The online newspapers that serve the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) industry are full of tales of the latest government regulations and product launches. However, something equally telling happened recently, in Tring, of all places, and it didn’t receive the level of coverage it perhaps should have.
A company that provides interior air testing services, in this case for domestic locations, was launching its latest offering. No one ever went broke by provoking anxiety in the public, and it looks like the latest preoccupation for householders is going to be the quality of air in their houses.
This will undoubtedly spread to offices and commercial locations such as hotels, shops and restaurants. Hotels, especially newer ones, may find themselves at the centre of growing public unease. The public has always been suspicious of hotel rooms that have windows that don’t open and these are growing more common in new hotel buildings, with fresh air being provided by the air conditioning system.
So the HVAC engineer of the future may not simply be providing fresh air at the right temperature and humidity throughout a building. It may be the case that just as we currently monitor air temperature, the coming generation of HVAC systems will routinely monitor allergens, moulds and other airborne matter.
What are people concerned about?
Toxins, apparently. This somewhat vague term is often used to cover any unwelcome presence in our home or food. However, there is some justification for this. Concerns cluster around the following pollutants:
– Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are found in some air fresheners, paints and other products – though it has to be said, in far lower quantities than was the case previously.
– Gases such as carbon monoxide and dioxide
– Particulates found in fibres and dusts
– Biological pollutants such as dust mites, mould or fungi
Air quality monitoring used to be a rather time-consuming and tedious process that had to be carried out using hand-held monitors. However, it can now be achieved by sensors that send information back to a central monitoring point. It’s highly likely that in future, this kind of setup will be a part of new HVAC systems designed for offices and other workplaces.
Building regulations specify the adequate fresh air rate for buildings, and set the levels for various pollutants – most obviously, carbon monoxide. There are also health and safety regulations that set these standards.
End-to-end control of pollutants is an HVAC system challenge. It requires the HVAC system to prevent pollutants entering the building, register if they are in the air and use appropriate ventilation technology to control them if they are detected.
The problem will come when new materials are used in buildings, and these are subsequently discovered to be toxic. HVAC engineers could find themselves frequently revisiting buildings with upgrades to monitors and filters to control pollutants that weren’t known about when the system was originally designed.