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Ventilation is the intentional movement of air from outside a building to the inside. It is the V in HVAC. With clothes dryers, and combustion equipment such as water heaters, boilers, fireplaces, and wood stoves, their exhausts are often called vents or flues — this should not be confused with ventilation. The vents or flues carry the products of combustion which have to be expelled from the building in a way which does not cause harm to the occupants of the building. Movement of air between indoor spaces, and not the outside, is called transfer air.

Ventilation air, as defined in ASHRAE Standard 62.1[1] and the ASHRAE Handbook,[2] is that air used for providing acceptable indoor air quality. When people or animals are present in buildings, ventilation air is necessary to dilute odours and limit the concentration of carbon dioxide and airborne pollutants such as dust, smoke and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Ventilation air is often delivered to spaces by mechanical systems which may also heat, cool, humidify and dehumidify the space. Air movement into buildings can occur due to uncontrolled infiltration of outside air through the building fabric (see stack effect) or the use of deliberate natural ventilation strategies. Advanced air filtration and treatment processes such as scrubbing, can provide ventilation air by cleaning and recirculating a proportion of the air inside a building.

In commercial, industrial, and institutional (CII) buildings, and modern jet aircraft, return air is often recirculated to the air handling unit. A portion of the supply air is normally exfiltrated through the building envelope or exhausted from the building (e.g., bathroom or kitchen exhaust) and is replaced by outside air introduced into the return air stream. The rate of ventilation air required, most often provided by this mechanically-induced outside air, is often determined from ASHRAE Standard 62.1 for CII buildings, or 62.2 for low-rise residential buildings, or similar standards.


Types of ventilation

  • Mechanical or forced ventilation: through an air handling unit or direct injection to a space by a fan. A local exhaust fan can enhance infiltration or natural ventilation, thus increasing the ventilation air flow rate.
  • Natural ventilation occurs when the air in a space is changed with outdoor air without the use mechanical systems, such as a fan. Most often natural ventilation is assured through operable windows but it can also be achieved through temperature and pressure differences between spaces. Open windows or vents are not a good choice for ventilating a basement or other below ground structure. Allowing outside air into a cooler below ground space will cause problems with humidity and condensation.
  • Infiltration is separate from ventilation, but is often used to provide ventilation air

Ventilation rate

The ventilation rate, for CII buildings, is normally expressed by the volumetric flowrate of outside air being introduced to the building. The typical units used are cubic feet per minute (CFM) or liters per second (L/s). The ventilation rate can also be expressed on a per person or per unit floor area basis, such as CFM/p or CFM/ft², or as air changes per hour.

For residential buildings, which mostly rely on infiltration for meeting their ventilation needs, the common ventilation rate measure is the number of times the whole interior volume of air is replaced per hour, and is called air changes per hour (I or ACH; units of 1/h). During the winter, ACH may range from 0.50 to 0.41 in a tightly insulate house to 1.11 to 1.47 in a loosely insulated house.[3]

ASHRAE now recommends ventilation rates dependent upon floor area, as a revision to the 62-2001 standard whereas the minimum ACH was 0.35, but no less than 15 CFM/person (7.1 L/s/person). As of 2003, the standards have changed to an addition of 3 CFM/100 sq. ft. (15 l/s/100 sq. m.) to the 7.5 CFM/person (3.5 L/s/person) standard.[4]

Ventilation standards

  • In 1973, in response to the 1973 oil crisis and conservation concerns, ASHRAE Standards 62-73 and 62-81) reduced required ventilation from 10 CFM (4.76 L/S) per person to 5 CFM (2.37 L/S) per person. This was found to be a primary cause of 'sick building syndrome
  • Current ASHRAE standards (Standard 62-89) states that appropriate ventilation guidelines are 20 CFM (9.2 L/s) per person in an office building, and 15 CFM (7.1 L/s) per person for schools. In commercial environments with tobacco smoke, the ventilation rate may range from 25 CFM to 125 CFM.[5]

In certain applications, such as submarines, pressurized aircraft, and spacecraft, ventilation air is also needed to provide oxygen, and to dilute carbon dioxide for survival. Batteries in submarines also discharge hydrogen gas, which must also be ventilated for health and safety. In any pressurized, regulated environment, ventilation is necessary to control any fires that may occur, as the flames may be deprived of oxygen.[6]

ANSI/ASHRAE (Standard 62-89) sets maximum CO2 guidelines in commercial buildings at 1000 ppm, however, OSHA has set a limit of 5000 ppm over 8 hours.[7]

Ventilation guidelines are based upon the minimum ventilation rate required to maintain acceptable levels of bioeffluents. Carbon dioxide is used as a reference point, as it is the gas of highest emission at a relatively constant value of 0.005 L/s. The mass balance equation is:

Q = G/(Ci − Ca)

  • Q = ventilation rate (L/s)
  • G = CO2 generation rate
  • Ci = acceptable indoor CO2 concentration
  • Ca = ambient CO2 concentration [8]

Ventilation equipment

Natural ventilation

Natural ventilation involves harnessing naturally available forces to supply and removing air through an enclosed space. There are three types of natural ventilation occurring in buildings: wind driven ventilation, pressure-driven flows, and stack ventilation.[9] The pressures generated by 'the stack effect' rely upon the buoyancy of heated or rising air. wind driven ventilation relies upon the force of the prevailing wind to pull and push air through the enclosed space as well as through breaches in the building’s envelope (see Infiltration (HVAC)). Natural ventilation is generally impractical for larger buildings, as they tend to be large, sealed and climate controlled specifically by HVAC systems.[10] Both are examples of passive engineering and have applications in renewable energy.

Demand-controlled ventilation (DCV)

DCV makes it possible to maintain proper ventilation and improve air quality while saving energy. ASHRAE has determined that: "It is consistent with the Ventilation rate procedure that Demand Control be permitted for use to reduce the total outdoor air supply during periods of less occupancy." CO2 sensors will control the amount of ventilation for the actual number of occupants. During design occupancy, a unit with the DCV system will deliver the same amount of outdoor air as a unit using the ventilation-rate procedure. However, DCV can generate substantial energy savings whenever the space is occupied below the design level.

Local exhaust ventilation

Local exhaust ventilation addresses the issue of avoiding the contamination of indoor air by specific high-emission sources by capturing airborne contaminants before they are spread into the environment. This can include water vapor control, lavatory bioeffluent control, solvent vapors from industrial processes, and dust from wood- and metal-working machinery. Air can be exhausted through pressurized hoods or through the use of fans and pressurizing a specific area.[11]
A local exhaust system is composed of 5 basic parts

  1. A hood that captures the contaminant at its source
  2. Ducts for transporting the air
  3. An air-cleaning device that removes/minimizes the contaminant
  4. A fan that moves the air through the system
  5. An exhaust stack through which the contaminated air is discharged[11]

Ventilation and combustion

Combustion (e.g., fireplace, gas heater, candle, oil lamp, etc.) consumes oxygen while producing carbon dioxide and other unhealthy gases and smoke, requiring ventilation air. An open chimney promotes infiltration (i.e. natural ventilation) because of the negative pressure change induced by the buoyant, warmer air leaving through the chimney. The warm air is typically replaced by heavier, cold air.

Ventilation in a structure is also needed for removing water vapor produced by respiration, burning, and cooking, and for removing odors. If water vapor is permitted to accumulate, it may damage the structure, insulation, or finishes. When operating, an air conditioner usually removes excess moisture from the air. A dehumidifier may also be appropriate for removing airborne moisture.

Smoking and ventilation

ASHRAE standard 62 states that air removed from an area with environmental tobacco smoke shall not be recirculated into ETS-free air. A space with ETS requires more ventilation to achieve similar perceived air quality to that of a non-smoking environment.

The amount of ventilation in an ETS area is equal to the amount of ETS-free area plus the amount V, where:

V = DSD × VA × A/60E

  • V = recommended extra flow rate in CFM (L/s)
  • DSD = design smoking density (estimated number of cigarettes smoked per hour per unit area)
  • VA = volume of ventilation air per cigarette for the room being designed (ft3/cig]
  • E = contaminant removal effectiveness



In hot, humid climates, unconditioned ventilation air will deliver approximately one pound of water each day for each cubic foot per minute of outdoor air per day, annual average, This is a great deal of moisture, and it can create serious indoor moisture and mold problems.

  • Ventilation efficiency is determined by design and layout, and is dependent upon placement and proximity of diffusers and return air outlets. If they are located closely together, supply air may mix with stale air, decreasing efficiency of the HVAC system, and creating air quality problems.
  • System imbalances occur when components of the HVAC system are improperly adjusted or installed, and can create pressure differences (too much circulating air creating a draft or too little circulating air creating stagnancy).
  • Cross-contamination occurs when pressure differences arise, forcing potentially contaminated air from one zone to an uncontaminated zone. This often involves undesired odors or VOCs.
  • Re-entry of exhaust air occurs when exhaust outlets and fresh air intakes are either too close, or prevailing winds change exhaust patterns, or by infiltration between intake and exhaust air flows.
  • Entrainment of contaminated outside air through intake flows will result in indoor air contamination. There are a variety of contaminated air sources, ranging from industrial effluent to VOCs put off by nearby construction work.[12]

Air Quality Procedures

Ventilation Rate Procedure is rate based on standard, and “prescribes the rate at which ventilation air must be delivered to a space and various means to condition that air.”[13] Air quality is assessed (through CO2 measurement) and ventilation rates are mathematically derived using constants.

Indoor Air Quality Procedure “uses one or more guidelines for the specification of acceptable concentrations of certain contaminants in indoor air but does not prescribe ventilation rates or air treatment methods.”[13] This addresses both quantitative and subjective evaluation, and is based on the Ventilation Rate Procedure. It also accounts for potential contaminants that may have no measured limits, or limits are not set (such as formaldehyde offgassing from carpet and furniture).

See also


  1. ^ ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 62.1, Ventilation for Acceptable Indoor Air Quality, ASHRAE, Inc., Atlanta, GA, USA
  2. ^ The ASHRAE Handbook, ASHRAE, Inc., Atlanta, GA, USA
  3. ^ Kavanaugh, Steve. Infiltration and Ventilation In Residential Structures. February 2004
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b ASHRAE, Ventilation for Acceptable Indoor Air Quality. American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, Inc, Atlanta, 2002.
  6. ^ Department of the Navy. Navy Safety and Occupational Health Program Manual. 30 May 2007.
  7. ^ Apte, Michael G. Associations between indoor CO2 concentrations and sick building syndrome symptoms in U.S. office buildings: an analysis of the 1994-1996 BASE study data.” Indoor Air, Dec 2000: 246-258.
  8. ^
  9. ^ How Natural Ventilation Works by Steven J. Hoff and Jay D. Harmon. Ames, IA: Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, Iowa State University, November 1994.
  10. ^ ASHRAE Handbook of Fundamentals, Chapter 26 by American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). Atlanta, GA: 2001.
  11. ^ a b
  12. ^ US EPA. Section 2: Factors Affecting Indoor Air Quality.
  13. ^ a b ASHRAE Standard 62




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