News & Views

Air Con and Refrigeration Efficiency in the Built Environment

Whilst a good deal of work has gone into making new buildings energy efficient (GBCA, NABERS), it is clear that a proportionate effort has not been made to address the existing building stock. At the same time the technology impacting HVACR energy efficiency is changing rapidly. The leading rating systems have yet to recognise the importance of embracing the full range of opportunities to optimise outcomes from an HVACR energy efficiency and emissions reduction point of view.

Whilst a good deal of work has gone into making new buildings energy efficient (GBCA, NABERS), it is clear that a proportionate effort has not been made to address the existing building stock. At the same time the technology impacting HVACR energy efficiency is changing rapidly. The leading rating systems have yet to recognise the importance of embracing the full range of opportunities to optimise outcomes from an HVACR energy efficiency and emissions reduction point of view.

Read more from the original article...

There are major energy savings available from air conditioning and refrigeration (HVACR) in Australia, in the order of $10 billion per year.

Accessing these savings requires significant changes in the way we design and manage for HVACR energy efficiency in all uses of HVACR and across the entire built environment; residential, commercial, industrial.

HVACR is of course pervasive:

  • There are about 53 million individual HVACR installations in Australia, worth about $100 billion in current dollars

  • They consume at least 23 per cent of the electricity we generate ($14 billion per annum)

  • They generate 12 to 14 per cent of national greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions

Are Critical IEQ Problems in Schools Being Overlooked?

The measurement and focus of indoor environment quality [IEQ] is not new. But when it comes to schools, it seems that targeting the performance of our teachers is far easier than the quality of the built environment and its IEQ.

IEQ in commercial office buildings has been getting all the press recently, particularly as it relates to the emergence of building rating tools such as NABERS Indoor Environment, WELL Building Standard, Green Star Performance and others.

The World Green Building Council released a significant report in September last year, Health, Wellbeing and Productivity in Offices: The next chapter for green building, which has generated further interest across the property and construction industry.

But it can be argued that it is schools, together with healthcare, which have the biggest implications when it comes to the difference between a good and a poor performing IEQ. Students spend on average six hours a day, five days a week, 40 weeks a year, for at approximately 13 years in classrooms. The performance of these spaces is critical to their development.

Ventilation and carbon dioxide

ASHRAE 62 recommends a maximum 1000 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 for indoor environments and many commercial office buildings will target levels closer to 650 ppm, but according to Jack Noonan, senior consultant at technical risk management consultancy CETEC, they have recently measured levels in schools which far exceed this.

“Poor ventilation allows CO2 and indoor air contaminants to accumulate in occupied spaces,” he said. “There have been a number of schools where we have measured carbon dioxide levels (as a proxy for ventilation effectiveness) at approximately 3,000 ppm. These have generally been occupied classrooms, often in winter, where the classrooms are closed off and clearly not adequately ventilated.”

These targeted levels for office buildings are considered to assist with employee concentration, strategy, performance and productivity. In fact, the 2012 study Is CO2 an indoor pollutant? Direct effects of low-to-moderate CO2 concentrations on human decision-making performance by Satish et al found that as levels increased from 600 ppm to 1,000 ppm to 2,500 ppm, there were statistically significant decreases in office performance; in some cases task performance was classified as "dysfunctional" at levels of 2,500 ppm.

Diagram shows direct effects of low-to-moderate CO2 concentrations on human decision-making performance

“Despite this, we are subjecting our students to carbon dioxide levels which are beyond 3,000 ppm and then telling them that they need to improve their focus, attention, and grades so that they can compete against our international counterparts in terms of literacy and other standards,” said Noonan.

Data compiled from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, OSHA, NIOSH, and ACGIH found that a level of 1,000 ppm "indicates inadequate ventilation; complaints such as headaches, fatigue, and eye and throat irritation will be more widespread; 1,000 ppm should be used as an upper limit for indoor levels" and levels between 2,000 and 5,000 ppm are "...associated with headaches, sleepiness, and stagnant, stale, stuffy air. Poor concentration, loss of attention, increased heart rate and slight nausea may also be present."

The authors of Is CO2 an indoor pollutant? Direct effects of low-to-moderate CO2 concentrations on human decision-making performance also contend that the impact of 2,500 ppm of carbon dioxide is roughly equivalent to a 0.08 blood alcohol concentration - beyond the 0.05 limit for driving in Victoria.

So what are typical CO2 levels in classrooms? A 2002 study of 120 classrooms in Texas found that 88 per cent of classrooms exceeded 1,000 ppm and, alarmingly, 21 per cent of classrooms exceeded 3,000 ppm.

“The focus on reducing class sizes should not just be about greater interaction between a teacher and their student,” said Noonan. “It should also be about keeping carbon dioxide levels low. Furthermore, a greater focus on adequate ventilation should also assist with this.”

Volatile organic compounds

Noonan adds that an additional consequence of poor ventilation is the accumulation of other indoor air contaminants such as volatile organic compounds, including formaldehyde.

VOCs can be found in a range of building and maintenance products used in classrooms including carpets, vinyl, paints, sealants, plastics, timber products, furniture, electronics, cleaning agents and many others.

The toxicity of VOCs vary. Many are known to have significant health effects: some are known irritants and others are known to cause cancer (carcinogenic), mutations, and other undesirable effects. In outdoor environments, VOCs may be easily dispersed before causing health effects, but in a closed, poorly ventilated space like a classroom in winter, VOCs can accumulate and create a health hazard.

In addition to significant health effects, a team at the University of California, Berkeley, led by Bill Fisk has found cognitive declines associated with exposure to VOCs that are at levels typical of an office that had been renovated in the past year

“There have been a number of schools within Australia which have previously had and subsequently rectified issues associated with VOCs,” said Noonan. “With a stronger focus on material selection and IAQ management, we hope that these issues continue to decline.”

Microbial Contaminants

Another major issue is the capacity of indoor air to spread viral and bacterial infections, with mould growth a particular contributing factor.

There is an increasing prevalence of chronic health conditions such as asthma, allergies and other sensitivities. Asthma is the leading cause of absenteeism in US school children.

A 2003 study found that the effects of mould contaminated schools in the US included significant immediate allergic reactions in students and teachers. Furthermore, more than two years after the exposure ended, many of these students and teachers continued to have reactions that were not present prior to the exposure.

“This has significant implications for our schools as our climate warms and there are more flooding events,” said Noonan. “The risk of mould issues in classrooms will increase and with it the consequences for the health of our school children.”

This issue is global.

A new World Health Organisation report has found poor indoor school environments to be a particular problem in many countries in the WHO European region, with issues including stuffy air, dampness and mould, uncomfortable temperatures and poorly functioning toilets.

Although the report says most high-income countries have policies to improve indoor air quality in schools, including ventilation standards, poor ventilation and stuffy air in classrooms, especially during the cold season, remains a common problem. This is having negative effects on respiratory health, absenteeism, academic performance and the well-being of pupils.

Exposure to mould and dampness is also common in some countries, while improving sanitation and hygiene in schools remains a challenge in countries with limited resources. Poor infrastructure and inadequate maintenance of facilities are reasons behind pupils' low satisfaction with toilets and hygiene facilities and their scarce use of them.

"Our analysis shows substantial environmental problems in schools, which are largely overlooked. We hope that decision-makers take stock of the evidence and make sure that existing norms and regulations are implemented," said Dr Marco Martuzzi, program manager, Environmental Health Intelligence and Forecasting at WHO/Europe.

Source: Justin McGar,

Air pollution killing 4000 in China a day

AIR pollution is killing about 4000 people in China a day, accounting for one in six premature deaths in the world's most populous country, a new study finds.

PHYSICISTS at the University of California, Berkeley, calculated that about 1.6 million people in China die each year from heart, lung and stroke problems because of incredibly polluted air, especially small particles of haze.

Earlier studies put the annual Chinese air pollution death toll at one to two million, but this is the first to use newly released Chinese air monitoring figures.

The study released on Thursday blamed emissions from the burning of coal, both for electricity and heating homes.

The study, to be published in the journal PLOS One, uses real air measurements and then computer model calculations that estimate heart, lung and stroke deaths for different types of pollutants.

Study lead author Robert Rohde said that 38 per cent of the Chinese population lives in an area with a long-term air quality average that the US Environmental Protection Agency calls "unhealthy".

"It's a very big number," Rohde said. "It's a little hard to wrap your mind around the numbers. Some of the worst in China is to the southwest of Beijing."

To put Chinese air pollution in perspective, the most recent American Lung Association data shows that Madera, California, has the highest annual average for small particles in the United States. But 99.9 per cent of the eastern half of China has a higher annual average for small particle haze than Madera, Rohde said.

"In other words, nearly everyone in China experiences air that is worse for particulates than the worst air in the US," Rohde said.


Five Steps to Solving the IEQ Problem in Schools

There are various problems and challenges facing schools when it comes to indoor environment quality. The effects on the health and performance of our children are clear. So how do we go about solving these critical issues?

ASHRAE 62 recommends a maximum 1,000 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide (CO2) for indoor environments and many commercial office buildings will target levels closer to 650 ppm, but according to Jack Noonan, senior consultant at technical risk management consultancy CETEC, they have recently measured levels in schools which far exceed this.

“In Australia we are subjecting our students to carbon dioxide levels which are beyond 3,000 ppm and then telling them that they need to improve their focus, attention, and grades so that they can compete against our international counterparts in terms of literacy and other standards,” said Noonan. Read the full article here.

IAQ Compromised by Current Air Conditioning Systems

Ignoring Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) is dangerous. In China, it is estimated that 3 million children under the age of five die from respiratory problems caused by both indoor and outdoor air. Although the design and technology of air conditioning systems has advanced, the way they deliver air has not. An Australian innovation aims to change that.

Many indoor areas are air conditioned with either an evaporated or refrigerated air conditioning system. The evaporator provides air with a moisture content (around 45 per cent is healthy and recommended) and is usually released from the indoor space through an open window. It is basically outdoor air blown through wet pads to produce a cooling effect.

The refrigerated air is cooled by gas and may be released from the room in the same manner as evaporated air, or it can be recycled. It is totally dry air that can cause dry skin, sore throats and stinging eyes. Releasing air through windows and open doors can be a security problem or it may allow polluted air from outside to enter the indoor space.

In most cases, recycled air is dirty air. The already polluted indoor air is drawn through a filter before cooling and being sent back into the same indoor space it came from. The need for constant vigilance in cleaning filters or replacing them on a very regular cycle will help, but this is often ignored. Therefore, Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) is totally compromised by air-conditioning systems which have progressed in their designs and technology but still deliver the air product in the same manner as they did over 60 years ago.

The problem, according to Stuart M Innes, director of SISACS, is that manufacturers are generally focused on the product and the technology they incorporate rather the air itself.

“Acknowledging the known issues with air-conditioners is the first step to superior IAQ,” he said. “Ideally, owners of air conditioners should be able to expect the delivery of the 'air' product to be constantly 100 per cent clean, free from germs and pollutants whilst providing the appropriate moisture content. C02 should be, by preference, in the area of 300 to 400 parts per million or less.”

The current status is that the already poor quality “air” product is delivered either directly from a wall mounted unit or through a diffuser mounted in the ceiling. It may also come from a window installation or from a unit mounted on the floor against a wall. This random air-conditioning delivery system, Innes says, is badly flawed in that it has no logical methodology for the “air” to be efficiently delivered and used or for the internal air to be effectively removed.

The SISACS innovation addresses this issue.

“Physics tells us that hot air always sits above cool air,” said Innes. “It is therefore reasonable to believe that the 'air' product should always be delivered at floor level. If this is the case then it is also reasonable to believe that the existing and polluted warm air in the room should be removed at ceiling height. If the room is to be warmed then the opposite delivery method would apply.”

By extracting the air being constantly introduced into the indoor area at the same time and at the same rate of litres per second into the ceiling cavity, the internal space is constantly being supplied with clean fresh air while simultaneously having the air extracted. The ceiling cavity receiving the air which has only been in the internal space a very short period of time will still be cool and help maintain effective insulation. For this method to work, the ceiling space is simultaneously evacuated as well.

The end result is that all airborne germs and other allergens or particulates, including leeching chemicals, are constantly being swept from the indoor air space while being replaced with healthy new air.

As the world’s first hybrid air handler using both evaporative and refrigeration to cool, there are also energy saving benefits. If the system is operating in evaporative mode and the relative humidity has risen to a level where cooling is compromised, it will automatically shift into refrigeration mode. The dual operation saves energy while saving on water usage from mains supply.

IAQ is not complete without a method of addressing CO2 buildup, which will occur no matter how well filtered the air is. SISACS has introduced a method of CO2 capture from ambient air utilising a patented sorbent on a frame attached to the induction part of the air handler, which has the ability to remove more than 60 per cent of the CO2 being inducted into the air handler. The 'air' product is now not only pure with its filtration process but it is scrubbing the inducted air to provide air quality with a low CO2 level, which in turn is being constantly removed from the internal air space, thereby eliminating any build up.

Australia generally has around 400 parts per million of CO2 in its ambient air but this figure can vary considerably due to many issues. Overseas countries can constantly see Co2 levels above 800 parts per million or more.

“Harvesting CO2 from ambient air utilising a sorbent has been possible for some time but the energy required to move ambient air has always discouraged innovators,” explained Innes. “They have opted for the easy harvesting of CO2 from thermal power chimneys and others.”

“We are now able to capture food grade CO2 which has a value in two directions,” he continued. “One is the carbon points able to be accessed and traded on the carbon exchange and the other is the provision of CO2 for algae ponds to fast grow bio diesel or spirulina. The process can be fast-tracked using the right CO2 in algae ponds by up to 300 per cent.”

The CO2 frames designed for SISACS can be attached to other air conditioning brands or anything with an operating fan. There are about 53 million individual HVACR installations in Australia generating about 12 to 14 per cent of national greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It is estimated that should each machine be installed with these filters, the carbon abatement required by Australia by 2020 would be achieved just through this method of CO2 capture.

When the frames are full, they are easily replaced and the CO2 can then be harvested with a heat process and the frame reused again. There is no limit to the longevity of the Co2 sorbent within the frame.

“There is no reason why the collection and redistribution of CO2 frames could not be a council operation that follows the same model as recycling,” said Innes.

Source article by Justin McGar

Healthcare Design to Combat Infection

The focus on infection control and prevention in healthcare design is intensifying.

Hand sanitisers mounted to walls throughout healthcare precincts aren't cutting it. Neither are the disposable gloves, as both of these rely on self-initiated human activity.

Designers are now exploring more automated ways to combat bacteria through isolation units, technology applications, infection-reducing materials and greening spaces.

Most recently, the design elements within healthcare facilities for Ebola have been heavily documented. The illness has sparked an urgent enquiry for safer, infection-controlled healthcare spaces.

In mid-February, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that there have been 23,218 cases of Ebola, leading to 9,364 deaths.

….. While many highly infectious diseases aren’t primarily airborne (Ebola isn’t, according to the WHO), there’s still risk in poorly ventilated environments....

Read the full artlcle here...

Australian Air Quality

Why air quality is the (sometimes smelly) other elephant in the room in Australia

In the past few weeks the costs associated with poor air quality in India and Europe have been published in terms of health effects, lost productivity and ultimately, mortality. In a previous blog I discussed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s response to Delhi being pronounced the world’s worst city in terms of air pollution in a World Health Organisation (WHO) report.

On 29 April 2015 it was reported that air pollution costs Europe $1.6 trillion every year (equivalent to 10% of Europe’s GDP) in early deaths and disease according to WHO. The $1.6 trillion is comprised of 600,000 premature deaths and the costs associated with the sicknesses of hundreds of thousands of people (largely from preventable causes). The sources identified include small particles from the exhaust of diesel vehicles and nitrogen dioxide which can impair breathing in vulnerable people (e.g. asthmatics).

The WHO report was based on figures from 2010 (the last full data year) and included all of Europe and non-European Union (EU) States such as Norway and Switzerland. It showed that in a number of eastern European countries, the cost of poor air quality exceeds 10% of their respective GDPs. The United Kingdom, Germany and Italy are ranked in the top 10 based purely on economic terms.

Read the full article here ...

What’s So Bad About VOCs?

With an increasing number of paint manufacturers lining the shelves with ‘low-VOC’ or ‘no-VOC’ products, we’re now well aware that it’s wise to avoid volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

They’re commonly found in paints, but also in carpeting, furniture, adhesives, cleaning products, and a range of other building and interior materials. If a product has a strong smell, there’s a good chance it contains VOCs.

So why should we avoid VOCs, and just how dangerous are they, anyway?The VOCs in building and interior products are compounds that evaporate readily into the surrounding environment as a product of off-gassing. As paint dries, for example, it releases VOCs into the air as the solvent evaporates and leaves behind the dried pigment and other components.

VOCs have been linked to a wide range of adverse health effects ranging from the mild - such as respiratory irritation - to the more serious, such as cancer. They’re one of the main culprits behind Sick Building Syndrome, where occupants of a building complain of headaches, fatigue and other symptoms that disappear after leaving the building. Poor indoor air quality has been linked to decreased productivity for employees, and impacts academic performance for school students. Read the full article here...

Is Mould Making Your Family Sick?

For most people, home is a sanctuary. It’s a safe space, where we relax and feel completely at ease.

But what happens when your home is making you sick?The most common cause of house-related illness is poor ventilation. Inadequate ventilation causes mould and mildew, which can trigger a range of respiratory disorders including asthma, skin problems, and ear, nose and throat irritations. Respiratory problems including asthma are of particular concern for young children, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems.

The emergence of mould should be considered a warning sign about the well-being of a building and a trigger for an investigation of any underlying problems. Mould can be a sign of serious leaks, rising damp, or ventilation problems.

The Australian Institute of Architect’s Ask an Architect service estimates that 70 per cent of mould problems are due to condensation from wet areas like bathrooms and laundries, while 30 per cent comes from rising damp. This means that the good news is that for most properties, mould can be prevented by homeowners and tenants following some basic principles:

Read the full article here ...

Elevated CO2 Levels Directly Affect Human Cognition, New Harvard Study Shows

CO2 has a major impact on our thinking

In a landmark public health finding, a new study from the Harvard School of Public Health finds that carbon dioxide (CO2) has a direct and negative impact on human cognition and decision-making. These impacts have been observed at CO2 levels that most Americans — and their children — are routinely exposed to today inside classrooms, offices, homes, planes, and cars.

Carbon dioxide levels are inevitably higher indoors than the baseline set by the outdoor air used for ventilation, a baseline that is rising at an accelerating rate thanks to human activity, especially the burning of fossil fuels. So this seminal research has equally great importance for climate policy, providing an entirely new public health impetus for keeping global CO2 levels as low as possible.

In a series of articles, I will examine the implications for public health both today (indoors) as well as in the future (indoors and out) due to rising CO2 levels. This series is the result of a year-long investigation for Climate Progress and my new Oxford University Press book coming out next week, “Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know.” This investigative report is built on dozens of studies and literature reviews as well as exclusive interviews with many of the world’s leading experts in public health and indoor air quality, including authors of both studies.

What scientists have discovered about the impact of elevated carbon dioxide levels on the brain

Significantly, the Harvard study confirms the findings of a little-publicized 2012 Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) study, “Is CO2 an Indoor Pollutant? Direct Effects of Low-to-Moderate CO2 Concentrations on Human Decision-Making Performance.” That study found “statistically significant and meaningful reductions in decision-making performance” in test subjects as CO2 levels rose from a baseline of 600 parts per million (ppm) to 1000 ppm and 2500 ppm.

Read the full article here.

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