Air ventilation in aged care facilities

The global pandemic has brought a sharp focus onto the air ventilation requirements of buildings, particularly those that house vulnerable sectors of our society – including the elderly. 
 
Air ventilation needs to be carefully considered in aged care facilities, including residential and independent living facilities, during the design phase. 
 
“The elderly are more susceptible to getting sick and having good ventilation – which is essentially bringing in clean air from outside and not just recirculating the same air indoors – is important to help reduce this risk for them,” says David Jorritsma, Principal and Mechanical Manager at Northrop. 
 
While in regular residential buildings, air will generally be recirculated via ducted air conditioning unless windows are opened – something that isn’t always welcome during the summer and winter months – in homes for the elderly it’s important to bring in a continual volume of fresh air from outdoors. 
 
“That way, we’re replacing the air every so often,” says David. 
 
Of course, the true freshness of fresh air can be debated, so it’s important to filter the air from outdoors before it enters the building. Ensuring the flow of air into the building can compensate for air being extracted via exhaust fans is vitally important, too. 
 
“To meet residential facility standards, you need 25 litres a second of exhaust per bathroom, but it's been proven in the past that this is not sufficient. In that instance, we would typically increase the ventilation rates above the Australian standards.”
 
Of course, the more air extracted means more ‘make up air’ must come into the building, and this needs to be factored into the design. 
 
Working with a consulting engineer on air ventilation
 
Northrop works with architects and builders to consult on the air conditioning and ventilation requirements of buildings and is well versed at working in partnership to ensure the optimal outcome. 
 
“We work with the original drawings and advise on any changes we need to make for spatial requirements,” says David. 
 
“For example, we may need risers, air ducts running up the building or pipe work. We might need a greater level of ceiling space to accommodate air conditioning units, and plant rooms on the roof if we’re wanting to keep units off the balconies.” 
 
Past experience is important when selecting an engineering firm to work with on the ventilation component of a building’s design and choosing a consulting partner with proven credentials can give assurances for successful outcomes. 
 
“Demonstrated experience is crucial,” says David. “The consultants need to follow the design throughout construction, too, and confirm it’s been built to specifications.” 
 
As with many aspects of construction, budget is a major factor and it’s important to understand the budget and design with that in mind. 
 
“You have to look at the budget early on – it sounds obvious, but many people miss it,” says David. 
 
“We must ensure the cost of the mechanical systems we're proposing fits within budget – it is very, very important for the success of the project.” 
 
“We hear stories of designs being done, going out to tender, and quotes coming back that are way over budget. Ultimately, the whole thing must be redesigned, so it can be a very inefficient process.”
 
Ventilation projects 
 
As David mentioned, proven experience is important for a successful outcome, and Northrop has worked on many aged care projects. For more information, check out our aged care capability statement.
 
If you’d like to speak to the team at Northrop about your ventilation or aged care requirements, please get in touch – we’d love to hear about your next project. 
 
Contributor(s)
Principal, Mechanical Manager
Author(s): 
David Jorritsma

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