Cost-saving has been especially high on the agenda of most clients, says Atam Hayat, Business Development Manager – MEA Region, Leminar Air Conditioning, as he shares his insights on trends related to the air distribution market. Hayat says the costcentric approach has been evident in small and medium residential projects following the initial outbreak of COVID-19, even until now as the world is acclimatising to the new normal. “In our product segment, variable air volume (VAV), especially bypass VAV, sales have increased to around 15%, as they are cheaper propositions in comparison to Fan Coil Units (FCUs),” he says. Hayat says COVID-19 has also caused a spike in the requirement for HEPA and ULPA filters, which carry high efficiencies, following greater concerns related to removal of small airborne particles associated with COVID-19. “Breathing, as well as coughing and sneezing releases tiny infectious droplets into the air, which potentially contaminate surrounding surfaces and the air in the immediate surrounding,” he says. “These droplets – aerosols – can be of varying sizes, from 1 to over 10 µm. EPA, ASHRAE and CDC recommend upgrading air filters to the highest efficiency possible that is compatible with the system and checking the filter fit to minimise filter air bypass.” He says that leading bodies have published guidelines on best practices that have triggered the demand. Providing an example, he points to ASHRAE’s recommendation to use a filter with a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) of 14. “ISO 16890 Standard advises to use filters having ePM1 rating to control the spread of virus,” he says, adding that comprehensive guidance on filter selection is also provided by the Eurovent recommendation 4/23. Hayat says the sectors that are upgrading to the use of high-efficiency filters include laboratories, hospitals, isolation rooms, quarantine spaces, as well as medium risk environments such as airports, schools and public areas.
SOLVING OLD PROBLEMS IN THE NEW NORMAL
Admittedly, the market across the GCC region was largely in a state of lull during the COVID-19-instigated lockdown, Hayat says. However, he is quick to point out that while projects in the UAE may have slowed down, they did not grind to a halt. “Post-lockdown, the UAE market has recovered, and lots of new projects have been announced,” he says. “Currently, most of the developers in the UAE are steadily doing the civil works. The procurement of MEP materials is still slow, as it still depends upon the response of booking by the customers. However, a lot of villa projects are coming up in the UAE, as the real estate market is showing a better response from customers for these types of developments. We also expect the GCC region and African market will see a steady pace of growth following the footsteps of UAE.”
In view of the expected positive momentum, Hayat believes there is an urgent need to improve practices within the industry when it comes to ductwork, given the important role it plays in ensuring proper air quality. “The air ducts running through our homes are a vital component of the HVAC system,” he says. “Unfortunately, lots of HVAC systems in the region do not perform to their rated efficiency as a result of improper installation.” Improper HVAC sizing and installation not only causes higher energy bills, it also leads to reduced performance, poor air distribution and poor indoor air quality. “About 20% of the air that moves through the duct system is lost due to leaks, holes and poorly connected ducts,” he says. “Ductwork leakages essentially cause HVAC system to work harder. In addition to losing conditioned air, if the ducts are not tight enough, negative air pressure can suck in dirty air. Air duct leaks are especially problematic in basements, crawlspaces, garages and attics.” Hayat says that these issues can be avoided by implementing certain measures, such as ensuring joints and seams are sealed with mastic, the use of rigid metal for duct fittings, opting for pre-insulated duct fittings and ensuring ductwork can operate in a closed system, meaning it is tightly sealed from one end to the other. Hayat also emphasised the valuable contribution of specialised HVAC subcontractors, who carry the necessary skills and expertise to ensure all duct connections and joints are sealed properly with an approved sealant. As a representative of the manufacturing community, Hayat says that he advises HVAC contractors to use proper insulation. “Insulation not only helps in protecting against moisture-related problems, but it will also improve energy efficiency by keeping hot or cold temperatures from affecting the temperature inside. Air duct insulation is especially effective where there is a lot of ductwork in unconditioned areas, such as attics, basements, and crawl spaces.”Hayat says there has been some improvement brought on by Chapter 18 of the 2018 Edition of the UAE Fire and Life Safety Code of Practice, which emphasises duct manufacturers recommendations and also made it the responsibility of consultants and contractors to ensure proper installation of ducts at site. In this way, he says, the civil defence has presented strict standards for the proper installation of smoke control, car park and kitchen exhaust ductwork. “The contractor has to ensure that all fire-rated and kitchen exhaust ducts comply with mandatory requirements related to stability, integrity and insulation,” he says. “The contractor also has to ensure that the fire-rated ducts have to be coated or properly insulated whenever the distance between fire-rated ducts and combustible materials is less than 500mm, similar to requirements in the UL Guidelines.”
In addition to installation, Hayat says, greater attention should be given to proper cleaning and maintenance to ensure systems are operating and performing as required. At the end of the day, Hayat says, facility and business owners or managers are responsible for ensuring timely inspection of the system to determine how often the system should be cleaned, as they are in the best position to understand in mind the relationship between grease build-up and the type or volume of cooking. “Timely cleaning of kitchen exhaust system at right intervals helps not only mitigate fire risk but also protects the facility from smoke, oil leaks and unpleasant odours,” he points out. However, Hayat says that in most cases, the lack of specialised FM contributes to the problem, as many companies don’t have advanced cleaning devices. “Also, in most homes today, we use “flexible” duct, which can be easily damaged by duct cleaning services,” he says. “Also, this process is costly; therefore, the developers avoid the maintenance practices in the UAE. It’s high time that there should be stern regulations and checks from local authorities for duct maintenance.” Hayat says that although there are no stern local regulations for the cleaning of ventilation ducts, there are both local and international standards for kitchen exhaust maintenance that serve as an important reference. “For Commercial Kitchen Exhaust ducts, the most commonly followed international standards are the NFPA 96: Standard for Ventilation Control and Fire Protection for Commercial Cooking Operations and the ANSI/IKECA C-10: Standard for the Methodology for Cleaning Commercial Kitchen Exhaust Systems,” he says. “Dubai Municipality has also issued its own regulation, outlined in TG19: Guideline for Health and Safety in Kitchens and Food Preparation Areas.” Hayat explains that NFPA 96 demands that exhaust system components be cleaned to bare metal at frequent intervals, prior to surface becoming heavily contaminated with grease or oily sludge. “The standard outlines four frequencies for inspection schedules: monthly, quarterly, semi-annually and yearly, depending upon the type and volume of cooking,” he says.
The Dubai Municipality Technical Guideline TG19, on the other hand, specifies daily cleaning of cooker surfaces and hoods and weekly cleaning of filters. Although this is a move in the positive direction, Hayat believes more work should be done to raise the standards in the industry to ensure air distribution systems are correctly designed, installed and maintained, given their important role in ensuring better indoor air quality.