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Six considerations when designing HVAC for a modern office

The dynamics of office spaces have transformed dramatically, particularly with the shift towards greater workplace flexibility in the wake of COVID-19. Post-pandemic renovations now prioritise the creation of interactive workspaces catering to evolving occupant needs and behavioural patterns.

In this article, we'll explore six crucial considerations for HVAC design in the newly renovated office landscape, ensuring systems are both adaptable and sustainable.

1. Consider Decarbonising Heating with Air Source Heat Pumps:
To enhance comfort, sustainability credentials, and marketability, it's vital to consider decarbonising heating systems. Explore the benefits of air source heat pumps (ASHPs), which not only improve indoor conditions but also contribute to energy savings. This aligns with the growing demand for eco-friendly properties in the post-pandemic real estate market.

2. Re-evaluating System Design Capacity for Adaptability:
Traditional CAV HVAC systems, often utilised in heavily occupied “cubicled” offices may not be the most suitable for the new needs of modern offices. Consider downsizing ductwork or choosing floor-mounted (displacement) units for efficient ventilation saving valuable space. With potentially lower post-COVID occupancy rates, striking a balance between controlling CO2 levels and maintaining indoor hygiene becomes crucial. This adaptable approach ensures cost-effectiveness and optimal space utilisation.

3. Embracing Demand Control:
Modern offices with occupancy that varies during the week, as a flexible return to the office becomes the norm, may make great energy savings by implementing demand-controlled ventilation (DCV) systems. Opt for terminal units that can efficiently handle the volume fluctuations, minimising energy usage while maintaining a comfortable indoor environment and preventing draughts in the occupied zone. Adjustable nozzle diffusers can further enhance this flexibility, responding to evolving office needs over time should desks, walls and partitions move around with tenants demands.

4. Implementing Environmental Monitoring:
Effective climate control goes beyond just occupancy considerations. Consider regulating indoor climate based on factors such as power requirements, presence, CO2 levels, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and even particulate matter (PM2.5). A well-designed demand management system should easily adapt to the ever-changing needs and behaviours of future occupants, ensuring continuous comfort and energy efficiency.

5. Choosing a Customisable System Solution:
Ventilation systems will likely undergo reconfiguration throughout their lifespan. Opt for a sustainable system that allows customisation, both in hardware and software. A demand-driven system facilitates quick and easy adjustments, enabling your building to evolve without disruptive and costly refurbishments. Consider this adaptability as an integral part of your HVAC design strategy.

6. Balancing Airborne and Waterborne Ventilation:
Carefully consider whether air or waterborne ventilation is more suitable for your space. While air-based solutions like grilles and diffusers suit areas with high air volume requirements, chilled beams using water for temperature control can be more energy-efficient. A mixed approach, such as using chilled beams in main office areas and diffusers in meeting rooms, allows you to tailor the solution to specific space demands.

Designing a sustainable HVAC system for modern offices requires a forward-thinking approach. By incorporating these six key considerations – from decarbonising heating to embracing flexibility in design and demand control – HVAC designers can ensure their systems not only meet current needs but also seamlessly adapt to the challenges of tomorrow.