Last edited 08 Feb 2021

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Flame technology

Electric Fireplace -iStock 000064106755 Large.jpg


[edit] Introduction

With building design, aesthetics is often the primary concern. While the importance of design is not disputed – we can all be seduced by clean lines and minimalistic spaces if modern buildings are our preference, or beams and character if we prefer a more historic feel, but we also expect it to function in a way that meets our needs. This is where technology becomes important; be it a home, hotel, office or leisure centre, we expect the technology within it to provide us with the light, heat and comfort to meet our needs.

Historically, lighting and heating technology was purely functional; you probably wouldn’t worry about it too much. Times change – we expect to control our heating, lighting and hot water through connected devices. However, this is not all; technology can be used to improve the aesthetics, use and mood of the building. Indeed, heating and lighting can have a profound effect on our productivity and mood. These concepts are increasingly used in designs for both residential and commercial buildings.

One way to merge function, technology and aesthetics is with the installation of flame technology. Fires have always been closely associated with human life and people often seek the tranquil effects of natural elements, such as fire, to escape from a stressful society. In a study for the University of Alabama, Dr Lynn discovered that watching a fire, complete with sound effects, consistently lowered high blood pressure.[1] As humans, we also like to insert natural elements into our indoor spaces, and fire not only provides heat, but can also bring positive psychological benefits. Research on alpha brain wave patterns has shown that watching flame movements helps to improve levels of human comfort and satisfaction.[2]

Natural elements such as flame can also be used to create more authentic spaces in buildings such as hotels and restaurants. People are looking for personalised experiences; they want to have the living room experience of a more intimate personal area.

The old arguments around regulations, budgets and safety considerations can no longer be used when considering flame in a design project. Flame technology has come a long way since the radiant gas fires of the 1980s. By using innovative products in your design, those that merge aesthetics with function, like flame technology, you can deliver truly exciting and memorable spaces.

[edit] Understanding electric flame technology

Tapping into the psychological benefits of flame, many LCD manufacturers offer a screen option showing footage of a real fire. Obviously, the higher quality the footage and screen, the better the effect will appear up close, but unlike electric flame technology, there is no fooling anyone.

[edit] Two-dimensional flame technology

Perhaps the most common type of flame effect is a two-dimensional flame captured behind a glass or plastic screen. It can be generated in several ways. One method is to use rotisserie bars with paddles. The shape of the rotisserie paddles, the amount and colour of light being projected onto them, and the speed with which the rod is spun will all have an impact on the realism and presentation of the flame effect.

Other methods include a drum effect, which involves a rotating cylindrical tube with the flame shapes cut out of it. Pieces of cloth, or flags, are also a common method for two-dimensional effects which use lights to bounce of each piece, creating the effect of a moving flame.

[edit] Three-dimensional flame technology

This type of flame technology is much more realistic than a two-dimensional effect. It uses mirrors to give the perception that logs within the fire bed are behind the flames, whilst also adding a smoke or mist effect. The way the effect is created is thanks to an item called a transducer. When submerged in water, the transducer agitates the water at microscopic levels to create the mist. The water feed is kept constant due to a cassette, or it can be plumbed into the building’s water supply. Lighting and heat are provided by a chassis below a sump unit, which pushes the mist out above the fuel bed.

The fuel bed can be dressed to requirements; bespoke combinations of LED logs can be added; the colour of the lights can be changed, and the amount of mist created can be chosen. In addition, these LED logs can be set to sporadically spark. Combine this with an audio element of crackling logs and you get an impressive and very believable illusion of a real fire.

Fire may have taken a back seat due to the restrictions imposed by regulatory compliance and regulations, but electric flame technology is a viable, credible and effective alternative.

[edit] Overcoming regulatory restrictions with electric flame technology

[edit] Standard Assessment Procedure (SAP) 10

The Government demands that the energy performance of dwellings is calculated by considering a range of factors that contribute to energy efficiency. Some of these include: the air leakage ventilation characteristics of the building, the efficiency of the heating system and the fuel used to provide heating.

Electric flame technology is ideally placed to address SAP 10. With electric fires there are no emissions, so no ventilation is needed, and as there is no requirement for a working chimney or flue, there is no additional air leakage within the building. Electric fires are also classified as 100% energy efficient. This is because all of the energy being directed into the heating element of the fire is delivering heat. As there is no energy wastage it helps to meet consumption targets.

[edit] Building Regulations Part L and F

Part L of the 2010 Building Regulations requires provision to be made for the conservation of fuel and power in buildings by limiting heat gains and losses. In addition, Part F also requires buildings to have adequate mechanical ventilation.

Unlike real fires, electric flame allows you to have just that, the flame without the heat. Thus, not adding to any heat gains to a building and requiring increased cooling and ventilation. However, if heating is required, as previously mentioned, electric fires are classified as 100% energy efficient.

Further supporting these Building Regulations, most modern electric fires utilise LED bulbs among other low-running-cost parts. This condenses energy usage to only what is necessary and prolongs the life of the appliance. Also, electric heating does not produce any condensation which benefits occupants with a healthier, more comfortable living environment, reduces building maintenance, and eliminates any further requirements for additional ventilation.

[edit] The London Plan

London builds no longer allow an open flame. In addition, there are many other requirements around adopting sustainable design standards; minimising carbon dioxide emissions, avoiding internal overheating and using innovative energy technologies to name a few. If you want flame in your London building you are left with just one choice.

[edit] Flame for the future

We may have moved beyond fire as a necessity, but the benefits of flame technology allow it to become an essential part of architectural design. The electric flame technology of today is very realistic and can be used to transform any space; used both domestically and commercially, it adds ambience and warmth, making buildings hospitable and welcoming to residents and visitors alike.

The fireplace can once again become a dramatic feature of any room in any building.

This article originally appeared as ‘Putting flame in the frame’, in Issue 128 of Architectural Technology Journal, published by The Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists (CIAT) in Winter 2018-19. It was written by Jonathan Smith, Product Marketing Manager – Flame Technology, Glen Dimplex Heating and Ventilation.



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