Bespoke solutions for schools

Steve Mongan, Head of Marketing at Xpelair Ventilation Solutions, discusses the importance of developing bespoke solutions for schools.

If targets set out by the Government to reduce carbon emissions and improve the efficiency of the UK’s building stock are to be met, the whole design of school buildings has to be challenged to be more efficient. 

From a ventilation point of view, the good news for our industry is that the impact of these legislation changes has pushed the importance of ventilation up the agenda.  The fact that buildings are becoming more airtight means providing sufficient ventilation is essential for both new and refurbishment non-domestic projects.  The most important factor, particularly in schools, is indoor air quality (IAQ) – achieving a clean, fresh and healthy environment, along with other key issues such as thermal comfort and reduced transmitted noise.

The ventilation solution will obviously depend on the type of building and the application. When specifying for schools it is important to take into account the age group a building will accommodate, how often it is going to be used and how many people will be using it at any one time.

Ultimately, poor ventilation is a serious issue and studies have shown that continual inadequate ventilation of school facilities can have a detrimental effect on the learning and educational attainment of pupils.

Ventilation is also key to protecting the fabric of a building. Excessive condensation can cause mould growth, leading to cosmetic and structural damage and can create extremely poor indoor air quality, which can lead to potential health issues for the occupants of the building.

The best solution

There are a number of ventilations systems on the market from which building service engineers can choose from, including central plant, MVHR, natural ventilation and mixed-mode ventilation. So which is the best solution for a school environment?

The common myth amongst many specifiers and contractors is that central plant and heat recovery units are the best systems. However, every new or refurbishment project is different, therefore it is essential as an industry that we do not get into a ‘one solution fits all’ scenario.

Firstly, providing a sufficient quality of fresh air to ensure the efficiency of pupils and staff is vital. This includes extracting naturally occurring substances such as dust and biological agents like bacteria and other microorganisms, which can be potentially harmful to students and teachers, and is a common cause of absences.

An application specific approach as to which is the best ventilation system to install has to be adopted. It must take advantage of the design and orientation of a building, consider the changing temperature throughout the day and night, along with regional seasonal profiles to optimise comfort whilst minimising energy loss.

The system design should also have the ability to be stand-alone or integrated with renewable heat pump heating and cooling, solar thermal panels and wind energy systems to suit the application. In order to do this, it is vital that we as an industry utilise a partnership approach to working. Doing this will enable us to share technical expertise and achieve best practice.

We recognise that it’s no longer just about product, it is about providing a solution and added-value services. Our Customvent division provides innovative systems to help building service engineers select the right product for their building projects.

The team work in conjunction with our clients from the pre-planning design stage right through to installation and commissioning to ensure complete peace of mind and that the system suits the needs of the institution.

In application

One project that has benefited from our bespoke service is Birches Head High School in Stoke-on-Trent.

We designed a tailor-made natural ventilation solution around our Classmate system, which provides a fresh supply of air throughout the indoor environment of the school building, along with extracting stale air and controlling CO2 levels. Classmate’s world-class acoustic performance also helps eliminate excessive outdoor noise that could disrupt pupils and staff during lesson time.

Part of a £3.2 million development of the science block, Xpelair’s Customvent team worked closely with contractors M&E services specialist Drayton Beaumont to install the system as part of an extensive refurbishment project.

The new facility, funded through Stoke-on-Trent’s Building Schools for the Future programme, includes seven science labs, a prep room, two breakout rooms and a garden area that has been developed to help students study plant growth and ecology. The Classmate solution helps maintain a comfortable learning environment at Birches Head High School all year round.

Designed for installation into external and internal walls or cladding, Xpelair’s Classmate meets and exceeds the requirements stated in Building Bulletins 93 and 101. The CO2 and temperature sensors automatically provide the users with the correct ventilation solution to maintain the correct classroom environment both in terms of CO2 levels and temperature.

The control system also allows the user a manual override facility to modulate the high and low dampers as required and, as a result, lower carbon emissions can reduce the school’s energy costs by up to 40% compared with conventional mechanical only systems.

In the new science block the control system has been designed to provide each room with the correct environmental conditions. The Classmate control system has the ability to interact with central BMS systems, and in this case the modulating dampers have been combined with the operation of the high level windows to allow exhaust air from each lab to exit the building.

Undoubtedly, contract procurement in 2013 will see efficiency become an ever more prominent focus and building service engineers must adapt to this and ensure that the systems they specify will not only safeguard the health and wellbeing of the occupants but also has the potential to significantly reduce school running costs.

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