Domestic Heat Recovery Ventilation Systems: Knowledge is Power or the key to using less of it? - June 2012

This article appeared in PHAM News, June 2012

There’s a lot installers and house-builders can do to increase awareness of the importance of cleaning, servicing and maintaining domestic heat recovery ventilation units, according to Paul Rainbird, Operations Manager (Ventilation Systems) at Titon. He outlines why planned maintenance is the way forward, with practical guidance as to how we can all play our part.

Out of sight and out of mind

When it comes to domestic ventilation, one of the biggest issues is the fact that end-users are often completely unaware of their existence, when they move into new homes. And even if they do know they are there, in our experience this rarely equates to an understanding of the principles by which they operate. It really is a case of ‘out of sight and out of mind’, and the ensuing result is that maintenance of the unit never makes it on to their ‘to do list’. This frustrating state of affairs condemns the unit to a lifetime of neglect, under performance, inefficiency and energy waste.

So what’s the answer? One way to future-proof ventilation units is to ensure that the correct operating and maintenance instructions, usually supplied by the manufacturer, are passed on to homeowners and landlords. In fact, we would go as far as to say that developers or previous owners should show new occupiers how to operate the system, as well as leaving them with full instructions and contact details for on-going maintenance support. At Titon we also recommend that the filters used in heat recovery ventilation be checked and cleaned on all new builds at the time of handover of the property, due to the high dust and contaminate levels during the building’s construction. On the odd occasion, units might need a new filter before the occupier has even moved in. Where possible, it is also advisable to leave the unit on boost for the first few days/weeks of operation, to aid with the removal of excessive moisture that may be contained in the new building fabric. Again at the end of this period a filter check would make sense.

To maximise choice and compatibility for specifiers and housebuilders, Titon offers a range of sixteen domestic heat recovery ventilation units in the “Q Plus” range, designed to meet Building Regulations requirements and the needs of differing dwelling sizes and differing demands, for example helping to overcome summer overheating with innovative features such as SUMMERboost® and Summer Mode.

Ideal maintenance regime

When it comes to the maintenance of household appliances, it would be ideal if domestic ventilation units were managed in the same way as the humble and familiar vacuum cleaner. Most end-users rely on their own judgement to ensure regular maintenance is completed in good time. Perhaps it’s because they’re rarely out of sight for long and when they’re not working properly it’s obvious! Awareness is not really an issue for this ‘well-used’ household appliance and like it or not vacuuming is usually on the weekly or even daily ‘to do list’ A quick process of clearing out the vacuum filter and casing usually does the trick if dirt starts building up and impeding the effective running of the motor. Surely, the same attention could also, easily, be paid to the efficient running of domestic ventilation systems – if only more people knew they were there and how they operate?

Ventilation systems are often tucked away in inaccessible roof spaces service or airing cupboards, kitchen units, larders and utility rooms. A lack of attention may just be down to the simple fact landlords and householders deduce from their location, there isn’t a need for regular servicing and maintenance. And another thing, even though the focus of this article is on mechanical ventilation, while I’m on a roll, occupiers rarely think about cleaning their trickle vents either, which also reduces the air flow. For many trickle vent products it is sufficient to clean them using only a damp cloth and mild domestic detergent.

There are two questions this raises from my perspective; firstly how are householders/landlords supposed to know if their domestic ventilation unit is working effectively or not if they do not maintain it or ensure regular servicing? And secondly, are they actually being advised regular maintenance and servicing is required? From what we are seeing and hearing from the front-line, the answer to the first question is: ‘the majority of householders/landlords don’t know if their unit is working effectively’. And in answer to the second question, I would suggest the majority are not being made aware of the importance of servicing and maintenance. This is a worrying trend, so please hear my rallying cry when I say we all need to take action now. All our reputations, not to mention the health and wellbeing of a good few householders, depend on it!

Why is servicing and maintenance so important?

I’m not trying to teach anyone to suck eggs. But, if we remind ourselves why it’s important to keep the domestic ventilation units running efficiently, it should ensure we remember to make homeowners and landlords aware of the importance of regular servicing and maintenance. A blocked or clogged filter will, depending on the type of controller, either cause the unit to work much harder as the fan struggles to force air through it possibly increasing the noise to unacceptable levels, or seriously impede the flow of air leading to poor indoor air quality which can be harmful to the health of the occupants and the structure. Another important knock on effect is higher running costs as the efficiency is compromised. As some of you may be able to testify, a heavily blocked filter is potentially a very messy item to replace, as once moved, captured particles will fall from it, back into the environment.

Train to gain

Of course if you really want to be ahead of the game, professional ventilation training is the way ahead. It will benefit your business and the industry. Adding another string to your bow in this climate has got to be a good thing! It also makes sound practical and commercial sense that the person/organisation undertaking the installation should keep in touch with the householders or landlord to ensure annual servicing and maintenance checks continue.

We know the installation, handover and ongoing maintenance of domestic ventilation systems has sometimes been overlooked. Up until last year’s Building Regulation revisions, there had been no requirement for installers to gain qualifications in meeting the strict installation requirements of manufacturers. Subsequently the installation, inspection, testing, commissioning and provision of information for domestic ventilation systems have occasionally fallen short of the expected standards. Approved Document Part F (ADF) 2010 has ensured a change for the better and opened a door for specialist domestic ventilation installers. This has subsequently been reinforced with a revision to SAP and Part L which offers enhanced ratings for systems installed by a member of a recognised Competent Persons Scheme. The next step for installers is to enrol on an accredited course which is usually run by manufacturers. Titon, for example, runs a BPEC Domestic Ventilation Systems training course at its purpose-designed centre, covering all the knowledge and skills required to meet ADF.

And finally…

Wouldn’t it be great if we could get to a position where the maintenance of domestic ventilation units becomes second nature for householders, just like cleaning out the filter on a vacuum cleaner, only with a little professional assistance! The importance of regular servicing and maintenance cannot be underestimated, but don’t just take my word for it. The Energy Saving Trust (EST) has been extolling the benefits for years. The EST’s guide to ‘Energy efficient ventilation in dwellings – a guide for specifiers’ (2006) states: “Regular maintenance should be carried out to ensure the system is still in balance, that filters and grilles are clean, and that the system is functioning correctly. Fans and heat exchangers will also need to be cleaned regularly.” We can all do our bit to make sure that this vision becomes a consistent reality for the benefit of householders, professionals and the industry as a whole.

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