Consider the human factor and building science when installing indoor climate systems
Integrated design: A leadership strategy.
Integrated design sits (amongst others) at the crossroads of building science, health science, hybrid HVAC systems, interior systems, and the study of energy and exergy efficiency. Despite the relationships between these and other fields of learning, companies and their employees by choice or necessity continue to concentrate on refining existing skills — as what can best be described as polishing the cannon ball — rather than expanding into new skills and knowledge to engage a much broader audience in providing integrated solutions.
No matter how much you polish a cannon ball, it’s not likely going to improve the trajectory.
The downside to polishing what you already know — or sticking to your knitting — is a growing and influential collective which is slowly changing the characteristics of your yarn (pun intended). That cooperative is deeply rooted in science, culture and politics and it is gradually shifting your client expectations via your favorite online library called the Internet.
Consider ASHRAE’s recent webinar, “Buildings in Balance: IEQ and Energy Efficiency,” where more than 10,000 online participants from around the world studied the “link between energy efficiency and indoor environmental quality through the integrated design process.” This program was unified with the theme from ASHRAE President Dr. William P. Bahnfleth, P.E., and a key focus for the upcoming annual meetings in Seattle.
“The complex relationship between indoor and outdoor environmental conditions, coupled with the impact of climate change, requires buildings that are comfortable and healthy for the occupants yet also energy efficient,” the technical program notes. “The Indoor Environment — Health, Comfort and Productivity Track highlights the state of knowledge of the balance of environmental health and energy efficiency in buildings and research directions.”
Clearly knowledge of integrated design is required to address this subject matter.
As I and many others have expressed countless times before, you cannot separate indoor environmental quality from energy, nor is IEQ represented by the exclusive metric of indoor air quality but by the combination of thermal comfort, lighting, acoustics, vibration, odors and IAQ. This was a key principle discussed by ASHRAE webinar presenter Tim McGinn, P.E., LEED-AP, HPBP, a Dialog principal.
As an extension in logic, thermal comfort is not represented by the exclusive metric of air temperature but rather by the combination of mean radiant, humidity, air velocity, clothing, metabolic rate, floor temperatures, stratification, radiant asymmetry, drafts and air temperature. This has been communicated repeatedly by ASHRAE, CIBSE, REHVA and other IEQ- and energy-related institutes around the globe.
Taking this one step further, the enclosure performance on thermal comfort is not exclusively based on R-values and tightness but rather on principles such as, but not limited to: the weighted enclosure U-value defining the space, characteristics of interior finishes such as color and texture, and the geometric position of the occupants to significant surfaces such as windows, exterior doors and floors.
Academic institutes such as the Center for the Built Environment and members from the Network for Comfort and Energy Use in Buildings have been preaching this and related matter for decades. Nor can thermal comfort and indoor air quality complaints be exclusively addressed by a single type of air-based HVAC system for all projects (as is the predominate practice in North America) but must contemplate the problem as complex and integrated.
The health and building science relationships must be considered well in advance to ensure the right hybrid indoor climate systems are designed, installed and commissioned to enable conditions with sufficient characteristics resulting in occupants sensing and perceiving acceptable IEQ. This was emphasized by ASHRAE webinar presenters Jerry Sipes, Ph.D., P.E., from Price Industries and James Bochat from Commissioning Concepts.
As an example, recent award-winning projects such as Canada’s Manitoba Hydro Place in Winnipeg, Manitoba; the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Research Support Facility in Golden, Colo.; and Seattle’s Bullitt Center all spent considerable time modelling the ergonomics of the interior space based on the enclosure performance, interior systems and HVAC systems, and the combined effects on the occupants even before putting a shovel in the ground.
To fully understand the significance of these modeling exercises, one needs to understand not only energy and mechanics but also the human body’s endocrine and autonomic nervous system, and learn about the role of thermal receptors in the human body and the hormones and neurotransmitters that regulate core body temperatures for health.
Regrettably, the latter is not taught in architectural, engineering and trades programs but is known by specialized firms such as TransSolar and Arup, which integrate human factor design into their strategy analysis. (If you have an Autodesk account, you can view “Project Ove, Virtually Human: Modeling the Human Body Inside and Out Using BIM Platforms,” from Arup at http://goo.gl/07y14h.)
None of this is trivial and as students of mine have learned over the years, human factor costs far outweigh the energy costs in buildings by more than a factor of 100 (Olesen, B., Indoor Environmental Quality, Cold Climate Conference, Calgary, 2012). Translation: Those who only focus on the mechanics of construction and HVAC system efficiency are missing the No. 1 cost associated with buildings.
All the preceding discussion is to illustrate that as practitioners from various fields, it is one thing to know your own stuff … but how does your stuff fit in with everybody else’s stuff? Collectively, how can it all fit when commissioned results in energy- and exergy-efficient buildings have great indoor environmental ergonomics?
That is what integrated design is all about — knowing the best in your business and bringing it together with like-minded individuals serving a like-minded client. It asks, “How can you enable everyone else to succeed and in the process enable you to succeed?” To achieve this, you ought to know something about the challenges everyone else is facing in meeting the needs of this new breed of clientele.
If you find yourself identifying with only one or two points above, you should earnestly consider expanding your knowledge base to serve a growing list of clients looking for unique individuals who see all the pieces of a much bigger puzzle and understand at some basic level how they integrate to achieve exceptional project status.
Author bio: Robert Bean is president of Indoor Climate Consultants and director of www.healthyheating.com. A registered engineering technologist in building construction and a professional licensee in mechanical engineering, he provides business, design and educational services related to buildings, energy and indoor environmental quality systems. Starting Sept. 22, 2014, Robert will present a 10-week online course titled, “Integrated HVAC Engineering: Mastering Comfort, Health and Efficiency,” in cooperation with BNP Media and HeatSpring. For more information, visit the Heat Spring website.