Two significant events over the past year have shone an unflattering light on the state of Australia’s residential aged care sector. Improving things will take time and involve many changes, including the use of appropriate, high-quality HVAC solutions.
Right now, the focus on standards within the Australian residential aged care sector is as high as it has ever been.
Released on March 1 this year, the Final Report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality called for fundamental reform of the sector. Describing Australia’s aged care system as “substandard” and pointing to “fundamental systemic flaws with the way the Australian aged care system is designed and governed”, it said that those receiving care “deserve better”.
On top of that, despite the nation’s comparatively strong and successful overall response to the COVID-19 crisis, one sector – residential aged care – stands out as a failure.
While things like governance, staffing levels, and training are the most urgent priorities in terms of rectifying this situation, other factors including building design, amenities, and the use of appropriate technologies to improve care and comfort are also important.
HVAC is a perfect example. The ongoing pandemic has exposed flaws in how ventilation is used in the aged care context. The regular, seemingly never-ending, run of quarantine hotel transmissions, as well as the already mentioned crises that hit several aged care facilities last year illustrate the problem.
As the University of Adelaide Professor Geoff Hanmer, a ventilation expert, told the ABC recently, better ventilation could reduce this problem. The good news is that there are several products and suppliers that can help here.
EBSA offers a range of automated façade systems including operable glass louvres, fixed and operable glass roofs and general window automation systems. A key feature of this technology is the presence of controls and window actuators that communicate digitally.
EBSA’s Advanced Communication BUS (ACB) protocol allows precise control of windows in conjunction with an air quality sensor to automatically regulate temperature, CO2, and humidity; and disables the mechanical heating/cooling system when the windows are opened.
What sets this technology apart from most traditional systems is that windows can be set to automatically modulate in response to changes in the indoor air quality. They open only as far as necessary to maintain optimal temperature.
While this technology is typically associated with educational buildings (where monitoring of CO2 levels is mandated), it is applicable to aged care facilities. It has the potential to lead the way in creating healthier and more comfortable indoor environments.
And it is suitable not only for use with typical awning windows, but also with EBSA's range of single- and double-glazed architectural glass louvres, and passive house certified glass roofs.
Healthbox 3.0 is a demand-controlled, ‘smart building ready’ ventilation system from Renson. Thanks to its built-in sensors, which measure the level of humidity, CO2 and/or VOCs, the system can vary ventilation levels according to conditions.
Part of the C+ ventilation system (that supplies fresh air through window ventilation), the unit is equipped with a silent, energy efficient ventilator that consumes up to 30% less energy than previous models. Boasting a sleek design, a height of just 20cm, and remote valve connections, the Healthbox 3.0 ventilation unit is unobtrusive and can be easily hidden out of sight.
And, thanks to the accompanying app, the user can easily monitor current air quality as well as recent activity and settings, and logs per room for ventilation, humidity, CO2 and/or VOC levels.
By default, the Healthbox 3.0 operates in line with the system’s ‘Health’ ventilation profile. This profile ensures that the indoor air is not only healthy but also monitored and treated in an energy-efficient manner. However, there are also other profiles to choose from. The ‘Intense’ profile ensures that polluted air is extracted quickly, while the ‘Eco’ profile prioritises energy-efficiency. Therefore, extraction take place over a longer time and at a lower ventilation level.
UV light and respiratory viral infections
Beyond ventilation, there is emerging evidence that ultraviolet light may be effective in reducing rates of respiratory viral infections such as COVID-19 in residential aged care facilities.
Recognizing this, in January this year the Federal Government’s Medical Research Future Fund’s Clinical Trials Activity Initiative awarded $1.4 million to a Flinders University study into UV light and respiratory viruses. The research will commence in July this year.
Hospital Products Australia
It is hoped that the study will confirm that the use of UV light is an effective way to deal with this problem. And that products like UV Angel Clean Air from Hospital Products Australia have a role to play in reducing the spread of viruses like COVID-19.
UV Angel Clean Air is an unobtrusive in-ceiling unit that uses UV-C light to create a healthier environment for aged care facilities, or indeed, any common areas where people live, work or congregate.
It works by drawing air into a sealed chamber with a series of fans and filters, then treating it with UV-C light at a wavelength of 254nm. Involving no chemicals, ozone or hazardous by-products, the unit operates on the cellular level to deactivate airborne bacteria, fungi, and viruses; and recirculate treated air back into the room.
UV Angel Clean Air cleans environments automatically and continuously, without impacting operational performance, or the comfort of residents and staff. In contrast, other filtration systems such as HEPA filters capture germs but do not kill them. In addition, their filters need to be changed regularly and, themselves, become biohazards.
Heating & cooling
Ventilation and virus prevention aren’t the whole story. While air conditioning is not mandatory in residential aged care, in July the Federal government is introducing legislation that will confirm that such facilities provide a "comfortable and safe service environment" for their residents.
Considering the Australian climate, effective heating and air-conditioning systems are an important part of this. Some noteworthy products and suppliers in this area include the following.
Manufactured in Belgium Jaga Strada is a sleek and elegant convector style hydronic heating panel that conforms to stringent EN442 standards.
Heated water is pumped through the internal close fin heat exchanger concealed within the panel. The warm heat exchanger then locally heats the surrounding air promoting heat convection up and around the living space. In essence, the heating panel creates a warm, comfortable environment without the need for forced air.
Light weight and requiring only a low water content, Jaga Strada has low surface temperature and is therefore safe and suitable for use in aged care settings. It features concealed valves and pipework, kw output of 0.693 – 5.382, and is available in two different colours and finishes. It comes with a 30-year warranty.
An ideal year-round solution for residential aged care, the Fujitsu General VR-II Heat recovery system provides simultaneous cooling and heating operation via a single refrigerant system. It allows independent temperature settings for individual units and ensures comfort for staff and residents, alike.
The system ensures energy-efficient operation by transferring heat energy from rooms to be cooled to rooms to be heated, and also boasts several other energy saving features including a powerful propeller fan designed by using Computational Fluid Dynamics; a three-phase DC fan motor with sophisticated driver control; and more.
On top of that, the Fujitsu General VR-II Heat recovery system employs multiple outdoor operation control. This means that, in cases where multiple outdoor units are connected, a sophisticated operation is performed by each compressor. Consequently, rather than running one compressor at full load and distributing refrigerant to one heat exchanger, all compressors operate at part load. The system distributes refrigerant to all heat exchangers and operational efficiency is improved.
Then, there is a heat exchanger refrigerant control feature, whereby the heat exchanger in the outdoor unit is split into two parts (top and bottom). The efficiency of the heat exchanger is improved by adopting an optimum refrigerant path control. The refrigerant is distributed more into the top heat exchanger as this is where there is a greater airflow intake.
Comfort Heat Australia
TFS17 under-tile heating cables from Comfort Heat Australia are suitable for use in a variety of underfloor heating installations and are suitable for large or small areas.
The in-screed heating cable is installed in the cement screed beneath the tiles or any finished floor surface. In-screed heating has a fast response time and is commonly used in wet areas. The In-screed cable is a return cable system (only one end to be connected), has an output of 175W p/m2 @100mm spacing and is available in pre-determined lengths with cold tails.
Importantly in residential aged care settings, the heated areas can be thermostatically controlled in a central location or local to the room. The floor heating is totally invisible and produces low heat. The system creates no dust. Has moving parts and its operation is perfectly silent. The cable is connected to the 240V power supply and heats up imparting this heat to the cement around the cable. The heat naturally moves upward to the surface of the floor and into the room above the floor.
The benefits of achieving an optimal temperature are easily nullified if the process of so doing also involves compromising air quality. Within residential aged care settings, it is always crucial to use only high-quality components like Vapastop 883 Facing Foil from Fletcher Insulation.
Vapastop 883 Facing Foil is used in the fabrication of air conditioning ductwork as an internal liner in combination with Semi Rigid Glasswool, where high tear strength and puncture resistance are required in addition to a high degree of flexibility without delamination of the aluminium foil.
The product has a very low permeance to water vapour and other gases, which makes it ideal for air handling ductwork. It is a strong and durable vapour barrier that helps prevent fibre erosion of internally lined HVAC ductwork insulation, which otherwise can lead to fibres entering the airstream of the system.
It provides excellent acoustic absorption without the need for perforation when applied to glass wool insulation blanket and boards. Sisalation Vapastop 883 Aluminium Facing Foil is a fully sealed continuous acoustic membrane (CAM) minimising the risk of fibres entering the duct’s air stream. Able to handle mechanical cleaning, it is ideal for applications where superior indoor air quality is required.
The findings of the of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality could not have been clearer. To date, the state of many facilities has simply not been up to scratch; and consequently, the living conditions of their residents – our Australian elders – has been unacceptable.
Specifiers take note. By incorporating appropriate, high-quality technologies such as those discussed above you can help alleviate this problem and provide these people with the life experiences they deserve at a time they desperately need them.
Hospital Products Australia
Comfort Heat Australia