Smart Ventilation Controls for Occupancy and Auxiliary Fan Use Across U.S. Climates

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Smart Ventilation has been developed as a way to reduce the energy associated with ventilation by changing when ventilation happens and how much ventilation occurs at any given time. In high performance buildings with low envelope and appliance related loads, ventilation is becoming a bigger part of the total building energy use and needs to be addressed if performance targets are to be met.

This work explores the development and performance of smart ventilation controls based on occupancy and auxiliary fan operation that provide annual dwelling unit ventilation equivalence to ASHRAE Standard 62.2-2016. A prototype high performance home compliant with U.S. DOE Building America Zero Energy Ready program requirements was simulated using the REGCAP tool with and without smart controls across 15 U.S. DOE climate zones. Balanced and unbalanced IAQ fans were independently simulated, and all smart controlled fans had airflows double the reference 62.2-2016 airflow. Three idealized occupancy patterns were examined: 1st shift (a typical daily work/school absence), an extended 1st shift with more time spent out of the home evenings and weekends and 3rd shift (night work). The Occupancy controller turns the IAQ fan off during unoccupied periods, and it resumes ventilation upon their return. While unoccupied, contaminants are allowed to accumulate in the space, because occupants are not exposed to these contaminants. When occupants return home, they are exposed to these higher contaminant concentrations, and the controller increases the ventilation rate sufficiently to ensure equivalence with a continuous IAQ fan. Accounting for pollutant emissions that occur during unoccupied periods (as required by ASHRAE 62.2-2016), sharply distinguishes our occupancy controls from past Demand Controlled Ventilation systems. This new accounting method results in equivalent contaminant exposure, as well as lower reductions in average ventilation rates and lower energy savings.

Smart controls were demonstrated that saved HVAC energy (i.e., avoided heating/cooling load, as well as fan energy)—averaging between 6 and 46% of ventilation-related energy use depending on the control strategy and occupancy pattern assumptions. The greatest savings were in the combined Auxiliary Fan + Occupancy control. Energy savings increased with climate heating demand and longer unoccupied time periods. The 3rd shift occupancy pattern had better performance, due to the thermal benefit of reducing the ventilation rate during the cold nighttime hours. This same effect provided a cooling energy benefit in hotter locations for the 1st shift.

Overall, savings from occupancy-based smart controls were low, because of the recovery period required after occupants return home, during which the airflow is double the 62.2 reference. This recovery is required to maintain equivalence with the ASHRAE standard. Occupancy-based control performance was improved when combined with sensing auxiliary fans and when providing a pre-occupancy flush out of one- or two-hours. Performance was similarly improved if the ASHRAE Standard were to recognize that pollutant emissions are lower during unoccupied periods, allowing a lower target ventilation rate during unoccupied periods (not currently in the standard) (see Full vs. Half AEQ in this report).

Finally, over-sized unbalanced fans that are cycled on-and-off by a smart controller (or timer) were found to substantially increase annual average air exchange and energy use relative to a continuous unbalanced fan due to the effects of superposition with natural infiltration.

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