We're all looking for efficiencies in business, particularly in the highly competitive market that exists following the last recession and credit crunch. But curiously not many companies have calculated the actual cost of the downtime when staff make their refreshments.

Take the standard kettle - 1.5 litres of water, 1.5kw element, up to 4 minutes to boil, and probably 7 or 8 hot drinks, before starting the cycle again. The cost? Around 3p per boiling cycle.

I hear you say well 3p is not much and kettles are cheap to buy and replace. Whilst taken on it's own that statement is true, but when you start to factor in the loss of productivity when staff queue for their drink it starts to become suddenly costly. People are people, and by nature we are gregarious and standing around waiting encourages an increased loss of time through chatting and socializing.

I came across a company recently with over 400 office staff, just about to move into a multi-million pound new building, and then provide drinking water for hot drinks by means of kettles! Just calculate that out in terms of lost time due to the kettles not being able to keep up with the quantity of drinks required within the very short time window of a dinner or tea break. Scary isn't it!

For some time now, architects or m&e consultants have started specifying boiling and chilled water systems for office tea-points, break-out areas, conference rooms, catering areas, reception rooms and more. Modern and forward thinking fit-out companies, m&e engineers and global companies are encouraging their use but it is still not a concept that has been readily received.

So what are the features and benefits of commercial under-counter boiling and chilled water systems? I've listed a few for you to consider, which are really a checklist of points to raise when choosing supplier.

Instant water dispensing - the favourite combination is boiling and chilled, and the best systems quote initial dispense by number of cups. Typically these would be between 20 and 100 cup immediate availability and between 90 and 250 per hour! The reason initial dispense numbers are so important is that they are a guide to the capacity of the boiling and chilled taps. Can they deliver hot or cold drinks if every staff member were to require a drink at the same moment? Impossible to consider with the kettle but within range of the better commercial systems such as Billi or Zip. Try to make sure you get an answer from your supplier as to the instant dispense capacity.

Consistency - drink number 100 is the same temperature as number 37 or as number 1. The better systems dispense water at 98.5 degrees C - widely acknowledged as the optimum temperature for tea. The chilled side delivers filtered water at 6.5 degrees C.

Economy - the best commercial units cost around 9p per day to run. A very significant cost advantage.Compared to the ordinary kettle, boiling and chilled systems use less electricity, waste less water and last longer.

Choice - Boiling, Chilled and Sparkling, Boiling and Chilled, Boiling and Ambient, Chilled and Ambient, Chilled and Sparkling... if fact almost any combination.

Space Efficient - Some boiler units are capable of providing 250 cups per hour and will fit under a standard counter top. Not all the manufacturers of boiling and chilled taps however are able to supply units of these compact dimensions so its worth checking if this is so.

Ventilation - When comparing brands it is worth noting that some units on the market require a ventilation grille installing to keep the units cool. These are typically air-cooled units, but there are some now on the market that are water-cooled and don't require the grille.

Limescale - The hard water in the UK means that boiling and chilled systems require scale filters. The better brands will utilize the scale filter only on the hot water side of the boiler unit, This means that office workers who want chilled or sparkling drinks will get purer, better tasting water - instantly.
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