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EDEN architects were selected as finalists in the RIAI 3TWENTY10 Research Competition. All twenty finalizes presented their research proposal at the RIAI conference in Westport in October 2010 in a “Pecha Kucha” 3 minutes each presenter style format. You can view the original submission here. The proposal focuses on the lack of evidence based research in Ireland on domestic ventilation. New energy regulations are making houses ever more airtight with little thought to the quality of the internal air and comfort. The rest of this text is from the 3 minute presentation.

Room to Breathe

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The open fire is still one of the best ways to both heat and ventilate a room. The stack effect of the chimney draws in fresh air and removes stale air. In the typical house ventilation is still mostly provided by infiltration of air through invisible cracks and large openings such as chimneys

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Architect’s Blindspot : This is the Architect driving away from a new house. Everything looks good. Ventilation however is the Architects blind-spot because its not visible or tangible. Architects design the windows and vents, others design the heating system, but it is left to the occupant to balance the need for both heat and fresh air in the cold winter months.

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Wind : Wind has always played a part in background ventilation by creating different pressures around buildings which push and pull air in and out through cracks and openings. While the strength of the wind is not constant, it has the definite potential to be part of a organized ventilation strategy.

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Are Pressure Test : Air infiltration levels in new dwellings are being gradually reduced by ever stricter regulations which require higher levels of air tightness. Like a see-saw, when the amount of wind induced infiltration in dwellings goes down, the amount of background ventilation has to go up to maintain comfort.

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Ventilation Strategies : Various products and technologies are now being promoted by the construction industry to ensure compliance with Part F and Part L regulations. Some are mechanical, some are passive, some are whole house and some are room based or a combination of all those strategies. My question is how can we know that these really work ?

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Digital Survey : Digital survey equipment is getting smaller and cheaper. I am convinced that this kind of hand held infra red camera can revolutionise the quality of Irish construction. This will affect indoor air quality. We can no longer claim that it is too expensive or difficult to test dwellings for air quality

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Domestic Air Quality : A survey of dwelling air quality could include outside and inside data to allow results to be compared against the local environment. Data collected at regular intervals when combined with information on window use and air tightness would give real evidence on actual air quality.

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Testing Phases : Initially a type of survey would be devised around a combination of hardware and software which could be refined on a sample set of suitable dwellings. Once the system was fully developed it could be shared as an open source project allowing for nationwide testing. This would create a body of evidence based data which would provide the foundation for further research.

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Does this work ? As an Architect, I prefer natural, quiet, and cost effective ventilation solutions, like the old fashioned fire place. I fear my blind-spot. I don’t want my choice of ventilation strategies to be guided by ideology, ignorance, fashion or commercial half truths. I need evidence based data, which is why I am proposing this research. You cannot have good Architecture without good indoor air quality.