What’s next for our air?

This year is the 60th anniversary of the Clean Air Act, which made a huge impact on smog and air pollution levels in our cities. How will we ensure the air we breathe is clean in the future? Jennifer Quinn of Vortice offers answers, discussing indoor air quality and trends in the ventilation market.

Buildings are now becoming more airtight with improved glazing and increased insulation, prompting an increase in energy-efficient ventilation systems. The knock-on effect of building more airtight buildings can mean a poorer quality of air within the home. Airborne pollutants such as mould spores, pollen, carbon monoxide and chemicals used for cleaning can all contribute to poor indoor air quality and affect human health. All dwellings need a supply of fresh outdoor air to ensure good health and comfort for the occupants and to control condensation.

Air pollution kills

The recent study by the Royal College of Physicians has served to highlight what those of us in the industry have been talking and writing about (the importance of good indoor air quality) for several years.  It claims that around 40,000 deaths in the UK each year are related to air pollution and recognises that as a society we have only just started to recognise the harmful effects of poor indoor air quality.

As far as product development is concerned, much attention has been focused on improving the filtration methods incorporated into fans, in particular heat recovery units. As the importance of better indoor air quality is increasing, and to ensure any incoming air is fully filtered before entering the home, some brands have developed units with 100 per cent fully filtered bypass. There are many different grades of filters which reduce pollen spores, dust particles and fumes. These products can be within the heat recovery units or separately boxed, which helps if access to the unit is limited. There have been even further developments with improved filtration systems, one in particular with a patented anti-bacterial solution. This filtration system involves an advanced air cleaner which reduces not only the fine particles within the air, but also the bacteria, allowing an even better standard of air quality and a healthier environment for the occupants.

The industry has been working on filtration systems for its ventilation fans for several years in order to help ensure external pollutants are prevented from entering the home, but there are still lifestyle issues to consider. This can include the use of cleaning chemicals, the number of people occupying a premises, whether they have pets and the lifestyle of the occupants – all of which can contribute to breathing-related illnesses such as asthma.

Awareness

Of course, ventilation units are only as good as the design and installation of the system and the education of the installers and occupants. Any weak point in these factors could cause a detrimental effect on the unit’s performance. It is imperative that installers pass on their knowledge of the system to the occupiers by providing homeowner packs and education. Therefore ventilation companies need to set a real focus on delivering training, to ensure that the installers are being educated in the installing and commissioning of the units, so they perform to the best of their ability.

The relationship between external air pollution and indoor air quality is significant – not only do external pollutants potentially impact on the inside of dwellings, but our homes are generating their own pollutants too.  These can be issues like the burning of fuels by our boilers, solid fuel fires and cookers, to our use of chemicals such as room sprays, deodorants and cleaning products – without filtration these not only pollute our homes, but they also affect outdoor air pollution.  As houses are becoming more airtight through efficiency measures, a lack of natural ventilation means pollutants and moisture from everyday activities like cooking and bathing remain in the home.

Moving indoor air quality up the agenda has begun and this report from the Royal College of Physicians and Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has significantly helped the process of highlighting it. The important thing now is to continue the pressure and raise the profile of the significance of clean air. This is something manufacturers have been doing for some time, but as architects, developers and housing associations begin to understand how the ventilation systems they specify impact on the health of their residents, there is an opportunity to use good ventilation as a strong selling point. In addition, like all things, once politicians recognise that poor air quality has an impact on the healthcare costs of a nation, the incentive to legislate rises. With the hope of new legislation and advancing technologies, indoor air quality has a positive future.

Building Information Modelling (BIM)

On an entirely separate note, there has been technological advances in the way that ventilation systems are being specified, as Building Information Modelling (BIM) is used more widely. Architects and specifiers have begun to see the benefit in timesaving and accuracy that it can offer for their plans and modelling.  The big benefit of BIM is that all those interacting with a building can optimise their actions, with entire teams working to the same standards to produce the best possible project outcomes.  BIM brings together all the components for a building so that different aspects of the design can be integrated more effectively.

The BIM objects website (bimobject.com) contains freely downloadable information about the product including for example (for ventilation systems) performance, specific fan power, visualisation and functional data.

The ErP Directive

As far as legislation is concerned, the ErP Directive, setting minimum performance criteria for ventilation, became effective from 1 January 2016, so all ventilation systems suppliers need to respond to these changes. The ErP Directive, which is European legislation, applies to products that can have an effect on energy consumption throughout their lifecycle, from manufacture, through use, and until the end of their life. With ventilation systems falling under this category, each product now has to carry an energy efficiency class rating which gives information about its energy efficiency of the product.

Jennifer Quinn is the technical and marketing manager at Vortice.