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In commercial, government and education buildings today, it is standard practice to replace the entire volume of indoor air with outside air every one to two hours to minimize concentrations of unhealthy indoor pollutants. While the process helps dilute these contaminants, the high volume of outdoor air must be heated or cooled to maintain comfortable temperatures and humidity. This represents 30 to 50 percent of the total load on HVAC systems in most climates, resulting in higher equipment costs, and higher ongoing energy costs. Further, “fresh air” is no longer fresh, especially for buildings located near highly-trafficked roads or in busy urban centers. Ventilating these buildings can introduce additional harmful contaminants that are known to cause serious diseases when people are exposed all day long.
With this in mind, building contractors, engineers and building owners are increasingly looking to innovate with proven solutions, such as HVAC Load Reduction (HLR) technology, to help them clean their air while reducing energy usage. The HLR solution is the first to safely capture and clean indoor air of contaminants, including carbon dioxide (CO2), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and aldehydes, lowering upfront HVAC system costs and decreasing annual energy consumption by 20 to 30 percent while improving indoor air quality (IAQ) for better health, productivity and satisfaction of building occupants.
By cleaning and recycling the indoor air instead of constantly replacing it with outside air, HLR systems reduce the outside air intake required to ventilate a building by 60 to 80 percent and also reduce peak HVAC capacity, resulting in significant equipment savings and up to 40 percent lower utility demand charges. Using less outside air also extends the life of particulate air filters and helps postpone HVAC equipment replacement.
Perhaps most importantly, HLR modules have immediate payback because buildings can invest in lower-capacity and less expensive HVAC systems, and they are eligible for local utility rebate programs that can cover up to half the initial cost. Once installed, clients benefit from 20 to 30 percent decreased HVAC energy costs.
Bringing in less polluted outside air will also reduce the introduction of additional harmful contaminants to a building, like particulate matter (PM2.5). Nowhere is this more important than in densely-populated cities, or in countries like China, where air pollution has reached critical levels and bringing in outside air can introduce harmful pollutants like PM2.5 to the indoor air. For example, at the Shanghai-based China Europe International Business School (CEIBS), the implementation of HLR technology in the school’s state-of-the-art lecture theater enabled the school to achieve superior IAQ per the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards, and 80 percent reduction in the utilization of outside air. CEIBS reduced PM2.5 indoors by 87 percent to boost student health and performance, achieving healthy levels in comparison with the outdoor air quality.
Additionally, some commercial buildings require extra outside airflow to maintain air quality, resulting in some areas of the building getting too cold, sparking an increase in complaints from occupants. This problem is further exacerbated in buildings with higher occupant densities than they were originally designed for — common in open-plan office buildings. Buildings that have implemented the HLR system have seen a dramatic reduction in occupant complaints regarding indoor temperature and humidity. By reducing outside air, there are fewer drafts in the building and the HVAC system has an easier job maintaining temperature and humidity on extreme weather days.
HLR technology has earned significant LEED credits, the international standard of excellence in green building, by providing lower operating costs and better indoor environmental quality. In fact, companies can earn as many as 17 LEED points — over 40 percent of the points required to receive LEED certification — merely from implementing HLR technology along with an indoor air quality assessment. That makes those buildings more attractive to a growing group of corporate buyers that are not only concerned about costs, but increasingly focused on environmental and social responsibility. Additionally, research shows that LEED certified properties have higher rental, occupancy and pricing levels than non-certified properties, with office buildings certified under LEED leasing for 2.3 percent more than uncertified buildings.
What’s more, in this increasingly connected landscape, the HLR system can easily be controlled through a computer or smartphone 24/7, providing real-time visibility into performance metrics, such as air quality and energy savings at any time, from anywhere. The intelligent feedback mechanisms designed into the HLR system’s control algorithms allow the system to keep up with dynamically changing levels of indoor air contaminants, maintaining consistent and controlled indoor air quality throughout the building for better health, productivity and satisfaction of occupants.
In fact, studies conducted by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and other organizations have shown that improved indoor air quality through reduced CO2 and VOCs can help boost cognitive performance of building occupants by 101 percent. According to another Harvard study, office worker productivity was estimated to increase by as much as $6,500 per worker and management productivity by $15,500 per manager. So, not only can the HLR technology improve air quality for the benefit of the workers to reduce discomfort and complaints, but it also increases the individual value of those workers for the benefit of an entire business.
HLR technology can be installed during new construction, or as a retrofit. The installation is scalable and turnkey, as a network of multiple modules can be deployed to accommodate any size building, and all ports and connectors are built into the unit. The technology is also designed for either rooftop or indoor use. If indoors, the unit is placed inside an HVAC mechanical room or an air plenum. It easily fits through doorways and elevators, and can be configured vertically or horizontally. If existing infrastructure is at its limits, such as an older chiller, the HLR system can relieve that problem without replacing the chiller. In retrofits, the HLR module sits side-by-side with the existing HVAC infrastructure, without requiring changes to the HVAC system. In new construction, there are a number of significant benefits in addition to energy savings, such as eliminating or downsizing other HVAC equipment, especially DOAS and ERV units, chillers, cooling towers and water lines, and ductwork for outside air and relief air.
In addition, the HLR modules periodically go through a self-cleaning process to maintain high efficiency cleaning performance. The relatively low-heat regeneration phase is a technological breakthrough as it allows the process to be automated and completed in situ and without creating any byproducts. HLR modules intelligently and automatically determine when regeneration is needed, typically one to three times a day.
With traditional HVAC systems consuming nearly half the energy in commercial buildings, the history of using massive amounts of outside air to dilute indoor air contaminants is going to come to a rapid end. Cleaning and recycling the air, such as with HLR technology, is a superior approach as it ensures superior IAQ, reduces first cost capital expense, and reduces ongoing energy consumption. It’s no surprise adoption is accelerating among Fortune 500 companies, major universities, and institutions — further expanding awareness of the technology.