Charting the growth of chilled ceilings and beams

Published:  29 January, 2008

10 years ago, the market for chilled ceilings and beams was very much smaller than it is today — and the market will continue to grow, according to Saziye Dickson.

The market for chilled ceilings and beams has come a long way in the last decade. BSRIA’s 1998 study on chilled ceilings and beams reported the total market value as £8.4 million — excluding multi-service chilled beams and chilled slabs.

By 2007, the market for chilled ceilings, beams and slabs had nearly doubled in value in 2007, according to a BSRIA’s recent report from BSRIA.*

EXTRA PICTURE

Fan coils still enjoy the largest market share of airside products for air conditioning in the UK, but they are losing market share to chilled ceilings/beams and VRF systems.

Market growth

Chilled ceilings, active beams and chilled slabs all showed respectable growth in 2007, although the growth by value was far outstripped by the increase in sales of multi-service chilled beams (MSCBs). The total market is estimated to be worth over £30 million, based on BSRIA’s latest study. However, the market volume has grown by only 60%. The difference is explained by the very rapid growth of MSCBs, which includes the value of the additional services such as lighting etc. Although MSCBs are installed in other European countries the high value of the market is unique to the UK.

MSCBs combine many engineering services in a single unit, and these units are highly favoured by many architects and M&E consultants as a cooling system that can be prefabricated off site and easily plugged and played.

Of the MSCB products studied by BSRIA, elements were used in the following percentages.

• Lighting, 100%.
• Public address and controls cabling, 90%..
• Control valves, 80%..
• Sprinklers, 65%..
• Sensors, 45%.

• Security systems, 30%..
• Heating (4-pipe systems), 4%.

The main perceived advantages of using MSCBs are a single point of production and reduced delivery and installation times. These benefits together lead to less uncertainty in the programme and a reduction in site costs such as accommodation, logistics, storage, labour, material wastage, project duration and site project management.

MSCBs offer comfort cooling for occupants rather than equipment cooling. The optimum comfort is achieved by combination of temperature control, humidity control and good air flow in the occupied zone. Passive MSCBs provide, on average, around 200 W of cooling per linear metre, while active beams provide 300 to 400 W per linear metre.

Energy efficiency

Moreover, MSCBs also work on higher water temperatures than conventional air-conditioning systems. For example, chilled beams run at an elevated water flow temperature of 14 to 15°C compared with 8 to 9°C for VAV systems. These high flow temperatures enable the chilled-water circuit to run in free-cooling mode when external ambient temperatures allow, reducing the need for mechanical refrigeration and leading to improved energy efficiency.

The closest alternative to chilled ceilings/beams is fan-coil systems, and this market has been declining due to demand for more energy-efficient cooling technology. The market for fan coils has lost market share to VRF systems and chilled ceilings/beams.

Competition from chilled beams has pushed the leading manufacturers of fan coils to invest in more energy-efficient products such as DC motors with electronically commutated (EC) fans. They are also trying to reduce energy usage and carbon footprint by raising the chilled water from 6 to 8ºC.

A drawback of chilled ceilings/beams is that they are not an off-the-shelf solution like fan coils and VAV boxes. Office layouts and customer requirements vary greatly in the UK, so a chilled-ceiling or beam system usually requires customising to suit client needs, particularly in terms of the preferred suspended-ceiling system. MSCBs are often custom-made. Most chilled-beam systems will benefit from a laboratory mock-up of a typical installation†, so that the cooling output, airflows and comfort criteria can be tested before the job gets to site.

Cooling capacities of chilled ceiling and beam products can be limited, and they may not be suitable for buildings with high cooling needs and high solar gains — particularly buildings with a high glazed ratio. Such buildings like may need additional cooling around the office perimeter, which can sometimes be satisfied by passive chilled beams (those without an air supply).

Cost analysis

EXTRA PICTURE

Not only is the market for chilled ceilings/beams growing in its own right, but the incorporation of other services into multi-service chilled beams is adding value. (a is actual market, e is estimate and f is forecast)

It is difficult to break down the actual cost of the various systems integrated into MSCBs because the added value they bring as integrated elements is difficult to assess. The price of an MSCB itself can also vary a lot, for example depending on whether the casing is made from steel or aluminium. Ian Sams of Trox suggests that the total cost of a MSCB could be broken down as about 50% for the actual beam, 30% for lighting, 10% for metal extrusions and the remaining 10% for other services.

The market for these systems will continue to grow in the future in line with the growth in construction of offices, other commercial buildings, hospitals and education. The growth of these systems is not just a blip, and I believe will continue — albeit at a more moderate rate. This is evident by the investments being made by the major players into their manufacturing and test facilities in the UK. There are also new players waiting to enter the UK market or chasing an opportunity for their first project as they also see the potential in the UK market. The established players in the UK are also starting to seek opportunities overseas in Australia and Middle East.

Saziye Dickson is a consultant at BSRIA World Market Intelligence department. Information on this article is based on BSRIA’s market research but the opinions in the article the author’s own.

Statistical data in this article is quoted from the ‘European Market for chilled beams/ceilings, UK’ published in November 2007. There are reports covering Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland. Please contact Jon Williams. for more information.



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