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‘The cost of ignoring much-needed IAQ upgrades is far greater’

Amid the celebratory news of the roll-out of vaccination programs around the globe, we must all remember one of the biggest lessons that COVID-19 taught the world: Buildings – as they are designed, constructed, and operated and maintained – play a significant role in the health and wellbeing of not only their occupants but also the people and communities around them. These include our private commercial office buildings, residential buildings of all sizes, hospitals, entertainment venues, schools, public buildings and more.

We have also learned that infrastructure inequities in cities, states and countries across the globe – including those in transportation, healthcare, agriculture and housing – matter and have a big role to play when it comes to effectively managing a health crisis. And sadly, we learned that much like climate change, a pandemic will also disproportionately affect those with the least amount of resources.

The successful development of a vaccine for COVID-19 does not mean that we do not need to develop new practices when designing the places, spaces and communities around us. Why? Because vaccines are only one component of how we will recover and move forward. This is not a once-in-a-generation crisis. As a global community of sustainability and health professionals, we must embrace the lessons learned about virus transmission and apply them to ensure a permanent recovery and resiliency plan. History cannot repeat itself; the cost to humanity is too great.

This is a point in time when leadership matters. This is a point in time for deep inflection. And this is a point in time for purposeful and forward-looking action. We now have the opportunity – and a moral obligation – to completely re-think how our buildings and spaces should be designed, constructed, operated and maintained. We must turn our buildings and spaces into places that positively contribute to our health and wellbeing. That means that we have to take a fresh and honest look at the inequities in the communities around us and build back better with an eye toward achieving resiliency and equity. Multiple studies, including one just released by Oxfam, have found that the world’s richest people have made significant financial gains during COVID-19, while the world’s poor have fallen even further behind.

At USGBC and GBCI, we believe that better buildings and communities equal better lives. That’s why we are dedicated to continuing to invest in LEED, the world’s most widely used and trusted green building certification program. The success of LEED around the world is a testament to its effectiveness. As of this writing, we have more than 100,600 registered and certified LEED commercial projects, nearly two million registered and certified LEED residential units, projects in 181 countries and territories and nearly 205,000 LEED APs implementing the rating system around the world. Much like LEED’s commitment to environmental sustainability, human health and wellness strategies have been a foundation of the LEED program since its beginning, with over 70% of the rating system’s credits tying back both directly and indirectly to human health and wellness.

Mahesh Ramanujam

We know that addressing the systemic challenges revealed by COVID-19 won’t happen overnight and without significant planning. And while we know that addressing these systemic needs will not come without significant investment, we also know that healthy people, in healthy places and spaces, equal a healthy and robust global economy – and that the price we will pay for not addressing these needs will be far greater than addressing them now.

We can start by focusing our efforts on one of the primary targets of preventing virus spread: Indoor air quality (IAQ). Public health data has shown that buildings are safer to occupy when their mechanical systems, especially HVAC systems, promote good ventilation, air scrubbing and purification and enhanced outside air exchange. While these enhancements alone cannot eliminate the risk of virus transmission, they are a critical component of a larger mitigation strategy. Upgrades to outdated and inefficient HVAC systems in existing buildings across the world have been delayed for decades owing to cost concerns. However, the cost of ignoring these needed upgrades is far greater, as the pandemic has demonstrated in human lives lost, shuttered economies and schools and overburdened healthcare delivery platforms. Now is the time to invest in a resilient future and build back the trust between people and the buildings around them.

One way that USGBC and GBCI have strived to build back trust between people and the buildings around them is through our LEED Safety First Pilot Credit, related to managing IAQ as a component of our LEED green building rating system. The pilot credit builds on existing IAQ credits in LEED and helps building owners and managers ensure that IAQ systems are operating as designed. It also helps determine temporary adjustments to ventilation that may minimize the spread of COVID-19.

The pandemic has also called attention to the condition of schools. For well over a decade, USGBC has been advocating for a major and long overdue global investment in school buildings. We have already seen some of the adverse effects of schools being shut down and students being forced to learn from home for nearly a year, and the value placed on schools and in-person education is as high as ever. Now is the time to leverage that goodwill and invest in these facilities on a global scale, so that such disruptions never happen again. We need to ensure that every school across the globe has proper ventilation, air purification equipment, carbon dioxide monitors and proper outdoor air exchange in order to reduce the risk of spreading airborne pathogens as a key component in their back-to-school engagement strategy. Every student needs to have a chance to thrive, and a key component of that is a healthy school building.

These investments alone will not create a strong, healthy and resilient planet. We also need to look at cities and their infrastructures. Despite predictions of an exodus of people leaving dense urban population centers for the suburbs, we did not see the global abandonment of cities during the pandemic. Not everyone has the resources to simply pack up and leave, and many rely on the resources that cities provide. And many of those that did leave their cities simply relocated to other cities.

Cities that set themselves apart through substantial investments in sustainability, health and wellness, resiliency and equity will be the leaders of tomorrow. People by their very nature need to feel confident, comfortable and safe with the community around them. That’s why it is critical to provide a framework that communicates the importance of investing in urban infrastructure.

I am proud of the 114 cities and communities across the globe who have certified through the LEED for Cities and Communities rating systems, including the City of Dubai and the King Salman Energy Park (SPARK) project. These rating systems revolutionize the way cities and communities are planned, developed and operated, in order to improve their overall sustainability and quality of life. LEED for Cities and Communities is aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and encompasses social, economic and environmental performance indicators and strategies with a clear, data-driven means of benchmarking and communicating progress. The rating system also addresses pandemic-specific challenges with two LEED Safety First Pilot Credits, one addressing the preparedness for pandemic planning and the other ensuring social equity in pandemic planning.

At some point, we will enter a post-pandemic world. However, leaders must not then forget the lessons learned from COVID-19. We must remain focused on letting science, data and the health and wellness of future generations drive each and every decision that we make. Better buildings and communities do lead to better and healthier lives. Let’s make that our collective legacy.

Mahesh Ramanujam is President and CEO of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI). He may be contacted at mr@usgbc.org.

Hira Industries launches thermal insulation solution

DUBAI, UAE, 15 February 2021: Hira Industries launched the Aerofoam NBR Lap Seal Tube, which the company described through a Press release as an effective and efficient thermal insulation solution that can be installed in various residential and commercial complexes to provide corrosion protection, whilst improving safety, efficiency and durability of the building.

Launched for the first time in the UAE market, the product is a pre-slit, closed-cell elastomeric thermal insulation tube, which is manufactured with a pre-installed adhesive that helps in reducing the use of additional adhesive by 90%, the company said. The overlap seals are particularly developed for mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) contractors for a secure sealing and for reinsulating old and damaged pipes.

“At Hira Industries, our aim is to launch several new products and technologies in this year,” said Umesh Unni, General Manager, Hira Industries. “The focus will be to establish good customer relations and deliver cost-effective solutions to them. The launch of the Lap Seal Tubes is a reflection of our vision to expand our product base and cater to the ever-growing requirements of the insulation business.”

The Lap Seal Tube is much easier to install due to the pre-slit feature and the pressure-sensitive adhesive, reducing the installation time by more than 50%, the company claimed. Along with this, the company said, the aim of introducing the Lap Seal Tube is to provide a long-lasting insulation solution at a much lower cost in terms of the time and accessories used to install the product and the maintenance costs, as it does not require frequent maintenance and replacement. This feature of Tube makes it a unique proposition in the industry, setting it apart from existing products, the company asserted.

The fact that the product is manufactured in-house, the company said, facilitates quick bulk delivery and expert support for the HVAC&R industry, the company said. The Lap Seal Tube come with the guarantee of being able to last for more than a decade, as compared to the conventional insulation solutions that require frequent maintenance and replacement, making it the right solution for all insulation requirements at a much lower price, the company claimed. It is the perfect solution for a diverse range of insulation requirements, as the tube’s size can be customised to fit the pipes perfectly, while the pressure-sensitive adhesive overlay helps in an easy and quick adhesion, as compared to the other insulation solutions in the industry, the company said.

Unni said: “The tubes are made of high-grade-quality material and have an integrated structure, yet are economically priced, which makes them an attractive solution for all requirements. That is not all – keeping the environment in mind, we have used fume-free and clean materials to produce the Lap Seal Tubes. As a result, extra precautions are not required after installing the solution, which is extremely efficient in cooling systems, as they do not form condensation. We are committed to helping buildings increase LEED points, and the insulation of Lap Seal Tubes fulfills all LEED requirements to maintain a sustainable and green earth.”

A case of the market moving ahead of policy

North America generally does not shy away from participating in the dialogue on sustainability, with a number of well-known organisations, certification bodies and manufacturers paving the way for initiatives that promote greater energy efficiency within the built environment, not only across the continent but worldwide.

James Walters

James K. Walters, Vice President, International Affairs, Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI), in identifying trends across North America, states that the work of standardisation bodies in this regard and the uptake of programmes, such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) have helped moved the dial towards a more integrated approach in addressing building requirements. “We are supportive of climate change mitigation efforts,” Walters states. “We are supportive of rational energy-efficiency standards and of approaching them holistically.”

Mahesh Ramanujam

Mahesh Ramanujam, President and CEO, United States Green Building Council (USBC), believes that the trend towards more efficient buildings will persist, despite the viewpoint of incumbent powers, emphasising that policy decisions are no longer the sole driver impacting the progress of “Green”. As many as “88 of the Fortune 100 companies have mandated LEED as their global Green Building rating system,” he says. “It is a market-driven tool and a voluntary management tool – it’s not regulation.” Ramanujam says this extends to government organisations, with 400 municipalities, 32 states and 15 federal agencies in the United States mandating and recommending LEED as a best guideline and practice protocol. “This means two decades worth of change management that has happened, globally,” he says. “It has been integrated as part of the core strategy. Sustainability is no longer about being a nice thing to do.”

Giorgio Elia, Vice President, UTC CCS Middle East, shares the company’s history with LEED in this regard. “Carrier was the first company to join the U.S. Green Building Council in 1993,” Elia says, “and is the only company to be a founding member of Green Building councils on four continents, including in Argentina, China, France, India, Kuwait, Singapore and South Africa.” Carrier in the Middle East, he adds, is licensed as an Education Partner to train in the LEED curriculum and has trained more than 500 people in the region. Carrier’s Middle East headquarters in the UAE, he adds, is certified LEED Gold, while Carrier Saudi Arabia’s Jeddah office is certified LEED Platinum.

Saad Ali

Providing a manufacturer’s perspective, Saad Ali, General Manager – Middle East and Africa, SPX Cooling Technologies, says LEED certification is frequently a goal of designers of many North American buildings. He says: “Energy savings is a key driver for many companies, as well, so power consumption is declining. The impact of that will be evident in the next couple of years. Changes in government policies could impact these initiatives with fewer energy credits and subsidy programs available to companies for producing energy-efficient products for the market. But I think overall support for energy-efficient products will continue.”

James Connaughton

Regulations no longer seem to be a pre-requisite to encourage uptake and investment in energy-efficient technology, as James L. Connaughton, President and CEO, Nautilus Data Technologies, says. As an “ardent practitioner of free market environmentalism”, he believes a better product will always win out in the end. Connaughton, however, believes while government policy is not needed to encourage acceptance and investment of better products and solutions, it can play a role in hindering its advancement. This, he says, can happen by taking too long to permit more efficient and environmentally friendly technologies [to enter the market] and subsidising inefficient competitors. “That,” he says, “would not be helpful because government is providing our competitors with the economic advantage to improve their facilities.” Connaughton adds that while energy-efficiency standards are helpful in driving consumers and investors, they tend to work in favour of the incumbent. Thus, he says, they have to be designed appropriately so they can drive faster investment in economically beneficial outcomes and accomplish its objectives.

Ali says that while the rollback of some EPA clean energy rules by the current administration has caused headlines, it hasn’t deterred companies that develop HVAC products from continuing to pursue new technologies. “The recent paradigm shift in lighting serves as an example,” he says. “The introduction of LEDs as replacements for traditional incandescent light bulbs met with some consumer resistance. New technologies are often more expensive until they gain traction and acceptance.”

Kit Fransen

Kit Fransen, Director, Product Management, North America, Tecumseh, adds: “It’s no secret that there has been a shift in how buildings operate, as well as how people live and work in them. The sustainability movement is becoming more mainstream every day and plenty of manufacturers, including Tecumseh, look to reduce their overall environmental footprint, because it is shown to be profitable and drives innovation.” LEED and Green Globes, he says, are just a few programmes that were niche but now have become standard place in most building designs “as you can see with the continued integration of their requirements into ASHRAE or other international standards”. Fransen adds: “To meet these needs, manufacturers and end-users are now making investments with natural refrigerants such as hydrocarbons that require significant investment to operate equipment efficiently and safely. Before LEED or other ‘Green Building’ type standards, most people did not connect the dots regarding how much time we spend in commercial and industrial facilities that can impact our health as well as the world around us.” Ramanujam adds: “In the United States, Republicans and Democrats have disagreements on climate change and ‘Green’, but our growth was strong [even] during the Republican presidency. I’m hoping in the current trend we will grow more. Why? Because it provoked individual engagement, and that is what we are looking for.” LEED, he says, is about taking responsibility and accountability in saying “I want to go further and beyond”. Ramanujam says: “We don’t want somebody to tell us a regulation. We are going to do it, because we believe in it and we are going to push the envelope further. In a subtle way, it’s a good thing for the market, because people are going to do something about it.”

By popular demand

The market does, indeed, seem to be doing something about it, with manufacturers reporting an uptake in consumers showing more willingness to invest in a more efficient technology.

Ali emphasises that technological advancements owing to countries’ efforts to reduce reliance on petrochemicals inevitably cascades to other industries, especially HVAC, which, he stresses, is a high priority for building owners, given that it consumes as much as 70% of energy in commercial buildings. “Every consumer is looking for efficient HVAC units, with the best coefficient of performance and the least energy cost,” he says. “While environmental impact may not be their first consideration, some consumers want to balance energy efficiency with sustainability. Consumers are protected to some degree by regulations that restrict the use of refrigerants that damage the environment and so they know that available products must comply with a range of environmental standards.”

Robert Presser, Vice President, Acme Engineering and GlobeOwl Solutions, also says that he has seen more focus being placed on high-efficiency motors and VAV fans. “Twenty-five years ago, people will look at an air-handling unit and ask, ‘How many cfns?’ Now they look at an AHU and ask, ‘What is my cost to operate this?’ More than the acquisition, stakeholders are looking at life-cycle and operation.” This, he says, comes from building owners paying more attention, as there would be no incentive to choose such products unless otherwise specified.

Rakesh Saxena

Rakesh Saxena, President, Trimac Inc., says there has been an increasing demand for proper sealing of ductwork from building owners and mechanical HVAC construction engineers in North America. The current ASHRAE standard No. 90.1, he says, notes the impact of duct leakage on energy consumption and IAQ. “ASHRAE standards require a duct to be sealed to the Sheet Metal and Air-Conditioning Contractors’ National Association’s Seal Class A regardless of pressure,” he says. “This means that all seams, except spiral lock seams, joints and penetration in medium- and low-pressure, return and exhaust ductwork must be properly sealed.”

Dean Wood

Speaking on increasing emphasis for energy efficient equipment in new build specifications, Dean Wood, Sales and Marketing Manager, Envira- North Systems, says HVLS fans are a common inclusion in all commercial, industrial and institutional buildings.  “More than anything local regulations and cost savings drive designs and purchasing decisions,” he says, adding that the company’s products have gone from a “possible inclusion to an integral component of most specifications”.

Stuart Engel

Stuart Engel, International Business Development, Fresh-Aire UV, says that owing to greater emphasis on energy conversation there has been an uptake in using UV to irradiate the cooling coils in HVAC applications. “Design engineers have realised that by including UV to irradiate cooling coils the end-user can benefit from the fact that the coils will remain clean and not become blocked by biofilm growing,” he says.

Walter Ellis

Walter Ellis, Executive Vice President and General Manager, RGF Environmental Group, echoes this.  “Studies show the correlation of continuous UV treatment of coil surfaces to prevent microbial fouling of the coils,” he says, “and how this technology,in turn, reduces the associated loss of heat transfer efficiency due to the bio-fouled coils.  As well as energy-recovery systems specific for fresh air makeup systems.  These are primarily focused on industrial and commercial markets, with some more progressive adoption in the consumer market.” Engel says, “Depending on the cost of electricity, installing UV on cooling coils can save between 15 and 25% of the annual HVAC energy cost and virtually eliminate having to manually clean the coils. Payback time for installing UV will depend in part on the cost of power, annual operating and cooling hours and will normally be between two and 11 months.”

Sean Holloway, National Sales Manager HVACR, RectorSeal LLC, says the company continues to see greater emphasis towards energy efficiency across North America, in particular, for variable-speed compressors for residential applications, variable refrigerant flow (VRF) technology for commercial applications, and mini-split applications for both residential and light-commercial applications. The company, he says, is aiming to address the demand by helping contractors with accessories to encourage building and homeowners to opt for mini-split and VRF/VRV systems. “More and more individuals,” he says, “are willing to pay more up front, for higher efficiency equipment in order to use less energy, and have less negative impact on the environment in the long run.”

Fransen says that while the past decade has seen Energy Star, LEED, and other programmes push for lower energy use intensity (EUI) in all building types, reduction in energy use for commercial refrigeration has only begun “due to the tackling of “low-hanging fruit” in energy consumption such as lights, HVAC, and process loads.” This, however, is beginning to change. “Recent governmental regulations, such as requirements for walk-in coolers and freezers from the US Department of Energy with a mandated performance level of Annual Walk-In Energy Factor (AWEF) is just the first of many requirements where energy performance will become more regulated in the commercial refrigeration market place,” he says. “Technologies, such as variable-speed components, including fans and compressors, in addition to control strategies such as floating head pressure control will become more common in refrigeration system design.” Fransen adds that in staying abreast with upcoming standards to develop new products surrounding mandated and voluntary programmes, Tecumseh sees variable speed compressors and systems as well as low-GWP refrigerants transitioning over to the commercial market “once energy standards and regulations become more prevalent across the globe”.

Industry 4.0

Another key trend Walters identifies in North America is the growing move towards the use of air conditioning and water heating equipment that are connected and able to talk to the grid and electricity supplier, relative to adjusting supply with demand. “It’s not an on-and-off switch,” he says. Fransen echoes this, adding that the Internet of Things (IoT) and connected devices are quickly changing the way consumers use products, and that the company sees a similar trend in the commercial refrigeration market. “More and more components are connected, which helps end-users with a variety of different tasks, to simplify their work,” he says. “Regarding refrigeration components, some examples could be a means to show diagnostics for quick servicing or a web-based predictive analysis tool that would show when components in a system may potentially fail based on specific parameters.”

Presser adds that LEED certification also plays a role in this. “When you choose to get LEED certification for a building,” he says, “you incorporate a lot of intelligent energy controls.” However, he says, no one is dictating the backbone communication architecture to be used, whether it is an HVACR standard or an industry open standard. Presser says that the adoption of LEED certification will promote greater building intelligence and technology, but that the industry still has a long way to go.

The industry, Presser says, is currently promoting a standard that does not interface with technologies coming into buildings and devices and that he sees a move towards an international standard of communication in the HVACR space. “My feeling,” he says, “is that eventually product developers are going to take a look at the HVACR space and come with an open standard product that will ensure lower cost and ease of connectivity, which will displace proprietary technologies. You also have to realise you have a huge installed space, the opportunity will be when you look at existing buildings and you want to add intelligence. Who will win?”

Ali says that being one of the biggest retrofit markets, North America may be a little ahead of the rest of the world, in terms of planning for maintenance. “Along with new development and construction, there is a lot of renovation, where older buildings are updated and using the latest technologies,” he says. “Predictive maintenance comes into play here. You may have a LEED-certified building equipped with the latest equipment with IoT technology to communicate building conditions 24/7. Without careful monitoring, regular inspection and diligent maintenance, the initial energy efficiency will decline dramatically over the next five years.”

Maintenance, Ali stresses, is an essential component to successful energy management. He adds that though North America is a huge continent with diverse climates and with each state having its own mindset, regulations, capabilities and budget to maintain infrastructure, building owners are more or less aware of the important role that maintenance plays in ensuring a healthier environment, better indoor air quality and better, energy- efficient buildings. “If you are a building manager or owner of commercial real estate,” he says, “that would be in your mindset in order to compete in the marketplace.”

Ali adds that building owners and equipment suppliers need to work together to conduct energy audits and implement ongoing maintenance programmes. “Right now,” he says, “follow up is often lacking, whether it’s in North America, Asia or in the Middle East.”

While HVACR manufacturers in North America navigate the demands of the local market, most operate in a largely international market and grapple with the changing winds of an increasingly globalised and inter-connected consumer base.

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