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Breathe easy… …and cost-effectively

Jul 2018 Ventilation | Comments Off on Breathe easy… …and cost-effectively
Breathe easy… …and cost-effectively

David Treharne, senior engineer at Domus Ventilation, looks at how improvements in the energy efficiency of dwellings has led to poor indoor air quality, and why mechanical ventilation is the way forward

Over recent years we’ve done a good job of improving the energy efficiency of new build homes, with a focus on sealing the building envelope to prevent wasteful heat leakage. And it’s worked remarkably well; so much so, that we’ve created air tight homes that, in some circumstances, over-heat and trap the stale, humid air indoors along with the pollutants. You see, what we’ve failed to do is match the improvement in energy efficiency with the provision of ventilation.

The results of poor ventilation

As well as making for an uncomfortable home environment, poor ventilation can directly affect the health of residents. Poor indoor air quality has known links to allergies, asthma, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cardiovascular disease and even dementia.

Opening a window or two if you need ventilation is the usual response, but in cooler or damp weather that’s not ideal, nor is it enough in warmer summer months. And that’s where continuous mechanical ventilation systems step in.

Continuous Mechanical Ventilation

There are essentially two types of whole house continuous mechanical ventilation systems: Mechanical Extract Ventilation (MEV) and Mechanical Ventilation with Heat Recovery (MVHR).

An MEV system actively extracts air from ‘wet rooms’ (kitchens, bathrooms, utility spaces) via ducting to a central ventilation unit, which further ducts to an exhaust point. The systems are typically dual speed, providing low speed continuous trickle ventilation and high-speed boost flow. Replacement fresh air is drawn into the property via background ventilators located in the habitable rooms and through air leakage.

Unlike MEV, MVHR systems combine supply and extract ventilation in one system. They work on the principle of extracting and re-using waste heat from wet rooms. MVHR systems efficiently pre-warm the fresh air drawn into the building with waste stale air using a heat exchanger; up to 95% of waste heat can be recovered by this mechanism. The filtered, pre-warmed air is then distributed around the home, effectively meeting part of the heating load in energy efficient dwellings.

Waving the flag for MEV

There’s no doubt about it, MVHR systems provide effective ventilation, are energy efficient, extremely effective at reducing the risk of condensation and cold air draughts and, with their built-in air filters, are particularly useful in more polluted urban areas.

But MVHR systems come with a higher price tag than their counterparts and are considerably more complex to install and commission. MEV systems, which are more affordable and straight forward, are often a more practical solution for the customer and for installers coming into ventilation from the electrical side. MEV still provides excellent ventilation, but the capital costs are lower, they are easier and therefore more economical to install and operating costs are low.

On the installation side, MEV systems require less ducting because air is being drawn one way only, which also makes for easier commissioning. The MEV units themselves are smaller and lighter than those of MVHR and can therefore be easily wall mounted rather than in a loft. In fact, Domus Ventilation’s CMX MEV unit is just 125mm deep, making it the only unit on the market shallow enough to fit in a ceiling void.

MEV systems are also very easy to use – more of a fit and forget scenario than MVHR systems, which require regular maintenance. With access to properties often an issue in social housing, MEV systems are often a more appealing option here.

Both MEV and MVHR systems are most suitable for new properties rather than retrofit (although that is an option in some circumstances), but MVHR systems require a more airtight property where virtually all of the air flow can pass through the heat exchanger, to perform efficiently.

Looking to the future

The issue of indoor air quality is finally making it onto the political agenda. An All-Party Parliamentary Group for Healthy Homes and Buildings has been set up to investigate it more fully and trade association BEAMA has put through recommendations for addressing this, which includes rewriting Building Regulations concerning ventilation so focus is given to achieving performance in practice, not just theory.

This is all positive news for professionals involved in ventilation or considering moving into this field as it represents a potential growth area.

It’s also positive news for all of us. After all, in the UK we spend around 90% of our time indoors and around 16 hours a day on average at home; we wouldn’t accept drinking poor quality water from our taps at home, so why should we accept poor quality air?