Ventilation apps help create smart homes

Peter Haynes, Technical Product Manager at EnviroVent, looks at advances through the use of the latest technology to reduce installation times and simplify commissioning for ventilation systems.

Homebuyers are increasingly looking for gadgets that transform their properties into ‘smart homes’. Apps that enable homeowners to automatically control their lighting, heating, even vacuum cleaning and pet feeding are becoming the norm in new homes. While many of these apps are useful, some are clearly developed just so the claim of “app-controlled device” can be made by the manufacturer.

The purpose of an app should be to add value and offer even better functionality for consumers. However, some of the best apps that have been introduced into the ventilation sector recently really do benefit both the housebuilder and the homeowner.

When it comes to installing MVHR systems in a property, for example, commissioning the unit is often seen as a time-consuming process, mainly due to the time involved with setting the ventilation rates.

In the past, whoever installed the unit was required to set the Maximum and Minimum (Trickle and Boost) flow rates on the unit itself and then by measuring the airflow throughout the property achieve a balanced system with the correct rate at each valve.   There are inherent difficulties with this as adjusting one valve can throw the others out and necessitate a number of visits to and from the unit to amend the airflow if it is too high or too low.

Commissioning of MVHR systems is required to provide adequate ventilation to the dwelling, as stipulated in Approved Document F of Building Regulations. It must be carried out when all maintenance and development work has been completed on a property, to avoid disturbance in the set-up.

The unit should only be commissioned when it is fully installed, with power, ductwork, valves and vents in place. Boost and trickle rates then need to be set according to Building Regulations requirements.

Commissioning is done by determining the whole building ventilation rate. Ceiling or wall valves are opened and must be measured using an anemometer. The unit then needs to be adjusted up or down until the rates are achieved. The individual valves should then be modified to draw the appropriate volume of air from each room. This typically starts with the largest extract requirement first, usually the kitchen, followed by the bathroom, utility room, ensuite and WC. The fan unit may need to be adjusted to account for increased pressure. When adjustments are completed, the valves should be locked into position to maintain settings.

The length of time it takes to commission in the traditional way varies depending on many factors including the location of the unit, size of the dwelling, layout of the house, whether it is occupied or empty and the quality of the installation. It could typically take two to three hours in an average size house, depending on where the MVHR is situated. Before these Apps, each valve had to be set manually and took a great deal of time for the individual commissioning it to go back and forth from the unit to the valve. If it is in an awkward position in the loft then it would take even longer.

With Apps now available for commissioning some ventilation units, this means that an installer with a smart device can save a significant amount of time and therefore be able to commission more units per day.

Through the app, the installer can commission and interact with the unit and gain instant access to ventilation manuals, unit settings and FAQs.

The iphone or android phone is an essential tool these days. Apps, like myenvironment, were developed to ensure time savings and smooth hassle-free operation.   It was important with our app that whoever installs it could connect directly to the unit (known as point to point), in case there is no Wi-Fi in the dwelling. When in this mode it means they can access specific functions only open to them, such as commissioning.

There are clearly time saving factors for anyone using a ventilation app for commissioning, due to the clear interface and by not having to go constantly between valve and unit.

There are also benefits in the use of Apps from a maintenance or servicing point of view. It means the unit status can be accessed without having to physically visit the unit.

For example, in a multi-occupational building with 10 MVHR units in the ceiling void, the maintenance person can simply stand near to the unit, connect to it directly through the app, check all the settings and see if there are any faults, without having to access each individual unit.

This is still early days for the use of Apps to install and control ventilation units, but their use is spreading and this should bring major benefits to housebuilders and homebuyers. In the future we expect to see ventilation units being more connected, with greater integration and the possibility of more control and unit diagnostics in the future.