Why ventilate an underground car park?

8 March 2019 Kingspan Light + Air UK
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You’ll likely know Kingspan Light + Air (formerly Brakel Airvent) for our work in smoke control, and that’s completely fair – we helped pioneer the service aspect of the industry in the UK starting 30 years ago and we’ve been pushing the envelope ever since.

But what you might not be so familiar with is our expertise in the field of environmental ventilation, comfort cooling, and the health benefits of clean air (certainly a hot topic at the moment with air quality top of the agenda for the likes of London’s mayor, government legislation and major media outlets).

The fundamental task of a smoke control system is to safely contain or extract smoke away from escape routes and allow fire fighters easier access to tackle a blaze. This secondary consideration of air quality is less dramatic but in many ways no less important – we’ve installed smoke control systems in rolling stock workshops for rail companies that protects their workforce by significantly reducing harmful diesel fumes, for example.

But perhaps the most obvious and common place we exercise our skills in this area is in the case of enclosed or underground car parks. Obviously they’re full of potentially-combustible fuel tanks so fire risks need to be considered. But they can also be filled with something else that can be hazardous – exhaust fumes from petrol and diesel cars. To keep air fresh and safe with CO below 30 parts per million, a ventilation system is required so it simply makes sense to go with a dual-purpose smoke and air-quality solution. And that means you’re going to need carefully-programmed bespoke controls, gas detectors and ventilation equipment maintained by specialists who understand the legislation and the real-world considerations.

Go jets!

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Most existing enclosed car parks will already have ventilation systems installed, but older setups tend to rely on ducting linked to extract fans. While a proven solution, these systems have several serious setbacks:

Firstly they intrude rather dramatically into the clear height of the car park, proving an unsightly and inconvenient obstruction that may even limit the maximum allowable vehicle height for the car park
Secondly they represent an energy-inefficient solution that’s good for neither the building owner’s electricity bills nor the environment – ducted systems often have their fans running 24/7 with no speed control.

At Kingspan Light + Air, we’ve been involved in many car park refurbishment projects that involve replacing these clunky ducted systems with a carefully considered layout of jet fans, manufactured and tested to the standards laid out in EN 12101-3 (rated to emergency operation at 300°C for 1 hour).

When properly arranged, these fans are able to direct smoke from a vehicle fire into a dedicated extract fan area, leaving the rest of the car park relatively unaffected. They can also be linked via a control system to CO or NOx detectors, and will only activate (at low speeds) when the build-up of exhaust gases gets too high.

This means that if it’s 3am and there are no cars moving around in the car park, the fans stay dormant and your electricity bill does too. But they’re always ready when needed – if a fire were to break out in the wee hours, the smoke would be safely ventilated while the emergency services were on their way.

The finer details are laid out in Approved Documents B and F, with design advice found in BS 7346-7:2006 – from our point of view we’d always recommend appointing a specialist when specifying or maintaining such valuable systems to ensure they’re always keeping your car park safe.

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