1 February 2021

At the end of 2020, the UK Government announced several rounds of funding to build new hospitals and refurbish existing NHS building stock.

Updating the National Health Service estate is a significant challenge. NHS figures estimate that it oversees around 1,200 buildings. But the scale of the NHS also means that it can play an essential part in helping the UK reduce its carbon emissions.

The NHS has a goal of net-zero emissions from its estate by 2040. It has achieved progress in the past decade. But it must still cut around 6 million tonnes of emissions (CO2 equivalent) to reach the target. An important step will be updating old heating systems (some based on oil and coal) with more efficient technologies. Replacing older gas boilers (often non-condensing) is also essential for achieving better efficiencies and more reliable heating systems.

Alpha Heating Innovation has worked on a number of hospital heating system refurbishments, and we know that there are unique factors to bear in mind when planning these projects. For instance, minimal downtime is a must.

One solution that works well when time is of the essence is a cascade system, with several condensing boilers connected through hydraulic and gas pipework. Each boiler and flue is therefore linked together.

The cascade set-up allows the engineer to use controls to ensure the boilers work efficiently in sequence. This provides peak load heat outputs when needed, but the system modulates down to the minimum operation when not required – saving energy and reducing operating time for the boilers.

The Carbon Trust estimates that heating can account for around 60% of a hospital’s energy bill, so these energy savings have a significant impact on budgets. And while replacing an old boiler with modern condensing technology requires capital investment, the payback in reduced operating costs can be considerable.

Another benefit of the cascade approach is that the boilers can be wall-hung or floor-standing. This flexibility is advantageous as some old boiler- or plant-rooms in hospital buildings can present real access challenges. And the new boilers can be installed quickly, minimising any impact on patients and staff.

One important point to note when installing a replacement heating system is to size for the building today, rather than assuming the existing system is the correct size. Hospitals change function over time, and the demands for heating and hot water have almost certainly changed. It pays to discuss exact requirements with the client to get the new system correctly sized.

In 2020, we saw the NHS and its staff rise to its biggest ever challenge. In the future, I am sure that we would all like to see improvements to the NHS building stock include efficient and effective heating systems.

If you would like to find out more about cascade heating systems for the hospital environment, download our FREE guide >> Cascade boiler systems in hospitals