Standalone: The new way forward in non-domestic ventilation?

This is a BSRIA Member contribution to the BSRIA Blog, by Roy Jones, Technical Director at Gilberts (Blackpool) Ltd

Bars, restaurants and leisure venues are opening, schools have welcomed back pupils, people are heading back into work. But what, in the building services/ventilation sector, will be our new normal? One thing is already clear, things are going to change.

New Building Regulations

We have Building Regulations revisions imminent that will change the way we design ventilation strategies. The ingress of external pollutants should be minimised. Ductwork should be rigid, not flexible, and lengths kept to a minimum. Approved Document Part F is looking for not just a commissioning report to show the system works adequately, but information in operation and maintenance. The interim uplift for Approved Document Part L is looking for a 27% reduction in carbon emissions per building against the existing standard(1).

Inevitably, protecting against COVID, even despite the vaccination programme, will figure in specifiers’ minds. With the best will in the world, the initial Government guidance to achieve adequate ventilation re COVID of “opening windows” is not practical nor realistic as a long-term strategy alongside the global drive to cut carbon emissions and improve indoor air quality.

System evolution

Whereas on the face of it, the industry is facing a huge amount of change, the wherewithal to deliver is already widely available and in use. Legislation is just confirming what the quality manufacturers and engineers already implement. It all combines to, I believe, an increasing use of stand-alone ventilation and heat recovery systems, especially those that minimise energy usage. The latest evolution has been a hybrid- dynamic optimisation of natural ventilation, fan boosted mechanically when required. Ahead of the changes to Building Regulations, stand-alone versions have already been developed. Are these the way forward, to meet our requirements?

Some hybrid systems, such as units designed to meet current Regulatory guidance (eg. BB101 for schools), are stand-alone single-zone items, which obviates the need for ductwork, either to external or internal areas. No internal penetrations are required either, to move the air through the building, as each unit serves a dedicated zone, whether façade- or ceiling-mounted. This reduces major cost and labour in ductwork, fire dampers and silencers. The principle therefore already overcomes the potential obstacles when the revised Approved Document F comes into force. They ventilate just the one space, preventing transfer of particulates from one zone to another, and thereby minimising risk of internal cross-contamination. Some already deliver flow rates compliant with latest COVID guidance (i.e. to achieve a notional CO2 below 1000ppm).
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is currently the metric used to check the air is ‘fresh’ within a zone. Links have been established that higher CO2 levels reflect higher Covid-19 risk.

Modular design

Within modular design products can be provided alongside a “mix and match” option of additions. These can be added to meet the specific use and requirements of the buildings to be ventilated.

Some options include:

  • filter modules to address fine airborne particles, and maintain the IAQ within required limits
  • connection modules to address site-specific installation limitations, to allow single-sided operation
  • heating coils that can remove the need for ancillary supplementary heating such as radiators,
  • acoustic attenuation to modulate noise below 30dBA
  • control unit to enable easy management of the IAQ and temperature to facilitate any over-ride as required. This provides capable boost and purge ventilation and night-time cooling.

Get it right

The amount of change, not just in Regulations, but how we use our non-domestic buildings in future, is vast. Specifiers and designers should use the expertise of product manufacturers to their advantage. It is wise to tap this knowledge bank to ensure delivery of the best compliant solution for the project.

This blog article was written by Roy Jones, Technical Director at Gilberts (Blackpool) Ltd.

(1) https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/building-regulations-approved-documents-l-and-f-consultation-version

What happens when the lights go out?

In July we posted a blog about whether the lights will go out in the UK. This blog discussed the startling fact that the peak demand on our electricity supply network is perilously close to the supply capacity. With this comes the real risk that consumers will be exposed to outages “blackouts” and voltage dips “brownouts”. There is debate about whether this could happen, Datamonitor’s director of energy and utilities research and analysis, Neil Atkinson has commented that in practice the lights won’t go out in the UK or at least not for a long time, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be worried or ignore the problem all together. He states that the Government hasn’t put sufficient contingency plans in place for the future of the UK’s supply and demand, that the Green Deal and the dwindling hopes of Nuclear power aren’t enough.

The ECA are less optimistic than Datamonitor. Bill Wright, head of energy solutions, states that the intended increasing reliance on wind power assumes that the UK as a whole will not be affected by periods of cold weather at the same time as minimum wind. This is something that has to be considered though, for if the UK were to suffer a harsh or long winter like we saw in 2012/2013 then there is a real risk that we could end up facing lights out this year or during any winter that is out of the ordinary.

Fuel poverty in England – 10 per cent, 1996 to 2011

Fuel poverty in England – 10 per cent, 1996 to 2011

There is also Ed Milliband’s pledge to freeze energy costs for customers to consider. Will this pledge speed up the process of blackouts and brownouts or it will have no impact at all? The government’s Fuel Poverty Report 2013 suggests there are already 4.8 million households in the UK that are already suffering with blackouts so Ed’s pledge won’t necessarily make any difference.

But what if it does? What will happen if the lights do go out?

BSRIA held a number of parallel workshops in June to discuss that possibility. The workshop covered the effects blackouts would have in the UK, the risks for business, the systems required, the continuity plans and what BSRIA will do. Here are some of the conclusions:

Effects of power outages

There are many potential effects that come with a long power outage. At the moment, most power outages don’t last more than an

An image of Channel 4's The Blackout

An image of Channel 4’s The Blackout

hour so there are minimal risks but the longer the outage, the more opportunity for chaos to ensue. The loss of power could lead to an increase in crime due to diminished security options e.g. alarms and security cameras leading to shops being broken into and civil disorder (a dramatization of the potential damage can be seen in Channel 4’s The Blackout). The country’s communication and transport systems would soon break down and there is a high risk to the economy due to closed businesses and lack of trade. There are few benefits to a power outage; the only redeeming effects being an increase in self-reliance and a chance for the standby power industry to shine.

Risks for business

If power outages have such an impact on society in general, then the risks to business are high as well, even more so due to the current lack of awareness in businesses. If they are unaware of the future problems, then they may well have made no contingency plan to keep their businesses running. Without a contingency plan, they face disruption to their work through either staff shortages (staff may be unable to get into work due to the breakdown of transport), or loss of process and equipment failure. If companies are dependent on computers or other technology, then they risk losing business or missing deadlines, resulting in damage to reputation and loss of profit.

Required systems and contingency plans

To help the UK prepare for the risk of future power outages, the workshop came up with some ideas for required systems and contingency plans that could help reduce the damage caused. Here are some of those. Firstly, education is key and more needs to be done to raise awareness. BSRIA is in a prime position to promote and facilitate this. Starting with the low-hanging fruit, buildings should make maximum use of natural light and ventilation to reduce base energy load. Critical areas or services need to be identified and ring-fenced to maximise the opportunity for them to run when other systems go down. There needs to be a way of controlling the amount of energy used in buildings and this is where energy services and building energy management systems could play a very important role. Incentives, such as variable tariffs from utilities, would encourage changes in consumer behaviour and more investment in smart technology. The debate over alternative fuels like shale gas needs to be had to assess its suitability and impact on the future of UK energy. Whilst standby generation may seem an easy option, and undoubtedly this will form part of the solution, it also needs to be highlighted that it cannot necessarily be relied on as a last-minute solution, for when the crunch comes, it will be in high demand and availability will plummet.

Continuity plans need to be made for a multitude of scenarios. The Government and businesses alike, need to prioritise the services

Graph taken from Bill Wright's presentation given at BSRIA Workshop

Graph taken from Bill Wright’s presentation given at BSRIA Workshop

they need most and make sure they are supported in the best possible ways. If blackouts are expected to become a regular part of our lives, then announcing them in advance will help companies to plan closures or change working hours. Companies also need to think about how their employees work; the fact is, we are highly dependent on technology like laptops and mobile phones. Without the means to recharge their batteries they quickly become redundant and we become unproductive, so companies need to think of alternative methods to keep their workforce useful – we may even have to resort to good old pen and paper!

What BSRIA could do

 From the workshops, it was suggested that BSRIA can help raise awareness and provide education on the subject. This could take a range of forms, and conferences, publications and guidance for continuity planning were just some of the activities suggested. BSRIA can also work with other organisations towards these goals to help limit the risks for everyone.

Part L and the Green Police

It seems like just yesterday I was absorbing the 2010 incarnation of Part L. Now 2013 is creeping up on us fast, and the consultation will be closed 4 weeks from today. The plans for zero carbon homes in 2016 and non-dwellings in 2019 are ambitious, and rightly so. But what happens after 2019? It’ll be years before there are enough zero-carbon buildings to really make a dent in UK emissions. In the meantime there are thousands of inefficient buildings that won’t get touched by Part L, because no building work is being done on them. The ever-expanding list of actions that triggers consequential improvements may help – for example making works such as boiler and window replacements trigger further improvements. But there is a danger this will just discourage building owners from doing such works in the first place, or encourage them to hide their activities from the green police.

We need to come up with new ways of bringing the existing building stock up-to-scratch, that don’t involve waiting until someone decides to do some building work. Building MOTs? Mandatory follow-through of recommendations from EPCs, DECs and air conditioning inspections? Fines for excessive energy use? I don’t have all the answers, but what I am pretty sure of is that energy prices are going to keep rising as fossil fuels get scarcer and the world’s population gets bigger. Give it another few years, and businesses won’t need legislation pushing them to manage their energy use better, they’ll have to do it to survive.

%d bloggers like this: