Future-Proof Your Indoor Air: The Role of Cost-effective Ventilation

Posted 17 December, 2021 — HVAC Trends

 

Like never before, facility operators are working to improve the quality of the air in their building. While ventilation – or air changes per hour inside a building – play a critical role in this effort, it’s often thought that increased ventilation is too costly. Luckily, that’s not true.

In fact, you can simultaneously ventilate your building, reduce your energy costs and future-proof your building for unforeseen pandemics. How? By incorporating energy recovery ventilation into your HVAC system.

So, let’s break down why it’s effective, how it works with other technologies, and whether it’s a good fit for your facility.

First, some background

Traditionally, buildings were designed to exhaust air at multiple points. Those points include everything from doors and windows to seams in the building. The problem is that’s a horribly inefficient way to regulate air exchanges and doesn’t allow you to effectively manage – or increase – the air flow into and out of your building.

With that methodology the thinking was to keep air in the building to avoid having to reheat or recondition fresh air coming in from the outside – and therefore keep energy costs down. Then, the pandemic hit.

Whether it’s ASHRAE or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, credible agencies have stated that improving indoor air quality plays a role in reducing illness caused by airborne pathogens. With an increasing focus on having “cleaner” air inside facilities, engineers, facility managers and others have been tasked with figuring out how to do it in the most effective way possible.

 

So, why ventilation?

A minimum number of air changes per hour ensures that your facility is constantly replacing potentially infected air with fresh air from the outside. Of course, the trouble with this for most facility managers is that it can become costly. Or at least that’s the perception.

But ventilation plays a critical role as it helps dilute the air. Every time you exchange the air, you cut the amount of airborne contaminants approximately in half, according to Chris Glover, an engineer and director of energy recovery restoration at Airxchange, which makes some of the most reliable, easy-to-maintain energy recovery wheels in the world. That knowledge is based on math from a standard dilution curve, but we’ll spare you the technical details.

Here’s where energy recovery ventilation becomes so important. Integrating energy recovery into your HVAC system allows you to recycle 70 to 80% of heat or cooling from air leaving the building. The recovery system then transfers that energy into the fresh air entering your building. Voila. This alone will drop energy costs roughly 40%, making ventilation viable for you.

“Why turn ventilation down when you have a technology that can let you achieve air changes per hour cost effectively?” Glover said.

 

Energy recovery: One part of the equation

A lot of attention has been given to filtration and UV disinfection. The reason, most likely, is because they’re relatively simple to incorporate into a building. For the most part, each is plug and play.

Both are notable and play important roles in improving air quality but neither gets at the root problem: Needing to swap stale air for fresh air.

Incorporating proper ventilation has an additive effect. When combined with UV and filtration, ventilation can significantly improve air quality.

“If you strike one out of the equation, now you have to increase the others to increase indoor air quality, which is inefficient,” Glover said. “It’s better to make sure each is optimized and working in concert, like a true system.”

Who is energy recovery right for?

In general, we find the best time to work an energy recovery system into your facility is during a retrofit or overhaul of your existing HVAC, or when you’re building a new facility and starting from scratch. The reason is it’s not as simple as plugging something into the wall, but the long-term benefits are significant when it comes to air quality and savings.

An energy recovery ventilator works in all geographies and climates, but you’ll see the most savings when conditions are extreme. That’s because energy recovery wheels – the backbone of the system – work better when the air is incredibly hot, cold or humid.

“You can place these in a range of environments and if you have dramatic swings in temperature or humidity, an energy recovery system will help you maintain consistent indoor conditions without having to spend a ton more in energy costs,” Glover said.

 

That’s great, but what about maintenance?

Lastly, one question that often pops is this: Aren’t energy recovery wheels tough to maintain within the system?

That’s a misconception Airxchange has worked to disprove for more than 30 years. Their wheels are made of polymer, which provides multiple maintenance benefits. Debris doesn’t easily damage them, they’re truly segmented so you can remove them to clean them, and they’re built with some of the most reliable components on the market.

“If you’re not considering energy recovery because you think the maintenance of the wheel will be an issue, I assure you we have addressed – and solved – the issue,” Glover said.

Want to learn more about how energy recovery ventilation works, and why it’s effective? Send us a note.