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HVAC, and how can making it SMART create a Healthier Workspace?

20 Jan 2022

HVAC, meaning heating, ventilation and air conditioning, plays a fundamental role in any building or workspace. But exactly what is HVAC, how does it differ from air conditioning, and how does it work? Here we set out to explain the ins and outs of HVAC, whilst also introducing the concept of smart HVAC, and how it can aid the creation of a healthier workspace.

What does HVAC stand for?

HVAC stands for heating, ventilation and air conditioning. Sometimes you may see the term HVAC-R, which adds the word ‘refrigeration’ into the mix, and this will generally apply to commercial organisations that have industrial-sized refrigerators installed.

HVAC is basically climate control for a building. Whilst it applies to the heating and cooling of the air, it is also concerned with indoor air quality (IAQ). The main purpose of HVAC is to maintain good indoor air quality through adequate ventilation, and to provide thermal comfort, either by cooling or heating a space.

What is an HVAC system made up of and how does it work?

It is useful to know, what is an HVAC system?

HVAC systems tend to include:

  • Some form of heating system, which could be a boiler or heat pump
  • An air conditioning system
  • A network of ducts and moisture vents

Sometimes the components of an HVAC system will operate independently of each other, although mostly they will work in unison.

The concept at the heart of the HVAC system involves fresh air being sourced and brought in from outside courtesy of natural or mechanical ventilation.

Those commercial buildings that lack opening windows will rely on mechanical ventilation systems, where the incoming air is filtered and then routed to wherever it is needed most, whether that is for heating or cooling. Dust, allergens and other particles will all be removed to help purify the air and improve indoor air quality.

The importance of adequate ventilation in the workplace, and the role of HVAC

It is vital that a building’s HVAC system operates at an optimum level. Adequate ventilation plays an important role here, getting rid of excess heat, and allowing for moisture to escape so that the building environment does not become overly humid.

Whilst a certain degree of humidity is important for health and comfort, too much humidity can exacerbate dust allergies, cause skin irritation and respiratory infections, and worsen symptoms of rheumatoid diseases. It can also encourage the growth of mould and give bugs the opportunity to thrive. By the same token, too little humidity can cause dry skin, sore and irritated eyes, difficulty breathing and painful sinuses.

There is no set legislation regarding workplace humidity, although it is generally recommended that levels should sit between 40 and 70 per cent.

Humidity isn’t the only issue that can negatively affect workplace well-being. Poor air quality caused by the likes of cleaning products, inbound pollutants, viruses and emissions from appliances and office equipment, can lead to all sorts of ill health symptoms, from headaches and sore throats to fatigue and difficulty concentrating.

Whatever the issue affecting indoor air quality, employers need to be mindful of the effect it is having on their workforce, on staff comfort and morale, and on productivity. Staff absence and, in the long term, staff retention, could suffer due to a lack of workplace comfort and downfalls in creating a healthy place to work.

So with HVAC meaning covered, it’s time to look at how SMART HVAC is revolutionising the way indoor air quality is managed and helping to create the ideal healthy building, whilst at the same time playing a vital role in building energy management and aiding the fight against climate change.

What is SMART HVAC and how does it benefit the workplace?

A smart HVAC system has the ability to cut energy consumption and enhance workplace comfort by monitoring and improving indoor air quality.

Air quality monitoring

A smart HVAC system is powered by Internet of Things technology. It involves a network of interconnected motion and noise detectors, humidity sensors, thermometers, geo-fencing and location indicators, together with real time weather data fed in from the internet.

All of this information is funnelled into a central platform, where artificial intelligence and machine learning combine to formulate automated changes to the HVAC system, making adjustments in line with changing environmental conditions, as well as reacting to indoor air quality fluctuations.

As well as making automated changes to keep indoor air quality balanced, a smart HVAC system will also relay valuable data to facilities managers, who will then be able to make informed decisions as to the need for investment in the likes of dehumidifiers or humidifiers; to look at whether to repair or replace appliances, plant and office equipment that are presenting emissions levels above what they should be and to investigate the efficiency of current ventilation systems.

Personal climate control

A study by the University of Birmingham revealed the importance of being able to adapt to changing workplace conditions, showing that different people will have different reactions to varying levels of temperature and humidity in the workplace.

Allowing individuals control over their own personal workspace is the perfect scenario, providing not just physical well-being benefits, but also enhanced mental health and increased productivity.

Smart HVAC, when used alongside a building management system (BMS), has the ability to boost personal workspace comfort. Smart HVAC makes it possible for users to tailor their own individual climatic conditions to suit their preferences, as well as current weather conditions and the task at hand. What’s more, the system learns from user input so, as individuals add their preferences, any future automated adjustments will be directly aligned with user needs.

Energy management

Energy efficient buildings are vital when it comes to the fight against climate change. Buildings are responsible for over a third of global final energy use, and 39 per cent of energy and process-related carbon dioxide emissions. HVAC systems are known to contribute considerably towards global warming, accounting for over 40 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions. So how to make buildings more energy efficient?

Smart HVAC is the answer. With such a system, it is possible to monitor individual spaces via Internet of Things connected sensors, setting automations to switch off the heating and air conditioning where it is detected that rooms are not occupied; turning down heating where the ambient temperature has risen or switching off air conditioning where it has dropped. All of this reduces waste, considerably.

How can Smart Spaces improve the efficiency of a building’s HVAC system?

Smart Spaces is an Internet of things powered, app-based platform that can automatically control the HVAC element of a building management system, allowing managers to analyse, regulate and maintain healthy indoor air quality, and closely monitor and reduce energy consumption.

By way of a ‘digital twin’ visualisation platform, a 3D replica of the building can be used to see precisely what needs to be done to achieve the most optimised working conditions.

Even better, courtesy of a smartphone app, users get to control their own individual workplace conditions. Machine learning stores personal preferences and creates pre-sets for particular tasks, times of day and environmental conditions.

Interested in discovering how Smart Spaces could benefit your workspace?

Request a free demo or get in touch to discover how Smart Spaces could help you improve the efficiency of your HVAC system, and bring numerous other benefits with it.

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