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In what can only be described as a very turbulent year, many businesses have had to shut their doors and have all but forgotten about the general upkeep of their sites. With priorities shifted to keeping companies afloat and staff employed, maintenance and servicing has taken a backseat, and many systems will be deteriorating unnoticed. It goes without saying that one of the first tasks that employers will have to tackle when returning to work is a deep clean. As we are still in the throes of a pandemic, a clean and disinfected workplace is the number one priority that needs to be ensured, before any staff can be welcomed back to work. This should be closely followed by maintenance of the site’s equipment. Importance of regular HVAC maintenance Regular HVAC maintenance is extremely important as it keeps systems performing efficiently and effectively Regular HVAC maintenance is extremely important as it keeps systems performing efficiently and effectively. The nature of HVAC maintenance does change depending on the time of year, and with some sites being shut for months and through different seasons, managers will need to review their current equipment to ensure it is compliant and working correctly as soon as possible as signs of normality start returning and facilities begin to reopen. While warehouses and factories may have still been operating in some capacity over the last 12 months, many office buildings have seen little to no employees for more than a year in some cases, therefore, risking deterioration and even damage to their systems going unnoticed and untreated. But with so many pieces of equipment at each site, it is often hard to know where to start and what to prioritize. Following HVAC manufacturer’s recommendations In order for businesses to keep functioning as best as they can and to avoid any more disruption, those in charge of maintenance and servicing need to be educated on how the conditions of a system affects the type of work it needs. Manufacturer’s recommendations should also be taken into account. To help define what these are and how to approach them, mechanical and electrical engineers recommend: The coils and pipes in HVAC equipment that are responsible for heat transfer are checked regularly, because if the equipment gets dirty, it won’t transfer heat and energy as well. Checking controls annually to ensure that the HVAC system is running properly, as control calibration can alter. By scheduling regular check-ups, accurate operation is maintained. Maintaining equipment with fans quarterly to maximize longevity. Three key areas include monitoring the impellers, belts and bearings for any dirt, wear and tear, friction or erosion. Keeping an eye on filters, as when they are clogged, it increases the pressure drop in a system, which makes fans work harder to maintain the same airflow. A quarterly clean is usually sufficient for most filters. This is also true of strainers in systems. Optimizing HVAC and electrical equipment With spring now upon us, businesses need to optimize their HVAC and electrical equipment for maximum efficiency With spring now upon us, businesses need to optimize their HVAC and electrical equipment for maximum efficiency. This includes reviewing the sequence of operations for a morning warm up and cool down. However, it’s important to remember that because of prolonged closures over the last 12 months, autumn and winter checks, and in some cases, even summer checks were not able to be carried out in 2020, so before the spring work begins, backdating the maintenance is a good place to start. Ensuring buildings’ energy efficiency With the help of experts, HVAC maintenance doesn’t have to be time-consuming and overwhelming, but it’s a critical part of maintaining an energy-efficient building that is both comfortable and reliable. With regular servicing and some basic knowledge of what is required, sites can maintain optimum efficiency all year round. Noise complaints can also be an issue, if HVAC maintenance isn’t carried out regularly. Spring is a good time for businesses to perform services on their equipment, prior to the summer months starting and should be used to ensure that condenser coils and air handler filters are both clean. The dirtier the equipment, the noisier and less efficient it becomes, which is bad news for any business. Preparing buildings for staff returning to work When a building is returning to normal occupancy after a lengthy closure, additional checks must be considered before reopening is discussed. When a building is initially mothballed, it must be prepared for long term vacancy, but many businesses will not have had this opportunity before the national lockdown, which basically entails that these checks will not have been carried out. After a building becomes unoccupied, it is not the case that maintenance activity should also stop After a building becomes unoccupied, it is not the case that maintenance activity should also stop. At the very least, the frequency of existing planned maintenance will change, but in some cases, more maintenance tasks are required in order to keep the site ticking over. This includes flushing of water systems, Legionella testing and insurance inspections to keep the property functional and compliant. Countering health and safety issues As the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions are lifted across the United Kingdom and many businesses are gradually reopening, it will present health and safety problems that have not been faced before and will very likely see a surge in services and maintenance being required. With this in mind, it is vital that maintenance becomes a priority as normal service is resumed to not only ensure efficiency, but also to make sure that no employee or visitor to a site is put in danger. Emerging from a surreal 12 months, there is no doubt that companies will still face challenges, so it is crucial that avoidable maintenance problems do not become one of them, so don’t delay in booking routine checks.
HVAC systems have never received more widespread attention and media coverage than they have this year. As researchers determined that air transmission was a major factor in the spread of COVID-19, HVAC systems quickly became an area of intense discussion. Much of the news coverage from outlets like the New York Times, NPR, CNBC, or USA Today focused on air filtration. HEPA and MERV have become acronyms that people recognize, and UV Light and Plasma Ionization air purifiers have almost become dinner table topics. The need for discussion and debate about these topics is evident. As we look to resume some resemblance of normal life we need to feel safe sharing spaces with other people. Commercial HVAC Systems At the forefront of all of these discussions regarding air purification, is the massively flawed assumption that we must recirculate a large amount of the air from space to save energy. Most commercial HVAC systems only utilize 20% fresh air. That means that 80% of the air you are breathing in a public space has been on this ride before. The underlying principle here, from a thermodynamic perspective, is sound. I just spent a lot of energy (and $) conditioning this air for human comfort and now you want me to just throw it away?! In the name of all things public health, yes, throw it away! Energy Consumption It takes a large amount of energy to cool, dehumidify, and/or heat air so we humans can enjoy our time indoors in comfort Now before you draft your eloquently worded hate mail, let me take a minute to explain why we think you can just throw away perfectly conditioned air and still maintain a high level of energy consciousness. It’s true that it takes a large amount of energy to cool, dehumidify, and/or heat air so we humans can enjoy our time indoors in comfort. However, it is possible to exhaust ALL of the contaminated air from an occupied space and still conserve a large portion of the energy in that air. This can be done by passing the outside air (fresh air) and the exhaust air through separate heat exchangers where the energy can be transferred without the two air streams physically making contact. From a hygiene perspective, this process is ideal. Hospitals and industrial plants have been using one form or another of this technique for decades. The challenge for wider, commercial, adoption has been packaging restrictions of these systems and in a lot of cases the energy consumption of your supposedly energy-saving equipment. Energy Recovery Technology Cue ACT’s award-winning energy recovery technology, the Pump-Assisted Split Loop Energy Recovery Heat Exchanger. This product recently won the AHR Expo 2021 Innovation Award in the highly competitive Green Building category. The magic of the technology relies on the efficiency of the boiling and condensation process. When harnessed properly, one can exchange huge amounts of energy between two air streams just by circulating a particular fluid from one system to the next. A major benefit of allowing the fluid to boil and condense around the loop is that it allows the system to operate passively, using just the forces of good old fashion gravity. As a fluid boil, a portion of the liquid is converted into vapor which naturally wants to rise. Once that vapor gives off its energy it condenses back into a liquid that naturally wants to fall. If you can provide a source of energy input for boiling and a source of energy removal for condensing you can create a naturally circulating loop that requires absolutely zero electrical energy to operate. Two Separated Air Streams Transferring energy between two separated air streams with the least amount of total energy consumption and no cross-contamination In commercial HVAC systems, the warmer air stream can be the source of energy input and the cooler air stream can be the source of energy removal. As the seasons change, the air that is exhausted from a space flips from being warmer than the outside air (in the winter for instance) to be the colder air stream (in the summer). This means that at some point during the year you lose your gravitational advantage so for the other half of the year when you need to transfer energy in the opposite direction of gravity, ACT’s system uses a fractional horsepower pump (hence the pump-assisted part). The end result is a method of transferring large amounts of energy between two separated air streams with the least amount of total energy consumption, and with no cross-contamination. And because the fluid is circulated between the two air streams (either by gravity or by way of a small pump) this technology is highly geometrically flexible and customizable. With this product, HVAC systems can take in 100% fresh, outside air and throw it all away without having to worry about being wasteful. Improving HVAC Systems Most of the focus and efforts around improving HVAC systems have so far been centered too much on how we make old technology deal with new problems. These kinds of approaches are band-aids, at best, and often result is short-sighted solutions that never really advance the industry as a whole. ACT’s new product helps solve the problems of the new normal while moving the HVAC industry closer to that breath of fresh air we could all use right now.
Demand for underfloor air conditioning systems, which are far more flexible and adaptable than ceiling-based systems, has risen as developers and landlords scramble to reconfigure office spaces in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Experts have predicted a 50% reduction in office occupancy, as millions embrace working from home. What is underfloor air conditioning? A zonal underfloor air conditioning system makes use of the raised floor void as a plenum for the distribution of air. Supply and return channels are created under the floor, and zone units serving areas of up to 300m2 are suitably located throughout the office space to generate conditioned air locally to serve the needs of the space. Underfloor air conditioning goes further than displacement systems, offering full function control of the indoor environment Individually controlled fan terminals of either recessed or floor standing configuration are let into the floor over supply plena. These terminals introduce air into the space above in accordance with the dictates of their own on-board temperature sensors and controls system. Users can adjust fan speed and set point temperature individually. Return air grilles are positioned in the floor over return plena. The whole system is controlled by means of the electronic management system controlling the operation of the zone units and the associated fan terminals permitting centralized monitoring and control. Underfloor systems are inherently compartmentalised and offer highly effective solutions in multi-tenant areas and other environmentally challenging applications. Many low-height refurbished spaces suffer from high levels of user complaint due mainly to draft from ceiling mounted outlets positioned too close to the user. The changing work environment At AET Flexible Space, we have seen increased demand, both from existing clients looking to reconfigure their office space, and new clients looking for a flexible air conditioning which can help to future-proof their office. A huge benefit of an underfloor air conditioning system is that they are inherently flexible, and can be changed to suit new room layouts within minutes. Our unique Fantile™ units are installed to sit in-line with the finished floor, and can be easily repositioned at any time without the need for the significant, and costly, building works usually involved in repositioning ceiling-based ductwork. A huge benefit of an underfloor air conditioning system is that they are inherently flexible We are already seeing that COVID-19 has accelerated the trend towards more flexible, future-proofed, and sustainable office space. We have been seeing an increase in demand for our underfloor systems for some time, but the coronavirus lockdown has certainly made more people consider the end-users of this office space, and how they can be best served Workplace wellness is also an increasing concern, and may be a key element for encouraging workers back into the office. The Workplace Wellness Study conducted by Future Workforce found that workplace environment is more important to employee satisfaction, engagement and productivity than most organizations realize. 67% of employees said they are more productive in workplaces that promote a healthy environment. One-third said they lose at least an hour of productivity each day due to office environments that don’t support their daily health. Beyond the inherent flexibility of underfloor air conditioning systems, they also offer high levels of energy efficiency, sustainability, and air quality. As there is no ductwork with an underfloor system, individual zones operate at very low-pressure encouraging energy efficiency. AET’s systems have helped attract LEED and BREEAM and other Green Building points, and can provide up to 30% savings in energy costs and a 29% reduction in C02 emissions when compared to ceiling systems. Cost savings Cost savings are also a key concern for everyone in the post-COVID world, and the flexibility and economy of an underfloor system across the lifetime of a building is increasingly attractive. The British Council for Offices (BCO) indicates that underfloor air conditioning can offer dramatic savings in overall cost, but it requires a co-ordinated team approach to achieve the optimum result. The flexibility and economy of an underfloor system across the lifetime of a building is increasingly attractive In the past the only way to reduce ceiling-based HVAC costs has been to reduce the specification and downsize plant, or reduce flexibility by increasing the size of terminal outlets and reducing numbers. However, these solutions often result in increased complaints of end-users about draughts and noise, which necessitates a costly and environmentally unfriendly re-design. Ceiling-based systems also demand service and maintenance from within the work space, from the simple task of changing filters in fan-coils or cassettes, to more complicated reconfigurations of pipework and ducts to suit a new layout below. Not only do these refits mean significant hidden cost, but they also cause disruption, and have a high risk of damage from condensate leakage. Construction Considerations In order to maximize the benefits of underfloor air conditioning, it must be introduced into the overall design philosophy at an early stage. When incorporated into the overall building design, savings can be made to curtain wall costs, all other height-related savings such as elevator shafts, columns, stairwells, riser shafts, and vertical services such as mains pipe-work and electrical risers. The Swedish National Pension Fund has reported overall cost savings of between 5% and 7% in buildings using underfloor air conditioning. In order to maximize the benefits of underfloor air conditioning, it must be introduced into the overall design Good quality underfloor air conditioning systems are similar in price to conventional good quality fan coil systems, but underfloor systems also reduce the cost of construction and offer tax advantages. The average office building costs in UK are in the region of £1000 to £2000 per square meter. Therefore, a 5% saving in overall cost could range from £50 to £100 per square meter. The average cost of any AC system is in the region of £120 to £200 per square meter, and so an overall saving in construction equates to something in the region of 50% of the AC system. As we move forward into 2021 and beyond, commercial construction is going to require sustainable and cost-effective design. With so many benefits, it is clear why so many in the construction industry are now turning to underfloor air conditioning solutions.