What does the future hold for ventilation?

Mark Quigley, Commercial Director of Xpelair, comments on the regulations that are shaping the ventilation industry.

One of the biggest issues facing engineers over the next few years is the tide of new regulations that are being introduced to drive a low carbon society, intent on reducing emissions and improving the efficiency of the UK’s building stock.

p23xplex1 January 2013 ushered in the first wave of such regulations with the introduction of the Energy Related Products Directive (ErP). Part of the Kyoto agreement on carbon emission reduction, the regulations are a framework for minimum eco design for energy using and energy related products. In ventilation terms, the ErP relates directly to fans between 125W and 500kW.

The directive is set out in two phases with the second, more rigorous phase scheduled for 2015. It has been designed to aid in achieving the 20% EU increase in efficiency by 2020 set out by the agreement.

Where fans do not comply with the efficiency guidelines under the directive both currently and in 2015, marketing and installation will not be permitted throughout the EU. Use of non-conforming solutions could therefore drastically affect the efficiency of commercial properties.

Rigorous efficiency

Looking specifically at the introduction of the 2013 ErP regulations, almost 30% of fans in use were instantly rendered obsolete due to non-conformance with the rigorous efficiency criteria of the directive. A further 20% of models are predicted to be ineligible when the 2015 regulations are introduced; meaning that in total, almost 50% of fans that were marketable and useable prior to 2013 will become redundant.

As a consequence, ventilation manufacturers have had to adjust their product specifications accordingly. Where existing products have been unable to be brought up to standard, alternatives have been commissioned.

Another piece of forthcoming legislation to consider is section 49 of the Energy Act 2011 scheduled for introduction in April 2018. The proposed version stipulates that it will be unlawful to rent out any commercial property if it fails to reach a minimum E rating on the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC), although this has yet to be fully drafted.

Currently, this will concern ‘conditioned’ commercial buildings over 50sqm which will require an Energy Performance Certificate that conforms to the impending 2018 regulations. Estimates predict that commercial properties and public buildings are responsible for in excess of 40% of the UK’s property energy usage and the same number of climate changing carbon emissions.

Whilst 2018 is some time off, much of the public building stock dates back to previous centuries. Despite efforts thus far to improve the efficiency of these buildings, 20% of the current commercial stock is estimated to fall into the failing F and G bands – with more expected to fail as 2018 draws close.

With such a diverse range of commercial and public buildings at risk, it highlights just how big an issue this is facing engineers whose task it will be to bring them up to date. The fact that the regulations have yet to be fully defined shouldn’t detract from the fact that engineers need to start taking action now to ensure properties conform to regulatory requirements.

Ventilating right

Over the years, the ventilation industry has responded well to calls for more efficient solutions that meet and exceed legislative requirements. Manufacturers are already producing systems that work in accordance with ErP regulations in the present and with future regulations in mind.

p23xplex2The drive for efficiency has resulted in a shift from traditional extract ventilation to a solutions approach, specifically signifying a rise in the adoption of Mechanical Ventilation with Heat Recovery (MVHR) and Demand Control Ventilation (DCV).

MVHR systems are designed to continuously extract stale polluted air whilst simultaneously passing this air over a heat exchanger, transferring it to the incoming air. This supplies fresh, filtered air into the premises creating a balanced airflow throughout whilst being exceptionally efficient and recovering up to 94% of heat that would have been lost.

DCV utilises a number of intelligent sensors that continuously measure the ambient conditions within a specific area and feed back to the zone controller in real time, adjusting the ventilation requirements as necessary. These sensors measure occupancy, temperature and CO2 levels making constant adjustments to ensure optimal indoor air quality at all times, whilst ensuring less wastage.

The efficiency of MVHR and DCV systems undoubtedly give them the potential to develop into the industry standard for the future. Other developments also include the introduction of a range of sophisticated control options and a gradual move from AC and DC motors to more efficient EC motors, which will also help towards better efficiency.

Lack of clarity

One stumbling block for the ErP and Section 49 is that they have both come under fire from many within the ventilation industry for their lack of clarity.

The difficulty with the ErP is that it states non-compliant and low efficiency units can be used as like-for-like replacements for fans that are built into other products.

This could lead to misinterpretation of the rules, leading to non-compliant fans being replaced in general, such as in ducting systems, which would violate the regulations. Since the directive stipulates both the “placing on the market” and “putting into service” of fans, engineers could risk failing to comply with regulations and resulting rectification costs.

The complication with Section 49 is that it has not been drafted yet and whilst this is mandatory, no timeframe has been given on when the industry can expect this. Using the information for the initial draft, it clearly states that non-compliant and low efficiency buildings will be ineligible for rent.

But with so many currently falling into the non-efficient category and with many question marks still lingering over the final efficiency requirements, there is understandably confusion within the industry and the government must address this well before the 2018 implementation date.

Importance of training

Despite a lack of clarity with both, it is vitally important for engineers to quickly get up to speed with these new developments if the industry is going to reach its efficiency targets.

Companies must work closely with engineers, through training programmes and a consultative approach, to ensure they are kept up to date with legislative developments, which products satisfy requirements and where breaches in the regulations might take place due to lack of understanding on a project by project basis.

The next few years will be pivotal for the success and growth of the ventilation industry and the building industry as a whole. Whilst it has already reacted well to the need for more efficient ventilation, our efforts must continue to push the boundaries of efficiency so that new and existing systems and practices not only comply with current regulations, but those for years to come.

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