While it may be difficult to imagine life in Australia without the comforting hum of the air conditioning in the background – particularly in states like Queensland – HVAC systems can have a negative environmental impact. Here, Ario Narisworoputro of Big Ass Fans, tells us about the importance of thermal comfort, effects of “sick building syndrome” – and how specifiers can improve both comfort and sustainability profile of the project by combining HVAC with ceiling fans.

What is your background and what does your current role in the business entail?

I’m an Engineer, based in QLD, and I look after all the technical projects across QLD, NSW & VIC. I’ve been with Big Ass Fans for a year now and come from a Mechatronics and Electrical Engineering background.

My role is pretty varied, so I get to work across a variety of verticals such as residential, commercial and industrial. I’ve worked in showrooms, with architects and engineers on the pre-specifications and new construction side. But then I also have to put on my steel toes and high vis and go out to existing warehouses to survey the facility and consult the owners or tenants on fans – so really, it’s a bit of everything. I need to have an understanding of projects from concept to completion across retrofits, and small applications as well as large.

What does sustainability mean for you?

Through my work with Big Ass Fans I’ve gained an understanding of construction and architecture principles and in the process discovered a real passion for sustainable design. That’s what excites me – building designs that work with the environment, not against it, to achieve better energy efficiency.

Has focus on sustainability always been a part of your career trajectory?

Absolutely. We live in a hot climate and so I understand the need for a HVAC system. However, my greatest excitement from my job is working with engineers and architects on combining high volume, low speed fans and HVAC to move towards a sustainable approach.

I’ve always been fascinated with Green Star and NABERS ratings and how we can maintain consistent thermal comfort while reducing the emissions of the build. It doesn’t have to be one or the other, by combining the two you are reducing your energy consumption, reducing ductwork to lower material costs and helping to be that little bit more energy efficient.

Can you explain that in more detail why combining the two can help reduce energy?

If we consider how we can maintain the same comfort, while reducing energy, that effectively translates into a question of how we can offload cooling from HVAC – which is very high density in terms of electricity usage – to a lower density method. Combining HVAC with fans is one of the ways that can be addressed.

The standard for thermal comfort, ASHRAE Standard 55, mentions that if you can increase the elevated air speed within the room, say by virtue of fans, you can increase the temperature set-point, while maintaining the same thermal comfort. Because fans provide convection cooling, which means that the breeze goes through your skin taking the heat away, when you offload the cooling load from HVAC to fans, you can increase the set-point in an office environment, for example, from 21 degrees to 24 degrees with similar thermal comfort levels. And that means that HVAC doesn’t have to work as hard.

And what about the role of fans in reducing waste?

When you cool down the air, it's generally from the roof, and that air has to be transported into the offices. Normally, ducts are used for that purpose, and for a person to feel comfortable, those ducts (particularly branch ducts) need to be spread apart properly so that there aren’t any hot and cold spots.

Fans can help with that because they transport air, and so you can offload their transport method from the duct to the fans. As a result, if you incorporate fans, you might be able to rely on just one main duct in the space, and – best case – eliminate all the duct branches.

How important is sustainability to your organisation and how does this manifest through various stages of product development and company operations?

Sustainability is a huge part of our company and our product. Sustainability in building design is one of our core values. Big Ass Fans has developed its own research and development (R&D) facility in the US, where it conducts extensive research and testing.

This laboratory is a LEED® Gold certified facility dedicated to developing energy-efficient fans. HVLS fans contribute to sustainable design by helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions through reduced reliance on air conditioning and a more effective use of other lower energy density methods. One such case is fans.

What are the company’s current priorities from a sustainability point of view?

Too often we see poorly designed spaces that fail to consider thermal comfort factors. The impact of excessive heat or cold in occupied space is not only un-resourceful and unsustainable, but it can also lead to productivity loss for the occupants, things like 'sick building syndrome' and other health issues. Ultimately it falls on the credibility of the engineer or designer who specs the project to ensure they got thermal comfort right when designing conditioned spaces that people occupy.

At Big Ass Fans we are continuing to focus on sharing our knowledge on achieving thermal comfort through ASHRAE Standard 55 in a way that is sustainable both through energy-efficiency and materials. We believe that this can be done by combining energy-efficient High Volume, Low Speed fans with a HVAC design to reduce the HVAC load because air speed is increased at occupant level and the temperature feels cooler. As mentioned before, using a ceiling fan to circulate the air in a room, allows occupants to raise the thermostat, but still provide the same cooling sensation within a room, helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

What are the company’s aspirations, goals and ambitions for the future from a sustainability point of view?

Approximately 40% of energy consumed by buildings is used for heating and cooling to achieve thermal comfort. At Big Ass Fans, our aspiration is to reduce this statistic through sharing our sustainable design principles, leveraging natural energy opportunities by incorporating air movement into a building or home’s composition, with designers, engineers and the end user. We want our customers to have the ability to live and work more sustainably with fans crafted to reduce energy and protect our environment without compromising performance.