When is the cost of innovation worth paying?

Cost of innovation
Cost of innovation

Innovation is a popular buzzword in business but is often just used to mean ‘putting in something new’. When a building owner is faced with the need to upgrade or replace their HVAC systems, they will often be pitched an ‘innovative’ solution – but does it meet their true needs? In their eagerness to specify the latest technology without considering the best strategy for a building and its occupants, some HVAC suppliers can put building owners in an awkward position. They put forward a binary choice. Option one is to take the cheaper route and continue with older technology, accepting the fact that the building will be sub-standard compared with newer buildings. Option two is to pour money into completely stripping out the building’s systems and refurbishing its HVAC as though it were a new building. Both options can put a project at risk of failing both the end users and the building owner, satisfying nobody.

There is a third option – true innovation. When standard answers do not quite fit, creative or lateral thinking can find unique solutions that incorporate both innovative and current technology into an existing building.

What are some examples? Sometimes when a large HVAC plant needs to be replaced, the cost or feasibility of like-for-like replacement can be prohibitive. But a lateral solution, such as replacing one large ventilation fan with a bank of 12 small, more modern and efficient fans make it possible to deliver a positive outcome. Unusual projects such as an underwater restaurant or hotel suite can lead to unusual solutions, such as using sea water to keep the restaurant’s chillers cool.

Innovation can also mean taking a smart, staged approach to a larger problem, to spread out the short-term costs and make savings over the long term. This might mean integrating high tech equipment alongside low tech. For example, fossil fuelled heating can be phased out of a building’s HVAC system and replaced with new heat pump technology that delivers significant energy savings.

Innovation is not always the easy option, especially when there are constraints in place. An existing building may have limited space available for new HVAC plant, impacting on the feasibility of an upgrade. Some complex sites, such as hospitals, require continuity of service during an upgrade. Faced with constraints like these, lateral thinking needs to come to the forefront.

When older plant needs to stay in place, advanced control technology can potentially deliver performance results that were previously unattainable. Adapting or reusing existing equipment that still has a useful lifespan can offer considerable cost savings and maximise the life of existing resources. This kind of creative thinking invariably saves on capital costs for replacement plant and helps to make the seemingly impossible possible.

To deliver creative solutions, any building or plant refurbishment project needs to be driven by a master plan. This allows progressive innovations to be introduced stage by stage, all while building towards the ultimate outcome – and saving on aborted work and regrettable spending along the way.

Proper planning for this kind of project starts with a Condition and Operational audit of the installed plant. And innovative design, when applied from the outset of the project, can extend the useful lifespan of all parts of the total solution.

These are the kinds of projects we get most excited about at Jacksons. With over 25 years of experience and some world-first innovative solutions to our credit, we believe we bring the kind of creative thinking that makes the cost of innovation worth paying. We regularly deal with existing building stock – probably more than anyone else in our field – so we are comfortable finding lateral solutions for constrained situations. Most importantly, we always look at the big picture; it is simply the way we approach every project.

For us, the big picture means considering every aspect of the project, from our comprehensive upfront costings through to our end user training to ensure that our installed solution performs as expected for both building tenants and building owners. Innovation is not a buzzword for us, and it never means simply ripping out the old and sticking in the new. It means taking an intelligent, creative approach that truly delivers.