Sustainability specialist and Senior Partner, Laura Mansel-Thomas, recently joined an expert panel to discuss Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) which has become one of the biggest talking points in the industry and beyond due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The importance of having properly designed mechanical ventilation installed and maintained in commercial and residential buildings, in order to provide sophisticated and effective airflow which matches occupancy rates and helps to reduce transmission of airborne diseases, has been put firmly under the spotlight over the last two years – perhaps for the first time.
The examination has revealed a litany of pre-existing problems and challenges that require joined-up approaches and solutions.
Barriers to investment in ventilation in public and private sectors range from legislation and incentives to budgets, space and identifying responsibility. But the benefits are clear: better health and wellbeing for residents, higher productivity and motivation among staff, improved energy-efficiency for landlords – and a more welcoming environment to work, live and play.
Laura Mansel-Thomas was invited to appear as a guest speaker at a webinar entitled Delivering Air Quality for Healthier Buildings hosted by ZIEHL-ABEGG, a German-based leading manufacturer of fans for ventilation and air conditioning applications.
What is necessary to achieve IAQ, what have we learnt from the pandemic, and how can IAQ and energy efficiency go together, were all debated.
“I think there is an important responsibility put on engineers in the UK by the Engineering Council to ‘do the right thing’ over and above existing regulations and we all have a duty to improve the quality of the built environment,” Laura told the webinar, held in January 2022.
“Designers could also provide better influence by informing their clients and project stakeholders more proactively about the benefits of improved IAQ.
“For example, at schools and universities, better IAQ would lead to improved cognitive function and educational performance, which would later translate into improved reputation from stronger examination results.
“In a similar context for commercial applications, good ventilation design leads to improved worker productivity and improved wellness, with less downtime due to illness.”
On the topic of temporary or low-cost effective measures, such as CO2 monitors in educational settings, Laura said: “The quantity and location of monitoring equipment such as sensors and controls is equally important. The Government’s response has been to provide CO2 monitors to some schools around the country.
“However, they might be placed somewhere near the teacher for ease of access, or near a window or ventilation outlet away from easy tampering, and we can easily see how this could give reassuringly low readings, while there may be stagnant air pockets towards the rear of a classroom or in the centre of a densely occupied zone.
“We also need to ensure that the air distribution and movement within the space is efficient and effective: sensors might tell us we are hitting targets but that would be undone by poor air distribution design.”
When asked for Covid ventilation lessons, Laura explained: “The public has learnt that our buildings are not the safe havens they thought they were. The wellbeing and wellness agenda was already starting to address this but it is being brought very quickly into the mainstream by Covid and also by a changing public mindset around health, diet, climate change and so on.
“We therefore need a holistic approach that is both intuitive and easy to understand for building design, technology, wellbeing and real sustainability in the built environment. This would result in buildings that work for, rather than against, those who occupy them.
“A great example is classrooms with crossflow ventilation via clerestory and low-level windows. This was becoming standard until incredibly tight budgets pushed us towards single-sided ventilation which needs complex controls to correct a poor initial design solution.”
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