Adrian Barber from Prefect Controls explains how energy can be saved in multi-occupancy dwellings while maintaining comfortable room temperatures.

The cheapest energy is the energy we don’t use!

With the deadlines for net-zero targets looming, it is our collective responsibility to consume energy wisely and avoid unnecessary use.

However, in the last couple of years the global benefits of energy efficiency have been re-focussed much closer to home.

Volatile energy prices have made balancing the books very difficult for domestic customers, but providers of multi-dwelling accommodation, such as care homes, hotels and student accommodation have had an unexpected drain on their cashflow. The reason being that many of these providers include energy in their fixed price and recent hikes in cost are difficult to pass on to residents.

Of course, care homes must maintain comfortable environments, but that doesn’t mean a whole building has to be kept at the same temperature throughout. There are thermostats, timers and valves that can be set with time and temperature limits, but these only ensure heat sources come on at certain times and input is turned off when a desired temperature is met.

Prefect Controls have been manufacturing intelligent thermostats since 1997. It’s systems cleverly know when a room needs heat, and when it doesn’t.

The 3-stage profile, by which the controls operate, is programmed with Setback, Boost and Frost modes. Setback is the default and can be set to any temperature. Usually this is 20-23°C. If the room needs to be warmer, Boost mode is activated with a press of a button, this increases heat input to the desired level, for example 26°C. But this will revert to Setback after a specified time elapses.

So, residents enjoy a comfortable room temperature, but if they need to be warmer, they, or care home personnel can increase the temperature when required.

How do these thermostats save energy?

Well, they are intelligent and are always striving to reduce energy input when they know energy use is unnecessary.

For example, If the room is vacated when the control is in Boost mode it will revert to Setback. If windows or doors are left open, heat input will be reduced, and if a room is unoccupied for a specified time, let’s say 12 hours, then Frost mode is activated. This turns all heat input off until the room temperature dips below 10-12°C at which time heat input will resume – a precautionary measure to guard against any frost damage, and prevention of potential dampness.

Prefect’s two systems both operate in the same way and can control wet or electric heating, the main difference being how the times and temperatures are set.

Ecostat2 uses a dedicated infrared handset, the parameters are input and then the handset is pointed at each thermostat, the send button pressed, and information then transfers to the control.

Irus, the central control system is programmed on its secure internet portal and affords many other functions. The room controllers monitor humidity, light, and sound pressure, as well as temperature and CO2 monitoring is an additional option. The system uses Mains Borne Signalling (MBS) to transmit data to and from the Irus Portal via the existing electrical wiring circuits in the building, this negates the need for the disruption and cost of installing data cabling. Managers can view every room remotely and adjust profiles to the preference of individual residents. Irus can also control water heating; monitor water temperature throughout a system; detect leaking pipes or water cylinders, and integrate with HobSensus, a kitchen hob safety device that reduces the risk of kitchen fires by turning hobs off if the person preparing food is distracted and leaves the kitchen unattended.

The two systems currently control approximately 200,000 rooms around the UK in multi-dwelling accommodation, saving between 20% and 40% on energy bills, depending on location and profile settings.

Energy prices are set to remain at the current level for the foreseeable future, shopping around to find cheaper providers is no longer possible. Therefore, the only way to save is to use less. After all, the cheapest energy is the energy we don’t use!