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The past six months have been busy for those in HVAC as offices are updated and made safe for people to return. In addition to the various standard checks that need to be carried out, more care is being taken in relation to air movement and filtration to prevent the spread of disease. There is evidence that at least some of the COVID-19 virus can remain suspended in the air and infectious for up to 3 hours. While this is not the main form of transmission, it is vitally important, especially as we are seeing a second increase in infections, that all measures are taken to prevent the spread of the disease. Sick building syndrome In addition to the fundamental elements of HVAC in public buildings, the sector should be looking to the future of technological use; whether COVID-19 is completely wiped out or lingers in the population, we may be at risk of more new diseases in the future. Although maintenance is one of the least visible of building services, it has long played an important role in ensuring the health of buildings. Decades ago, the concept of sick building syndrome was first introduced, showing quite how important our environment is to health. Now, we are being reminded of this on a daily basis in ways that have never been under such scrutiny. We are suddenly hyperaware of what we have touched and who else is breathing our air. In many ways, this new awareness of the unseen is a boon for the sector that has so long been behind-the-scenes, but it also puts it to the test. Potentially stagnant pockets There are numerous recommendations from experts on how to increase safety Governmental guidelines have not specifically required that ventilation and air conditioning be increased in the workplace. Yet, there are numerous recommendations from experts on how to increase safety. At the low-tech end of the spectrum, the use of ceiling and table fans to increase movement in potentially stagnant pockets of air has been suggested. At the other end, technologies that have long been growing in popularity, such as remote monitoring, will really come into their own in the coming months. A particular challenge for the industry as workers return to the office under social distancing guidelines will be accessing certain areas for maintenance. For as long as the virus remains in the population, risk assessments for work will be more complex and non-essential jobs will likely be put on hold where possible. Optical remote sensors Intelligent technology and monitoring systems are already driving the market and will play a role in minimizing contact with others when visiting a site. There is already a great range of tools available: wired sensors, wireless sensors, and optical remote sensors. These allow organizations to monitor vibration, temperature, acoustics, and the power of numerous assets remotely and in real-time. Any issues can be addressed as soon as they arise, minimizing the cost and time that an engineer may need to be in the building. Installing these technologies while buildings are still unoccupied or only partially occupied will also reduce the risk of exposure of engineers to the virus and will improve the efficiency and prolong the life of important assets. Whether a second lockdown takes place or not, these tools will protect building services. Motion-Activated air conditioning Other sensor-based features such as motion-activated air conditioning also have great potential Other sensor-based features such as motion-activated air conditioning also have great potential. These can manage the new hygiene anxiety which pervades public places at the moment. In the longer term, they can be a means of building sustainability practices into the workplace, using power only when needed. Internet of Things (IoT) features such as occupancy sensors have long been growing in popularity to create buildings which are more energy-efficient and promote productivity. Many of these features are demonstrating added value during the pandemic. Occupancy sensors, for example, can be used to ensure that buildings do not exceed safe numbers for social distancing. HVAC systems will be integrated ever further into the IoT approach. Some features of virus reduction, however, have posed a challenge for systems. Air conditioning systems Air conditioning systems, for example, can best reduce the risk of viral transmission through increasing the amount of air which is brought in from the outside into the systems. This will reduce the amount of recycled air but will also increase the temperature fluctuations within the buildings. Other recommendations have included reviewing ventilation strategies, increasing ventilation operating times, deep cleaning filters, and replacing filters more often. Cutting corners on anything which reduces the risk of virus spread will only be a greater loss to the client All of these can potentially see an increase in time and cost required by the client at a time where many companies have been stretched financially. Cutting corners on anything which reduces the risk of virus spread will only be a greater loss to the client in the long run if their employees lose time to illness but it still may be a temptation. Strong working partnership FM providers must work closely with clients to understand their individual fears and needs in such turbulent times. For Anabas, we believe demonstrating expertise and experience is a means of reassuring organizations that they are in safe hands. The future of the pandemic is still unpredictable. While its elimination is hopeful, it is still well worth the investment for many organizations to install the tools which minimize the risk of infection of COVID-19 - or any future infections. Clients are looking for certainty in an uncertain world and data-driven insights and real-time monitoring are ideal ways to provide this. However, the reassurance that comes with a strong working partnership will also be more important than ever. Communicating developments and what they mean for the client, as well as assuring them their priorities are understood can set a provider apart.
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.
Having spent the last few months working from our sofas, dining tables and ironing boards, many of us have become accustomed to the world of remote working. But we’ve now arrived at a point where many businesses are starting to reopen their doors or have plans to do so in the near-future. Employers will be hoping that a return to work will prove productive, reinvigorating the workforce and driving growth. To this end, however, they will need to instill confidence by demonstrating how they can keep employees safe and comfortable. Bringing employees back to work will be complex. For a start, businesses have had to implement a large number of new safety measures in response to COVID-19. However, ensuring safety in the workplace goes beyond adhering to social distancing measures and anti-bacterial cleaning stations. Behind the scenes, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) play a crucial role in facilitating a safe workspace. Whether it’s the systems implemented to limit the spread of the virus, the ongoing servicing of these systems or their wider environmental impact, HVAC solutions and facilities managers (FMs) rest at the heart of a safer return to work. Embracing new strategies for clean air Walking in the building through a new automatic door, most office workers will be greeted with a queue for the lifts and plenty of signage reminding you to sanitise your hands and keep your distance. Some may have their body temperature scanned by a thermal detection camera on entry, which could also count how many people enter to ensure numbers are safe. Others could be met with an anti-virus access point that scans your face using facial recognition rather than a pass, and enforces hand hygiene by dispensing sanitiser before the lifts will open. Behind the scenes, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) play a crucial role in facilitating a safe workspace All of these measures, however strict, are part of the new normal: ‘contactless’ buildings. Designed to limit the potential spread of COVID-19, facilities managers have plenty of options when it comes to keeping people safe. But not all of them are so apparent when entering a building. Some of the most important measures are those we can’t see. A healthy and safe working environment has always relied on a building’s HVAC infrastructure – temperature control, good air flow, and a reliable level of comfort are top of most office workers’ priority lists. But the pandemic has taken this to a new level of importance. As a critical part of their wider health and safety plan, facilities managers can look to identify strategies to increase clean air levels further. This could include increasing outdoor air circulation to decrease pathogen exposure, with smart air handling units. These will enable managers to bring in more outside air to displace potentially contaminated air, by increasing ventilation and air change rates. Improving Filtration Methods Improving filtration methods is another possibility, by adding additional filters including high efficiency filters and HEPA filters, to trap more particles and increase the percentage of clean air in a building. Portable HEPA solutions are also an option for those who need more flexibility. In addition to air filtration and circulation, it is also possible to use UV-C lighting to effectively ‘disinfect’ the air or surfaces, using ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) to inactivate viral microorganisms. These can be installed brand new or retrofitted into existing facilities, to reduce costs for FMs and speed up implementation. These innovative uses of HVAC to limit the spread of infection could have a huge impact on the health and safety of occupants in any building – and this is by no means limited to offices. Within healthcare and laboratory facilities, for example, solutions like room pressurisation, air change rates, humidity and temperature controls are all critical to reduce contamination in the air and on surfaces. A healthy and safe working environment has always relied on a building’s HVAC infrastructure Safety is an ongoing process No matter which HVAC solutions a facilities manager chooses, it’s not a case of installing them and then waving goodbye. As with any good health and safety strategy, constant monitoring is crucial to ensure building occupants are well looked-after – and this also ensures you can get the most out of HVAC investments. For some this means keeping a close eye on how your HVAC equipment runs, to ensure that they’re reaching optimum performance and delivering the best ROI. Working with a partner who can provide continuous service and monitoring is critical, so that the pressure is off FMs themselves. Especially now, having remote monitoring capabilities is an added bonus, so that minor issues can be fixed without an engineer having to visit the site. For those with smart technologies in place, such as smart connected chillers, FMs may rather be reliant on predictive maintenance and monitoring tools, which use AI and automation to predict issues before they arise, and ensure equipment runs reliably and downtime can be minimised. Whether in person or remotely, good quality service and maintenance of HVAC equipment goes a long way – both to get the best return on investment, and to keep buildings as safe and comfortable as possible. Enabling a smarter and more sustainable workplace HVAC has always been critical to keeping employees happy and healthy at work – but for a long time this has had a negative impact on the planet. Inefficient HVAC systems can give a building a much bigger carbon footprint than it would ideally have. 75% of organizations plan to increase their investment in energy efficiency and smart building technologies Last year, our Energy Efficiency Indicator survey found that 75% of organizations plan to increase their investment in energy efficiency and smart building technologies. The opportunity, then, to overhaul HVAC systems in order to limit the spread of COVID-19 is also an opportunity to invest in more efficient, greener HVAC technologies, built for the future. Taking a holistic approach to your HVAC equipment is the best way to do this, to ensure efficiency gains can be made across an entire building or estate, by connecting intelligent systems. Chillers, for example, with efficiency and intelligence built in as standard can reduce energy use and carbon emissions for a building, or collection of buildings, helping FMs meet energy targets and keeping costs low. Choosing the optimal HVAC system Under current circumstances, the decisions made by FMs are pivotal in enabling business continuity and will ultimately impact building occupants’ comfort and safety. It should therefore come as no surprise that businesses are paying close attention to every move FMs make. Choosing the optimal HVAC system for your building and ensuring regular servicing and maintenance will prove cost-effective and energy efficient. Not only this, but smart HVAC technologies go a long way in enabling a safer, productive and more sustainable working environment. By picking the right tools for the job, businesses of every type can position themselves for growth while remaining as safe and secure as possible.