Ease the squeeze

The pressure is on in the commercial world, with businesses everywhere feeling the squeeze from high energy costs. In any building with air treatment, it’s pointless installing an efficient system if you don’t protect the area’s weak points – its doorways. Every time an access point is opened, all that expensively warmed (or chilled) air can escape. Air curtains offer the ideal solution, explains Phil Chilton, Commercial Products Manager at Dimplex, by creating an invisible barrier of air over open doors and entrances.
The main problem with heating a commercial building is that the owner wants to keep the costs as low as possible, while the occupants or visitors want the highest levels of comfort. Doorways can be one of the biggest challenges to this balance and currently this is particularly evident in the hospitality sector, where the ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces means that more people than ever before are now popping in and out of restaurants, pubs and hotels to enjoy a cigarette outside.

Divide and conquer

Air curtains do not have to provide a source of heat, although most models do offer this as an optional setting. Their primary function is to force air at high speed across the complete doorway, rather like an invisible door, which prevents air movement between the internal and external environments. Air curtain models are available for every application, from retail premises, restaurants, offices and hotels, through to industrial applications where the most powerful units are used to protect the open door, such as large warehouses, factories and distribution centres.

But with so many makes and models on the market, what should you look for in an air curtain to incorporate in your air treatment system? Products that offer energy efficiency and flexible installation from manufacturers with high levels of customer service are a must.

Control issues

To keep running costs down, the air curtains you select should feature advanced control systems. For example, when a door is closed the air curtain should not continue to expend energy by continuing to function at full output. You should expect, as standard, an electronic energy saving feature that will work with a compatible door sensor, allowing the air curtain to reduce its heat and airflow on a stepped basis as the door remains closed, eventually going into a dormant state until it is triggered into life again by the door being opened.

Air curtains should also be compatible with timers and door sensors for additional control and should have a built in Building Energy Management System (BEMS) interface as standard, enabling them to operate as part of an integrated energy management system. Controlling the air curtains via a BEMS system gives a greater level of energy management and therefore reduced running costs.

Flexible friends

Because air curtains must cover the complete doorway, it is important to look for air curtains with flexibility in the range. Dimplex air curtains come in a range of sizes and all are modular, so a tailor-made, individual design is possible, almost regardless of the size or shape of the area. For wider doorways, up to 10 units can be linked together using an optional kit to provide gap-free coverage across the entire door width.

As well as flexibility in system design, the system designer sometimes needs to keep options open when it comes to the unit itself. Some of Dimplex’s models, for example, offer the choice of being fitted either surface mounted or recessed, using an optional kit.

An installation at a trendy Dune shoe shop in South Molton Street, London, took advantage of this freedom of choice. Time and flexibility were of the essence and the product had to be installed overnight to allow for normal trading the next day.

Due to the work schedule, inspection access was not possible prior to installation so the contractor had no idea until arrival on site for the overnight work what space – recessed or surface – would be available for the air curtain. With just one night to get it right and with no wholesalers open in case of emergencies, products with trouble-free installation were a necessity.

As no other manufacturer’s product offers the dual flexibility option of recessed or surface mounting from one single model, a Dimplex unit was selected and installed surface mounted. The staff arrived the next morning to find that the chilly draughts that had previously been a daily problem are now banished forever.

Meet your match

It is important to look for a manufacturer that can supply product in a wider choice of colours than just white, white, or white. Dimplex, for example, offers a bespoke powder coating service to all customers, with surface-mounted units available fully coloured and recessed models supplied with coloured grilles. The units can be supplied to match any company livery or interior design, and with no minimum order quantity, individual units are no problem.

One recent bespoke installation took place at a new branch of the Giraffe restaurant chain in Milton Keynes. The funky venue has a distinctively fun interior design and the architect had specified that the air curtain unit should be a ‘giraffe colour’ to fit in with the unique décor. So as well as requiring a powerful output to minimise draughts, noise and pollution entering the 134-cover restaurant, the unit needed to be custom-coloured.

To meet this requirement, an air curtain unit was bespoke powder coated to a giraffe beige colour with a subtle satin finish, so it not only gives the necessary high performance, it is also aesthetically pleasing and complements the overall look and feel of the restaurant.

The service can match absolutely any shade: another recent installation saw a unit coloured cerise for an Ann Summers store. The customer was said to be tickled pink!

Sleek and chic

Where air curtains are required for prestigious corporate entrances and reception areas, aesthetics are very important and the air curtain may need to make a design statement in its own right. In such instances, Dimplex’s new ARC architectural air curtains feature sleek lines that harmonise with a variety of modern settings. Bespoke manufactured units can be finished in a choice of brushed or mirror polished stainless steel, or again, they can be individually coloured to the customer’s preference, to complement an existing colour scheme, livery or theme.

For something really different, this ARC range can be installed either in the conventional horizontal over-door alignment, or vertically, to either side of the doorway. Ideal for where form is as important as function, they offer a stylish option for the most impressive reception areas and corporate entrances.

So, whatever the air treatment requirements in your building, you can keep costs down by using an efficient air curtain to prevent that treated air escaping from your doorways. The units don’t even need to put function over form, as today’s air curtains can be customised to take them into the realms of ‘design feature’. And if the exact product you want doesn’t seem to exist, remember – it can soon be created.

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