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Winds of change blowing through ventilation sector

While the year may still be relatively young, Steve Mongan is looking ahead to the future and how regulations planned for 2018 are already shaping the ventilation industry
For years, the Government's drive to create a more carbon responsible society through efficiency targets has pushed companies towards embracing more efficient technology. But with new regulations constantly being brought into effect, commercial landlords and public buildings need to be aware of forthcoming rules that could potentially threaten the rentability of commercial properties.

With the passing of the Energy Act in 2011, which specifies that it will be unlawful to rent out any commercial property if it fails to reach a minimum energy efficiency standard by 2018, commercial properties and public spaces were put on notice to improve their efficiency or face potentially becoming un-rentable.
Whilst the final details of this are yet to be issued, it is likely this will mean that properties will have to achieve an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of at least E by April that year.

Currently, 'conditioned' commercial buildings over 50sqm will require an Energy Performance Certificate that conforms to the impending 2018 regulations. However, with much of the public building stock dating back to previous centuries, and despite efforts that have been made to improve the efficiency of these buildings, they are still the most at risk of failing to meet regulations.

It is currently estimated that commercial properties and public buildings are responsible for in excess of 40% of the UK's property energy usage and are concurrently accountable for the same number of climate-changing carbon emissions, whilst 18% of the current commercial stock fall into the failing F and G bands, a figure which is set to rise before the impending regulations are enforced.

With such a diverse range of commercial and public buildings, it highlights just how big an issue this is. The fact that the regulations have yet to be fully defined shouldn't detract from the fact that property owners need to be aware and start taking action now to ensure their properties conform to regulatory requirements.

The ventilation industry has responded well to create energy solutions that meet and exceed legislative requirements. Manufacturers have been producing solutions that work in accordance with the regulations both in the present and when the 2018 changes come into effect.

Whilst there has been a gradual steering towards EC motors and green technology, it will be vitally important for the continuing success of any manufacturer to ensure its products are up to date so they don't get left behind.

The increasing number of efficiency regulations along with the demand for lower carbon technologies, has resulted in a shift from traditional extract ventilation to a solutions approach in recent times, specifically signifying a rise in the adoption of Mechanical Ventilation with Heat Recovery (MVHR) and Demand Control Ventilation (DCV). Other developments include the introduction of a range of sophisticated controls options, along with AC motors being replaced with DC and EC motors, which use less energy and last longer.

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.

Reducing heating costs
The system is able to recover up to 95% of the heat that would otherwise be lost, reduce heating costs and ease environmental pressures whilst providing unparalleled indoor air quality (IAQ).

DCV uses 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.

The constantly adapting nature of the system results in subtle continual changes to meet the needs and capacity of the environment, producing savings whilst ensuring optimal air quality. This means that there is less waste in commercial, industrial and school applications.

The efficiency of MVHR and DCV systems, plus the benefits of the solution as outlined above, undoubtedly give it the potential to develop into the industry standard for the future.

One stumbling block for the 2018 regulations is that they have come under fire from many within the ventilation industry for a lack of clarity. Under the regulations as they stand, 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 what the final efficiency requirements will be, there is understandably confusion within the industry and the Government must address this before the 2018 implementation date.

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

Product investment alone is not enough and companies must therefore develop training to help installers and specifiers develop their knowledge of changes within the market. Training courses are essential to improving contractor and specifier knowledge, so they are able to quickly and easily keep up to date with legislative changes and developments in ventilation products.

The important thing now is for the ventilation industry and the commercial industry to work together, not only to design and install solutions that will meet and exceed the requirements of the EPC for 2018. As the drive for efficiency is set to continue, the benefits of systems like MVHR and DCV are undeniable.

Whilst 2018 may seem a long way off, getting properties up to the required levels could take a great deal of time depending on which efficiency band they are currently in - so it's never too early to start.

Overall, 2012 was a difficult year for the construction sector with 2013 looking to follow suit. The next few years will be pivotal for the success and growth of the 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 the current regulation changes, but those for years to come.

//The author is head of marketing at Xpelair //
17 April 2013

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