Ventilation is the process of changing or replacing air in any space to control temperature or remove any combination of moisture, odors, smoke, heat, dust, airborne bacteria, or carbon dioxide, and to replenish oxygen. Ventilation includes both the exchange of air with the outside as well as circulation of air within the building. It is one of the most important factors for maintaining acceptable indoor air quality in buildings. Methods for ventilating a building may be divided into mechanical/forced and natural types.
Mechanical, or forced, ventilation is provided by an air handler (AHU) and used to control indoor air quality. Excess humidity, odors, and contaminants can often be controlled via dilution or replacement with outside air. However, in humid climates more energy is required to remove excess moisture from ventilation air.
Kitchens and bathrooms typically have mechanical exhausts to control odors and sometimes humidity. Factors in the design of such systems include the flow rate (which is a function of the fan speed and exhaust vent size) and noise level. Direct drive fans are available for many applications, and can reduce maintenance needs.
Ceiling fans and table/floor fans circulate air within a room for the purpose of reducing the perceived temperature by increasing evaporation of perspiration on the skin of the occupants. Because hot air rises, ceiling fans may be used to keep a room warmer in the winter by circulating the warm stratified air from the ceiling to the floor.
Natural ventilation is the ventilation of a building with outside air without using fans or other mechanical systems. It can be via operable windows, louvers, or trickle vents when spaces are small and the architecture permits. In more complex schemes, warm air is allowed to rise and flow out high building openings to the outside (stack effect), causing cool outside air to be drawn into low building openings. Natural ventilation schemes can use very little energy, but care must be taken to ensure comfort. In warm or humid climates, maintaining thermal comfort solely via natural ventilation might not be possible. Air conditioning systems are used, either as backups or supplements. Air-side economizers also use outside air to condition spaces, but do so using fans, ducts, dampers, and control systems to introduce and distribute cool outdoor air when appropriate.
An important component of natural ventilation is air change rate or air changes per hour: the hourly rate of ventilation divided by the volume of the space. For example, six air changes per hour means an amount of new air, equal to the volume of the space, is added every ten minutes. For human comfort, a minimum of four air changes per hour is typical, though warehouses might have only two. Too high of an air change rate may be uncomfortable, akin to a wind tunnel which have thousands of changes per hour. The highest air change rates are for crowded spaces, bars, night clubs, commercial kitchens at around 30 to 50 air changes per hour.
Room pressure can be either positive or negative with respect to outside the room. Positive pressure occurs when there is more air being supplied than exhausted, and is common to reduce the infiltration of outside contaminants.
Natural ventilation is a key factor in reducing the spread of airborne illnesses such as tuberculosis, the common cold, influenza and meningitis. Opening doors, windows, and using ceiling fans are all ways to maximize natural ventilation and reduce the risk of airborne contagion. Natural ventilation requires little maintenance and is inexpensive.