Development of Smart Ventilation Control Algorithms for Humidity Control in High-Performance Homes in Humid U.S. Climates

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Past field research and simulation studies have shown that high performance homes experience elevated indoor humidity levels for substantial portions of the year in humid climates. This is largely the result of lower sensible cooling loads, which reduces the moisture removed by the cooling system. These elevated humidity levels lead to concerns about occupant comfort, health and building durability. Use of mechanical ventilation at rates specified in ASHRAE Standard 62.2-2013 are often cited as an additional contributor to humidity problems in these homes. Past research has explored solutions, including supplemental dehumidification, cooling system operational enhancements and ventilation system design (e.g., ERV, supply, exhaust, etc.). This project's goal is to develop and demonstrate (through simulations) smart ventilation strategies that can contribute to humidity control in high performance homes. These strategies must maintain IAQ via equivalence with ASHRAE Standard 62.2-2013. To be acceptable they must not result in excessive energy use. Smart controls will be compared with dehumidifier energy and moisture performance.

This work explores the development and performance of smart algorithms for control of mechanical ventilation systems, with the objective of reducing high humidity in modern high performance residences. Simulations of DOE Zero-Energy Ready homes were performed using the REGCAP simulation tool. Control strategies were developed and tested using the Residential Integrated Ventilation (RIVEC) controller, which tracks pollutant exposure in real-time and controls ventilation to provide an equivalent exposure on an annual basis to homes meeting ASHRAE 62.2-2013. RIVEC is used to increase or decrease the real-time ventilation rate to reduce moisture transport into the home or increase moisture removal. This approach was implemented for no-, one- and two-sensor strategies, paired with a variety of control approaches in six humid climates (Miami, Orlando, Houston, Charleston, Memphis and Baltimore). The control options were compared to a baseline system that supplies outdoor air to a central forced air cooling (and heating) system (CFIS) that is often used in hot humid climates. Simulations were performed with CFIS ventilation systems operating on a 33% duty-cycle, consistent with 62.2-2013. The CFIS outside airflow rates were set to 0%, 50% and 100% of 62.2-2013 requirements to explore effects of ventilation rate on indoor high humidity. These simulations were performed with and without a dehumidifier in the model. Ten control algorithms were developed and tested.

Analysis of outdoor humidity patterns facilitated smart control development. It was found that outdoor humidity varies most strongly seasonally—by month of the year—and that all locations follow the similar pattern of much higher humidity during summer. Daily and hourly variations in outdoor humidity were found to be progressively smaller than the monthly seasonal variation. Patterns in hourly humidity are driven by diurnal daily patterns, so they were predictable but small, and were unlikely to provide much control benefit. Variation in outdoor humidity between days was larger, but unpredictable, except by much more complex climate models. We determined that no-sensor strategies might be able to take advantage of seasonal patterns in humidity, but that real-time smart controls were required to capture variation between days. Sensor-based approaches are also required to respond dynamically to indoor conditions and variations not considered in our analysis. All smart controls face trade-offs between sensor accuracy, cost, complexity and robustness.

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