Smart Ventilation: A systemic, socio-technical evaluation of pressure-controlled vents in housing

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Bartlett Sch of Env, Energy & Resources


Ventilation remains one of the biggest challenges in building environmental design and refurbishment because it involves balancing energy use, health and comfort, and heating system integration.
Reducing energy demand in buildings can play a major role in meeting our net zero carbon targets. As the fabric performance of our buildings improves, a larger percentage of a building's heat is lost through ventilation. Reducing this requires great care as indoor air quality plays a major role in our health, wellbeing and comfort. Also, how the ventilation system interacts with the heating system can impact heating control and comfort. One solution to this problem is the installation of highly controllable whole house ventilation systems. Such systems have limited applicability in existing UK homes, and if not carefully installed, maintained and operated can deliver far from the optimum. Therefore, simpler more robust passive systems (e.g. trickle vents) with centralised and decentralised mechanical extract ventilation, which are often the norm in the UK. Such systems require the correct operation of the vents by the occupant. Studies have shown that this rarely occurs, with vents often left permanently closed or always open, resulting in a succession of periods of excessive energy use and discomfort and unhealthy conditions due to poor indoor air quality, as weather conditions fluctuate.
Main research question:
What impact would a pressure-controlled trickle vent have on energy use, health, comfort and energy system costs when compared to a standard vent?
Sub questions could include:
1. How does the performance of a pressure-controlled vent in the field compare to theory and laboratory tests?
2. How does a pressure-controlled vent interact with mechanical systems as part of the bundles of ventilation and heating systems and socio-cultural practices in current and future homes?
3. What could the health and energy cost impacts be if pressure-controlled vents were to be widely utilised in the context of a rapidly decarbonising UK energy system?
4. What is the durability of pressure-controlled vents in the field?
5. How should a pressure-controlled vent be modelled for regulatory purposes, i.e. in SAP/EPC?
It is anticipated that the project could involve a range of technical and socio-technical research methods including:
1. Quantitative/qualitative socio-technical investigations in a number of occupied case study dwellings.
2. Laboratory testing to define/characterise the dynamic performance of the ventilator to inform modelling
3. Modelling the environmental, health and energy impact of different ventilation and heating strategies in a range of different dwelling types at both an individual dwelling level and in the existing UK stock, using analytical tools such as DomVent, NHM-Health, and Zonal or CFD models.

Planned Impact

The low carbon energy systems needed to achieve the Government's carbon 2050 reduction targets promise declining generation costs, but at the price of inflexibility and intermittency. The challenge is to contain costs and improve energy system security, by building in resilience. The opportunities include: more efficient energy conversion, networks and storage technologies; improved energy control and management systems; integration of energy performance into modern methods of construction; improved measurement, display and control systems; and new business models. This will bring pervasive economic benefits: the creation of new intellectual property and expertise; businesses with the ability to compete in the huge new markets for energy efficiency and resilience, both in the UK and overseas; healthier and more productive places to work and live; and a means to address social hardship and inequalities, such as fuel poverty, which affects the health and wellbeing of society's most vulnerable. Seizing these opportunities requires leaders with multi-disciplinary knowledge, skills and whole-system perspective to break down restrictive, sector-specific silos, and drive innovation. The ERBE CDT will train such leaders.

The short and medium term impacts of the ERBE CDT will arise during the training of these leaders and through their research outputs and collaborations. These will include, but are not be restricted to: new approaches to analysis; new insights derived from large datasets; new modelling methods and ways of using existing models; new experimental techniques; field and laboratory measurement techniques; improved socio-technical methods; new manufacturing methods, devices, primary data sets, and patents; and, together with our industrial stakeholders, the integration of research into the business innovation process.

The longer term impacts will be realised over the next 40 years as ERBE graduates take on influential roles in diverse organisations, including:
- national and local governmental organisations that are developing affordable and socially acceptable evidence-based energy policies;
- energy supply and services companies that are charged with delivering a clean reliable and economical system, through deployment of energy efficiency products and technologies within an evolving energy system architecture;
- technology companies that are developing new components for energy generation and storage, new heating, cooling and ventilation systems, and smart digital controls and communications technology;
- industries that are large consumers of fuel and power and need to reduce their energy demand and curb the emission of greenhouse gases and pollutants;
- consultancies that advise on the design of energy systems, non-domestic building design and urban masterplans;
- facilities managers, especially those in large organisations such as retail giants, the NHS, and education, that are charged with reducing energy demand and operating costs to meet legally binding and organisational targets;
- standards organisations responsible for regulating the energy and buildings sectors through the creation of design guides and regulatory tools;
- NGOs and charities responsible for promoting, enabling and effecting energy demand reduction schemes;
- health and social care providers, who need to assure thermal comfort and indoor air quality, especially as our population ages and we adopt more flexible healthcare models.

The realisation of these benefits requires people with specific skills and an understanding of the associated ethical, health & safety, regulatory, legal, and social diversity and inclusion issues. Most importantly, they must have the ability to look at problems from a new perspective, to conceive, and develop new ideas, be able to navigate the RD&D pathway, and have the ability to articulate their intentions and to convince others of their worth; the ERBE CDT will develop these capabilities.


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