Ventilation fans have become more and more efficient in recent years, and while improving the mechanical design of fans is still a top priority for manufacturers, many are now recognizing a growing desire for connectivity and information. As a result, products are not only more efficient and quieter — they’re also smarter, more intuitive, and more connected than ever before.

Product Evolution

Big Ass Fans recently expanded its product line to include additional commercial and residential fans that are designed to be both aesthetically pleasing as well as highly functional.

“The newest addition to the company’s line of high-volume, low-speed [HVLS] overhead fans is Essence, which was released in 2014,” said Rachel Tsvetanov, spokesperson for Big Ass Solutions. “Essence’s motor creates efficient, silent air movement while the sleek look and array of customizable finishes make it the perfect ceiling fan for large commercial or public spaces.”

In 2012, Big Ass Fans debuted the Haiku line of residential fans, which now includes the 7-foot Haiku 84 for large residential and commercial spaces. Then, in 2014, the company released Haiku with SenseME. “[It] can reduce air conditioning and heating bills through automated controls, and [it] works with the Nest Learning Thermostat,” Tsvetanov said.

Pat Nielsen, marketing manager of ventilation fans, Broan-NuTone, said products have changed “in a number of ways” over the past few years and are now easier and faster to install.

“Broan-NuTone introduced ULTRAQuick technology into the ULTRA Green™ and ULTRA Pro™ Series, which allows techs to install the fan from room-side; you no longer need to go into the attic. The use of BLDC [brushless dc] motors in our ULTRA Green Series makes our ventilation fans much more efficient as well — almost 10 times more efficient than Energy Star® requirements,” Nielsen said. “Broan-NuTone offers models with multispeed capability to meet both continuous and spot ventilation requirements. We also offer humidity and motion sensing to trigger the fan to turn on or increase from low/continuous cfm to maximum cfm for spot ventilation.

Peggy Tress, director of marketing, ventilation solutions, Greenheck Fan Corp., said the company is constantly striving to set the bar on performance. “The key to staying competitive in the marketplace is to stay ahead of others and always strive for higher performance, quality, and efficiency,” she said. “Greenheck continuously evaluates products to build them more efficiently and more energy-efficient. Tying in to building controls has become a bigger consideration as we refine our offerings.”

“We have developed multiple product lines featuring gearless direct-drive motors that are highly efficient and loaded with performance features,” said Barry Warner, national sales manager, MacroAir Technologies Inc. “By eliminating gearboxes we have reduced the sound to only that of the wind itself, reduced the weight for easier installation and adaptability to more structure types, and increased the ability for these motors to handle the high heat buildup in warehouses. Eliminating the gearbox means no oil to leak, no seals to fail, and zero maintenance to perform.”

Patricia Monks, product manager, Panasonic Eco Solutions North America, said ventilation codes and other green building standards are putting pressure on manufacturers to produce fans that meet performance requirements. “We are increasingly focused on launching dc-motored fans, as they are more powerful and energy efficient than traditional ac motors,” she said. “We are also moving away from traditional compact fluorescent (CFL) lighting to LED, as it lasts longer and is more energy efficient and environmentally friendly.”

At Systemair, Fantech’s ventilation fan product range has continued to expand, most noticeably with the addition of fans with electronically commutated motors (ECMs) and with application-specific fan products, said Mark Wald, product manager – fans, Systemair.

“Fan products with ECMs are very energy efficient and are easily speed-controlled,” Wald explained. “Both of these traits are desirable, of course, and make fans with ECMs very suitable for demand-based ventilation applications. Fantech’s new Makeup Air System utilizes an ECM-driven fan, which allows the makeup air system to constantly match the varying airflow rate of a compensated exhaust system.”

The Influence of Codes

Some of the biggest factors driving the ventilation market are standards and building codes, which are increasingly mandating ventilation in both the commercial and residential markets. To keep on top of these standards, many manufacturers make it a point to actively participate in the standards development process.

“Big Ass Fans employees are actively involved in authoring several standards, including ASHRAE Standards 55, 62.1, 90.1, and 189.1; the AMCA [Air Movement and Control Association] 230; and the potential U.S. Department of Energy [DOE] rulemaking for ceiling fan energy conservation standards,” Tsvetanov said. “The only standard now available, the voluntary Energy Star rating system, only applies to residential products; Big Ass Fans has participated in that system, and models of the Haiku ceiling fan currently hold many of the top rankings in the category.”

“Broan-NuTone specifically designs products, such as the ULTRA Green Series, to meet new codes,” Nielsen said. “They are designed such that one fan will handle multiple needs — i.e. both continuous whole-house mechanical ventilation and spot ventilation — in the most efficient and consumer-friendly way possible. BLDC [brushless dc] motors offer incredible efficiency and less than 0.3 sone operation so that they do not disturb occupants as they are running 24 hours a day.

Tress said if Greenheck’s products fail to meet the company’s green production goals, they’re eliminated from consideration.

“Greenheck has been involved from the beginning, and this work has caused us to, again, continuously review and prepare to be a major player and meet all specs when they’re realized in the marketplace.”

MacroAir also participates in a variety of organizations and provides ideas and input on future design considerations. “Organizations like the DOE are developing future efficiency criteria and recommendations for large fans. ASHRAE and AIA [American Institute of Architects] are looking for highly efficient designs and cost-effective ways to improve indoor air movement and quality, and organizations like AMCA are creating test standards to provide objective third-party validation of true HVLS fan performance,” Warner said. “All these organizations, and others, have heavily influenced our commitment to gearless high-efficiency fans.”

Verification has also become an important part of ventilation standards, including ASHRAE 62.2.

“Compliance with ASHRAE 62.2 is now required for Energy Star for Homes 3.0,” Monks said. “Our line of WhisperGreen Select fan and fan/LED light combinations incorporate a dc motor with built-in self-adjusting technology that ensures optimum cfm output, regardless of a complicated duct run. We also offer the EcoVent — a compact fan that is field-adjustable with a Veri-Boost switch you can simply flip to ramp up the fan’s airflow if the installation requires it. This feature is just what a builder/installer needs when on the site with a home rater doing verification testing.”

Codes and regulations will continue to have a heavy influence on the design of ventilation products, Wald said. “Today’s codes and regulations are beginning to address the more complex ventilation needs of tighter, more energy-efficient building construction. For larger-capacity ventilation applications, the tightness of the building envelope must now be considered, such that balanced exhaust/makeup airflow rates are often necessary. Codes and regulations also help to ensure ventilation products are safe to use.”

Fantech’s Makeup Air System features a makeup air fan with an ECM and controls, which allow the system to operate as a companion to a kitchen exhaust system.

“The controls ensure the makeup air system’s airflow rate will automatically match a varying, homeowner-controlled exhaust airflow rate,” Wald said. “The system also includes an air inlet device, a motorized damper, and a filter. Optional components, such as a duct silencer and an electric heater, are available. To put it simply, the Fantech Makeup Air System can help a builder comply with the building code for kitchen makeup air and allow the kitchen exhaust system to be as effective as it is intended — and do so without the danger of causing backdrafting.”

Consumer Demand

In addition to standards and codes, consumers are also dictating product innovation. Big Ass Fans’ engineering team focuses on inventing solutions for the problems that matter most to customers.

“Customer demand is sparking new ventures within the company. For instance, churches needed silent air circulation, so Big Ass Fans developed the first fans with silent motors,” Tsvetanov said. “In 2014, the company launched Big Ass Light in response to years of listening to customer complaints about yellow, dim, short-lived, industrial light fixtures; the expansion into the residential market was also inspired by customers who installed industrial and commercial fans and lights in their homes.”

Consumers are becoming more aware of the importance of IAQ and the range of ventilation fan offerings available to combat those issues, Nielsen said. “The number of consumers who don’t realize there is such a thing as an extremely quiet bath fan continues to decline, and those building new homes or undertaking bath remodeling projects are specifically asking for models that provide quiet, efficient, and effective ventilation,” he said.

Customers are also becoming more and more aware of energy rebates, Tress said, which can help boost sales. “Engineers and contractors must show customers they can bring these solutions to the customer to stay relevant and valued, earning respect and additional business because of the solutions they provide.”

MacroAir’s gearless product lines are based on experiences and input from customers as to what is valuable in a fan design, Warner said. “Consumer awareness grows, and with it grows the increasing number of application environments where these types of fans can make a significant difference in comfort and energy savings. Public spaces — from retail to schools, fitness clubs, and churches — are all part of the newer markets that demand clean and simplified design, minimal hardware, and support brackets for the least obtrusive look. To those customers, it isn’t about gimmicks and colors, but more about performance and practical features that matter.”

Panasonic is constantly working to educate the general public on the importance of mechanical ventilation and its positive impact on IAQ. Monks said the company’s fans are always designed with the end user in mind.

“They are long-lasting and Energy Star-certified, and our fans also have some of the lowest sone [sound] levels in the industry,” she added. “Using very quiet fans means that homeowners are more likely to allow them to run all the time.”

Fantech’s products are also designed with the end user in mind, and the end user wants smart products, Wald said. “From a ventilation product perspective, smarter products will exhibit more automatic functions. The automatic functions could include operation due to occupancy, high levels of contaminants in the indoor environment, or simply an electrical interlock between complementary ventilation systems.”

The Future of Fans

Increasingly stringent building codes and standards, along with consumer demand for smart and efficient products, will continue to push manufacturers to create the next generation of ventilation fans.

“Concerns about energy consumption and environmental impact are growing across all sectors of the building industry, which creates a demand for sustainable and efficient products,” Tsvetanov said. “The biggest change in the industry isn’t new products, but rather a consideration of thermal comfort solutions beyond just conditioned air.”

Builders and developers are increasingly realizing the importance of high-quality, quiet, efficient ventilation, Nielsen said. “Rather than having just basic fans installed, they are now calling on HVAC professionals to provide models that will be up to the task of meeting today’s green building codes and standards,” he added. “Also, the ease and speed of installation is becoming more of a differentiator as contractors choose which models to install.”

Tress also said energy efficiency, controllability, and technology will be major trends moving forward. “The personnel in the field has been requesting the ability to control systems using a wide array of communication methods, including simpler controls for small to medium-sized businesses that cannot afford full-scale building automation systems. They take technology that used to be available only to big buildings and make it accessible to any consumer. We must continue to innovate to provide these tools to customers.”

For HVLS fans, finding ways to integrate those fans with the existing HVAC system will continue to be a trend.

“We can better distribute the air in a space; reduce the load and run time on the HVAC system; and provide fresh air exchange, evaporative cooling, and humidity reduction for a cost significantly less than the numerous alternatives,” Warner said.

“Buildings can be designed with less upfront capital costs associated with extensive ducting and blower fans, less a/c system tonnage required, and less long-term operational cost associated with the energy required to power large blower fans and HVAC systems that would run 20-30 percent longer without HVLS fans as part of the solution.”

Products will also continue to get quieter, especially as manufacturers embrace ECM technology.

“All ventilation fan products make some noise, so manufacturers are constantly working to make products quieter,” Wald said. “Fantech is no exception.”

A shifting mindset will also help ensure the ventilation market will continue to grow as consumers and installers begin to look at the system as a whole instead of concentrating on its individual components.

“Panasonic is already looking at ways to improve the comfort and IAQ of any home living environment through capitalizing on our product innovation and cross-product synergies to provide the industry with Total Home Comfort Solutions,” Monks said. “We are starting to see an increased focus shift from IAQ to Indoor Environmental Quality [IEQ] within a home as a total system.”

Finally, consumer demand for connectivity will continue to push manufacturers to improve their products.

“Panasonic is looking at intelligent HVAC systems that adjust to homeowners’ needs by tracking heating, ventilation, and cooling usage and preferences, then automatically adjusting the settings to ensure a consistent and comfortable indoor living environment with products that comply with the latest building codes and standards,” Monks said. “The connected home is definitely trending into the ventilation category.”

Publication date: 4/20/2015

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