Most people take it for granted, but the air quality of their workplace is a major contributor to their overall health and productivity. A 2015 Harvard study published in Environmental Health Perspectives found that workers in environments with low concentrations of volatile organic compounds and enhanced ventilation scored twice as well on cognitive performance tests as workers in conventional environments.
The issue of indoor air quality has only become more pronounced as energy efficiency building standards have encouraged builders to design airtight structures that leak less heat and conditioned air. Triple-glazed windows and dense foam insulated walls may trap heat or cool air, but they also restrict ventilation, allowing for more buildup of bioeffluents such as carbon dioxide.
“What we’re not realizing is poor indoor air quality has a negative impact on the physiology of the human body,” says Nick Agopian, vice president of sales and marketing at RenewAire, a manufacturer of energy recovery ventilation (ERV) systems. The company’s products are known for reducing energy use, but the savings realized also helps builders justify increasing the amount of ventilation to ensure pollutants are expelled and more fresh oxygen gets pumped into the building. At a minimum, Agopian says RenewAire’s ERV systems can triple the intake of outdoor air as required by building code standards, leading to a healthier environment for anyone who lives or works within the structure.
Doug Steege and Chuck Gates founded RenewAire in 1979 as a solar design/build energy-saving business. The two wanted to promote solar energy as an environmentally friendly way to supplement a building’s energy use and improve its carbon footprint, but within a few years they concluded they could make a bigger impact on the planet by focusing on energy demand.
“What they realized was that supplementing the consumption doesn’t change people’s habits,” Agopian says. “If you really want to reduce an individual’s environmental footprint, the best way is to change a person’s habits. Meaning the cleanest energy is the energy you don’t use.”
Steege and Gates believed that reducing a building’s energy demand would have a more perpetually positive impact on the environment than subsidizing bad habits with renewables. So they took aim at the single largest contributor to a building’s energy demand: the HVAC system.
A typical HVAC system absorbs between 50 and 75 percent of a building’s total energy load. Of that, about half of the HVAC’s system energy load comes from outdoor air treatment. It’s there that Steege and Gates saw the most potential to reduce a building’s energy consumption.
Having identified a market, RenewAire, now majority owned by Soler & Palau Ventilation Group, was the first U.S. manufacturer to develop a line of ERV products built around a static-plate core that transfers heat and humidity from exhaust air to treat outdoor air coming into the building. Because it captures both heat and humidity, RewnewAire’s system is considered to be “total” energy recovery.
During the summer, the system rejects moisture from air entering the building through an enthalpic core and dehumidifies the fresh air as it comes in, and vice-versa during the winter. Recycling the moisture at the point of entry takes the burden off the air conditioner to dehumidify or rehumidify the air, greatly reducing its power consumption.
Further, because the energy recovery device has no moving parts, it enjoys a lower failure rate than traditional systems. “By utilizing this static core-based approach, we increase reliability for our customers and save them time and money throughout the many decade service life of the ERV,” Director of Engineering Neal Werner says.
The kinds of buildings that can benefit from an ERV system are limited only by imagination, Agopian says. Over the past three decades, RenewAire has installed more than 200,000 units in homes, offices, schools, hospitals, retail centers and even a research facility in Antarctica.
Each of those customers has witnessed first-hand RewnewAire’s commitment to quality. RenewAire’s warranty claims are very low, an order of magnitude less than industry averages. The company prides itself on offering the market a higher-quality ERV system at a competitive price with a lead time about half as long as most competitors – three days for a residential product and generally less than three weeks for a commercial system.
RenewAire can excel in those areas because it follows Quick Response Manufacturing (QRM) methodology. Instead of trying to reduce costs, the company focuses on how to trim time spent at every level of its operations. Vendors must deliver components on a tight schedule and designs are engineered to bring new products to market quickly. “Our top-level mindset is to take time out of everything,” Vice President of Operations Scott Forest says. “It’s a unifying force across the whole business.”
The high dependability and on-time delivery of RenewAire’s products help builders and contractors stick to schedules and reduce the overall time spent on the job sites, resulting in a lower total cost. “That manufacturing methodology offers our customers – the contractors installing these systems – the peace of mind that the systems won’t have callbacks,” Agopian adds.
The rising demand for lower-energy air exchange systems forced RenewAire to move into a 111,000-square-foot facility in April that was designed from the ground up for QRM. With its new facility, RenewAire is practicing what it preaches. The building gets 100 percent of its power from renewable sources and it is designed to meet LEED Gold certification – including in the manufacturing areas.
RenewAire installed its own ERV systems to circulate fresh air into the building, providing workers with clean oxygen while also demonstrating the effectiveness of its products. Those sustainability and air quality considerations, along with amenities such as a lounge and gym, meant to create a complete holistic environment that will attract today’s workers.
“We’re trying to cater to the millennials that are forcing us to change the way we work,” Agopian says. “We do spend the majority of our awake lives in these facilities so we need to make sure they are appealing.”