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Article Date: 10th June 2016

Breathing Buildings Celebrates 10 years of Changing the World

Natural Ventilation Systems - Cold Draught - Calculator Hybrid Ventilation

Breathing Buildings - The Ace Foundation Stapleford granary was given a new lease of life following its transformation into a Breathing Building music centre

As Breathing Buildings celebrate their 10th anniversary, when better to pause, grab a brew and take stock of what’s happened! What have we done, who have we helped, and what’s next?

We’ve emerged from a Cambridge University research project to a team of Chartered Engineers, PhDs and dedicated individuals passionate about tackling the energy, ventilation and heating challenges of our built environment. We have filed patents which have been successfully granted and defended. We’ve developed a range of unique products which have changed the way people ventilate and heat buildings and provided equipment to hospitals, supermarkets, libraries, offices, coffee shops, restaurants, leisure centres, barracks, laboratories, music centres and schools. Some of these buildings such as Monkseaton High School are truly iconic landmarks and have proven that even deeper plan, multi-storey structures can be a Breathing Building!

It is the result of a lot of thinking, development work and testing. 10 years ago when Breathing Buildings was founded, the product at the ‘forefront’ of natural ventilation attempting to overcome cold draughts was a motorised damper with a heater coil in a wall. This arrangement makes no use of free heat gains within the space to temper air in cold weather – it may sound obvious now, but it has taken years of work to change mindsets and let people know that there is a company who can offer a sensible solution to allow low energy ventilation all year round. It is now explicitly stated in the Priority Schools Facilities Output Specification (FOS) that pre-heating of air is to be limited, and instead heat gains from occupancy and equipment should be used to warm incoming air in winter; a similar mandate is being included in the forthcoming revision of Building Bulletin 101.

Many have learned the hard way that the construction industry is awash with companies who can rivet pieces of metal together and call it a ventilation unit. However, the reason Breathing Buildings has become the go-to company to design, supply and install their systems is down to their fundamental understanding of what is required. It was a bold and revolutionary move to set up a manufacturing company supported by talented MEng and PhD engineers, but this is what the ventilation industry needed and now the whole industry expects equipment suppliers to help advise just how much of their equipment is needed and to be able to develop building-specific control strategies for a client.

Many equipment suppliers outsource their controls hardware and software, and badge it as their own in a plastic case. However, the control of a piece of ventilation equipment is fundamental to success. It is crucial that the designers and suppliers of the equipment can adjust the control strategy, not just tinker with set-points. If the building is being monitored (a requirement for many projects) and the room overheats or the air quality is not good enough, who is at fault? Is it the designer? Is it the ventilation unit supplier? Is it the software company who wrote the controls logic? We believe that by providing a truly integrated service and system, the industry has been advanced – no longer can different parties easily hide at the interface of their discipline, whether it be design, equipment or control. Breathing Buildings have been developing their software (the controls programmes) and the hardware (PLC controllers, electronic circuitry and room interface panels) since day one. Not only does this mean that we, the manufacturer, can ensure compliance with regulations and specifications, it gives us the opportunity to adjust things on site. No two buildings are the same, and no two clients are the same. Having flexibility in the way we set up our equipment has been key to Breathing Buildings meeting the challenges posed by some of the most innovative buildings being designed and constructed. It is easy to see why the company who are the genuine pioneers of hybrid natural - mixing ventilation with the brains, the modelling expertise and the understanding of controls, is being selected when so much is at stake.

In parallel to the controls development, Breathing Building have been continually improving our design offering. We are the only company in the UK who provides the full suite of modelling techniques for ventilation which include 1) dynamic thermal modelling to predict temperatures and demonstrate compliance with overheating criteria 2) computational fluid dynamics analysis for assessment of detailed flows in certain zones 3) water bath modelling for assessment of building scale ventilation flows in more complicated spaces 4) analytical models for assessing potential risks of cold draughts in winter and 5) analytical models for evolution of CO2 over the course of occupied periods. We feel so strongly about the importance of accurate modelling tools that we have released the cold draught calculator online for anyone to use. This is now the default initial design tool for use in schools and is referred to in the forthcoming new release of Building Bulletin 101. The cold draught calculator will be followed shortly by the release of the CO2 calculator. Both of these are simple to use and importantly are free!

These are exciting times at Breathing Buildings - the reward is that a decade of hard work has made its mark on the ventilation industry. The market has moved on and hybrid ventilation is now the default strategy for a number of sectors. We look forward to continued growth, and working with an ever-increasing client base to provide the design, supply and aftercare service that makes our projects so successful.

Dr Matthew Bray, Engineering Manager

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