of receiving payments from the government through the Domestic RHI tariff. When we do turn the corner into the ‘new normal’, heat pump sales will climb strongly If RHI tariffs are the carrot, however, the government is also going to wield a big stick. The Chancellor’s spring statement last year dropped the bombshell that low-carbon heating systems, not fossil-fuel heating, should be installed in all new homes built after 2025. Though this policy might perhaps get slightly delayed and diluted, there can be no doubting that radical change is on the way.           With all this in the pipeline, the industry should be preparing now to cope with the increased demand. But there’s some way to go: of the UK’s 120,000 registered gas engineers, merely 600 or so are MCS-registered to install heat pumps. Many more will be needed. MCS Certification Some installers are already recognizing this opportunity. Some 28,000 heat pumps are currently installed in the UK every year, and before the pandemic this number was rising annually at a rate of 15-30% This is evident in the heightened level of interest in the one-day introductory heat pump courses run nationwide by the Viessmann Academy. These courses provide a useful overview of what heat pump installations involve, helping participants decide whether or not they would like to go on to qualify with the MCS quality assurance scheme. This is a crucial decision, because having MCS certification is an obligation when installing equipment eligible for Domestic RHI payments. Some course participants decide to take the next step to MCS certification straight away, others decide to wait a while – but standing still in a fast-moving market can mean getting left behind! F-Gas Certification So what else must HVAC businesses and installers consider about heat pumps, in order to stay ahead of the game? In addition to MCS certification, F-Gas certification is also necessary when split air source heat pumps are installed. This is because the outdoor and indoor units have to be connected on-site with refrigerant pipework. Some installers choose to get F-Gas certified themselves, others sub-contract this part of the job to someone who’s suitably qualified. Of the UK’s 120,000 registered gas engineers, merely 600 or so are MCS-registered to install heat pumps It is possible to sidestep this need, however, when it is appropriate to install a monobloc heat pump – and the widening choice and affordability of monobloc designs is making them appropriate for a wider range of properties. A good example of this is Viessmann’s new Vitocal 100-A, an outdoors unit which has no need for a complementary indoor unit and is also easy to install because most components are integrated in the unit. New, compact and affordable air source heat pumps such as this, offering much-needed space-saving solutions for urban homes, are another reason why the heat pump market will boom. The Challenges Of Heat Pump Installation Though technological advances are making things easier, installing a heat pump isn’t ever going to be quite as straightforward as replacing an old boiler with a new one. Before starting an installation, first it is necessary to assess whether a heat pump is suitable for the property. This means checking that the property is well-enough insulated; checking the existing system’s radiators, which may need supplementing or replacing with bigger radiators or underfloor heating because of the lower flow temperatures of a heat pump system; and calculating the required size of the heat pump according to the building’s heat loss (and not including hot water demand). This period of subdued trading is a rare opportunity to get into better shape for when economic activity picks up At the installation stage itself, much of the work will be familiar to boiler installers, though weather compensating controls are obligatory for all MCS-approved work and as part of building regulations Part L. It’s also important to note that planning permission requires minimum distances between the heat pump’s outdoor unit, the plot’s borders, and neighboring properties. If this seems complicated, it doesn’t have to be: some heat pump manufacturers provide a calculator to simplify the task. Now Is The Time To Be Proactive Just as installers need a little time to assess whether a property should switch from a boiler to a heat pump, end-users also need a little thinking time, to consider adopting a technology new to them. By being proactive, HVAC businesses and installers can reap what they sow When customers get in touch because their existing boiler has broken down, the pressure for a quick fix can rule this out. But right now, when many of us have time on our hands, there’s the chance to inform customers of alternative heating solutions before their boiler needs replacing. Taking such pre-emptive action, by emailing information or mailing leaflets to customers, does require a little effort, but at least now there’s the time to do it. We are heading into a new era which will see boiler sales decline while heat pump sales rise. By making preparations for these profound changes, and by being proactive, HVAC businesses and installers can reap what they sow.

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