Sustainable MEP design with BIM content

With increased demands for sustainable design in the construction process coming from regulatory institutions, as well as the general public and project owners, MEP specialists have to be properly equipped to respond to market expectations. Sustainable engineering is not only on a mission to avoid natural damage and reduce waste, but it also aims to increase comfort and utility in the building and increase bottom-line revenues by saving energy.

What does sustainable design mean?

Designing in a sustainable way means being aware of the impact generated by human activity and planning it in such ways that the damaging effects on the surroundings and finite resources are diminished or completely eliminated.

Moreover, green design is aligned with traditional considerations about construction, such as utility, comfort or durability of the building. In fact, it aims to significantly improve the overall experience by reducing the costs of operation and maintenance. This is possible through the use of more efficient technology based on alternative energy sources other than fossil fuels, that generate outputs in an economical manner.

Sustainable design thinking is ideally present throughout the life cycle of a building, from the planning and design phase, to estimating, to construction, operation and finally maintenance.

Why should you mind?

As a study produced by the Department of Industry and Science showed, HVAC equipment and systems are responsible for more than 41% of all primary energy consumption in a building. By optimizing MEP systems with the aim of reducing energy consumption and increasing conform at the same time, buildings will become more efficient, and ultimately more profitable, since the costs associated with generating energy per year will decrease accordingly. There are several ways you can start implementing sustainable HVAC design strategies in your projects.

Solar panels (photovoltaic panels)

Solar energy has been around for years and is a leading renewable energy source alongside wind power, hydropower and geothermal energy. In Germany for instance, solar power was responsible for 5.9% of the country total electricity generation in 2016, according to a Strom Report.

  • Remeha’s solar collectors can drastically improve energy efficiency in a building. Installed in combination with boilers (e.g. Calenta series) and thermostats. The resulting configuration becomes a solar-thermal hybrid system that can safely be labeled eco-friendly.

High efficiency heat pumps

Traditional fuel-based energy sources such as boilers that run on coal are less and less used in modern construction projects. That is because they are very CO2 intensive, generating large amounts of carbon emissions that are sent into the atmosphere contributing to pollution and consequently to global warming.

So far governments and councils of scientists have proved unable to find a scalable way to extract the carbon from the atmosphere that has already been released through combustion. That means the only way to stop endangering our ecosystem further is to stop emitting nocive substances in order to power our everyday lives.

Some very popular alternative energy sources are heat pumps, and that is not only due to the environmental reasons attached to them. Heat pumps have a very good COP (coefficient of performance). This represents the ratio between the amount of resources needed and the heating and cooling produced based on that input. A normal heat pump will on average produce 4kW of heat for every 1kW of electricity put in which is equivalent to a COP of 4. For gas heating system, we are generally looking at a COP of around 0.85. So not only are heat pumps greener, but they are also great money savers.

  • The aroTHERM Split heat pump from Vaillant is suitable for semi-detached homes and single-family houses. It is formed by two components: an indoor and an outdoor unit. The system uses the heat stored in the outside air and transforms it into energy that can be controlled to regulate the inside temperature.

  • The Hisense VRF HI-FLEXI M Series inverter air conditioner systems generate significant improvement in operation efficiency under partial load. This is because of the high-efficiency scroll compressor featured with leading frequency inverter control technology.

  • The EnviLine outdoor unit - Split or Monoblock - is combined with a bivalent wall-mounted EnviLine indoor unit and an external auxiliary heater, such as a central heating boiler or a wood or pellet stove. An advantage of this variant is that the control of the heat pump continuously determines whether it is more cost-efficient to use the heat pump or the auxiliary heater. Nefit solar panels can be connected directly to the indoor unit for green power supply.

  • ALEC (ATAG's Low Energy Concept) is a hybrid boiler that uses solar energy for heating and hot water with very high domestic hot water performance. This is a hybrid system with an energy storage tank that allows a very low energy consumption.

Air Conditioners powered by AI

Data can be used to automate certain processes that can increase efficiency and reduce waste, such as in the case of artificial intelligence powered HVAC systems. Weather conditions can now be monitored an predicted with up to one hour ahead and the functioning of the air conditioners and heat pumps alike can be adapted to the newly acquired set of information.

  • Fujitsu heat pumps and air conditioners use input about outside temperatures and humidity to make their own automated decisions about air cooling and air temperatures. By relying on AI data to control the functioning of the system in the best way, optimal energy use is ensured.

  • Air conditioners from Mitsubishi Electric are equipped with advanced sensor units that monitor the locations of people in the room, their level of activity, can measure floor temperatures, and temperature changes in the room if curtains are opened and closed, and more. Based on the data obtained this way, the operations are optimized by automatically adjusting air-conditioning levels.

Ventilation with heat recovery

Another important goal of green building is ensuring indoor environmental quality. Indoor spaces need to be properly insulated and ventilated in order to prevent the accumulation of moisture that can cause mold and other bacteria and viruses to form. Quality of life is ideally achieved by correctly insulating buildings and making use of efficient ventilation technologies.

  • The Air 70 from Brink Climate Systems is a quiet decentralized unit that requires no ducts and can completely be built into the outside wall. The system uses the air that rises upwards after being heated by machines and people to warm up the fresh air that is blown in from outside. This is done through the built-in heat exchanger which means that there is hardly any heat loss and still healthy ventilation at all times.

  • Air Excellent from Ubbink is a complete air distribution system that guarantees lower pressure losses than traditional systems due to its radial design. This means lower energy consumption overall. Moreover, the mechanical connections ensure long-term airtightness which reduces the risk of damage over time.

  • Uniflexplus+ from Ventilair Group is an air distribution system for ventilation that can be used in residential buildings, apartment buildings and small utilities. The inside of the system has been treated with antistatic and anti-bacterial additives, which means the Uniflexplus+ is designed to prevent contamination in the system.

  • The ECOFAN recirculation fan from MARK Climate Technology will redistribute the warm blanket of air that forms under the roof to the living area. This way, the air heater will be able to provide heating faster and the energy consumption can be reduced by up to 30%.

Smart control units and sensors

These devices can be controlled through smartphones or tablets and allow homeowners to control their heating and cooling systems from wherever they are. Residents can get an overview of the energy consumption over time and optimize it by setting their preferences.

  • The CO2 sensors from Orcon will monitor the level of carbon dioxide in a living area and only command the required amount of ventilation to start when the CO2 level increases above a certain value. This way, the resident can enjoy extra comfort and energy savings.

  • The Healthbox ventilation system from Renson checks the air quality 24 hours a day for CO2 or moisture and/or VOC's (odor) per room. The ventilation level per room is fully automatically adjusted in function of the measured air quality (based on sensors in the control modules). As long as the air quality in a room is good, the ventilation level is not increased.

As an MEP specialist, you are at the core of sustainable design thinking for MEP systems. Scroll through the MEPcontent library of BIM files and choose the ones that will help you green up your design!