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Thermal chimneys NAB Docklands, Vic (source: AIRAH)

Natural Ventilation Systems

This technical information sheet describes an approach There are two fundamental approaches to designing for natural
rather than a technology. It provides the basic ventilation that will be effective in most Victorian situations:
understanding for architects and engineers to be able > Cross ventilation which uses air-pressure
to design natural ventilation strategies with supporting differentials caused by wind
strategies such as solar chimneys. > Stack ventilation which uses the increased
buoyancy of air as it warms up
Introduction Depending on the approach when using natural ventilation, a
Natural Ventilation systems rely on natural driving forces, such conscious choice may need to be made by the building users
as wind and temperature difference between a building and its to have greater fluctuations in indoor thermal conditions. The
environment, to drive the flow of fresh air through a building. Both temperature will not always be predictable to plus or minus half
work on the principle of air moving from a high pressure to a low a degree, as the use of external air will, if it is not tempered using
pressure zone. mechanical systems, mean that temperature and humidity vary.
Natural ventilation systems are usually integrated into building
systems where there is some mechanical support; these are called Suitability
mixed mode or hybrid ventilation buildings. The main benefit of Most suited to:
some augmentation by mechanical systems is that there is less
> Buildings with a narrow plan or atria with floor plate
unpredictability with indoor environment conditions, though it will
width of 15m or less
result in greater energy use. > Sites with minimal external air and noise pollution
Natural ventilation can be an appropriate choice when compared (though still possible if they are present)
to air conditioning in the temperate climate of Victoria, particularly > Open plan layouts
as the nights are cool and this can be used to pre-cool the building Not suited to:
(see CH2 for case study of natural ventilation used for night purge
> Buildings with a deep floor plan It can save substantial amounts of energy
by decreasing or eliminating the need for mechanical cooling. > Buildings that require precise temperature and humidity control
It may also improve the building’s indoor air quality. Buildings > Buildings with individual offices or small spaces
with well-designed natural ventilation systems often provide very > Buildings with continual heat loads above 35–40 W/m2
comfortable and pleasant environments for the occupants. > Locations with poor air quality
> The main savings are due to cooling energy The flow through a building is related to the

reduction (roughly equivalent to an economy size of the openings (both inlets and outlets),
cycle), not needing to run HVAC fans and restrictions along the flow path, furnishings and
increased occupant satisfaction. the distance between openings.
> A Sydney study showed a 25 – 33% reduction Basic principles for sizing and placing
of energy use in a naturally ventilated mixed openings are:
mode building with high occupant comfort > The area of the opening at intake must be
satisfaction scores > Reference 8 . equal to or 25% smaller than the area of
> International studies in similar climatic regions opening for exhaust.
using natural ventilation only (not mixed > Air flow will take the line of least resistance so
mode), show capital costs savings in the follow the flow line to check for dead spots
region of 10 – 15% > Reference 3 and energy (areas where fresh air does not go).
costs that are 40% lower than air-conditioned
> Consider security, privacy and noise transfer.
equivalents > Reference 2 .
> Increased fresh air supply to a space may Technical considerations
result in higher thermal comfort levels and
increased productivity. Wind driven ventilation
> Driving pressure under natural ventilation is very
> Natural ventilation systems may have low, around 10 Pa > Reference 6 .
an increased robustness, flexibility and
adaptability. > Design openings so that there is a minimal
chance of occupants feeling drafts –
> Reference 3 recommends 0.8 m/s with winter
rates as low as 0.15 m/s.
> Air change rate should provide adequate fresh
air, levels stipulated by AS1668.2 1991 are
Cross ventilation
Wind driven ventilation

10 l/s per person, projects such as CH2 provide

Cross ventilation depends on two continuously
22.5 l/s per person (mechanically aided).
changing factors: wind availability and wind
direction. Consequently, it is a somewhat > Use Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD)
unreliable source for providing air flow and modelling to optimise performance and ensure
thermal comfort. minimisation of potential dead spots.
In cross ventilation the wind creates a high > When modelling natural ventilation, take
pressure zone where it impacts the building and into account other buildings around it as
a low pressure zone on the leeward side, drawing they will affect the effectiveness of the wind
air through the building > Figure 1 . Pressure is hitting the building to create the pressure
highest near the centre of the windward wall differentials needed.
diminishing to the edges as the wind finds
other ways to move around the building so air Again, > Reference 2 is an excellent source of the
intakes are preferable near the centre or the high calculations needed to effective design the natural
pressure zones. ventilation system. See pages 51– 52.
To determine the amount of natural ventilation that
you will obtain from an opening, in a given space,
Design issues to consider
standard formulas are used. A very worthwhile with cross ventilation
but technical reference is the CIBSE guideline Using cross ventilation will have a strong influence
– Natural Ventilation in Non-Domestic Buildings on building aesthetics and site planning. To
AM 10 > Reference 2 provides standard formulas maximize the effectiveness of openings, narrow
to determine the amount of ventilation from an buildings with open plans and well placed
opening in a given space as it is affected by openings work best (particularly if the longest
internal fit-out and distances. faces of the building are perpendicular to the
typical wind direction). Furthermore, single-loaded
corridors (rooms only on one side of a corridor)
will provide better airflow than double-loaded
High pressure zone ones as it makes it easier to provide openings on
opposite walls. Building elements like fins, wing
walls, parapets and balconies may be designed
to enhance wind speeds and should be an
integral part of cross-ventilation design though
caution needs to be taken that they do not cause
Windward side turbulence and block air flow > Reference 1 .
Below are some considerations that should be
made when designing for cross ventilation:
Leeward side > Will work well if the room is up to 5 times the
width of the ceiling height > Figure 2 .
Low > If cross ventilation is not possible placing
pressure windows on adjacent walls, at 90 degrees to
zone each other, will work but limit room size to
4.5 m x 4.5 m.
> In a standard office, partitions should not be
higher than 1200mm, but this will depend on
> Figure 1 Pressure effect from wind > Reference 1 opening sizes.

x x x x x
> Figure 2 Cross ventilation rule of thumb – effective for up to five times the ceiling height

> Partitions should not obstruct air path. Design > Elements such as overhangs can help or
spaces so that they are parallel to main hinder air flow and should be carefully
ventilation path > Figure 3 . integrated into CFD modelling.
> Place high emission equipment such as printers > Openings should be fully operable by
in separate mechanically ventilated rooms on occupants if a manual operational strategy
the east or west facades as these are the areas is chosen. This requires easy access to
of highest heat load from the sun with least opening mechanisms as well as training and
benefit from windows. appropriate information to work well.
> Provide inlet openings on the windward side
(pressure zone) and outlets on the leeward
side (suction zone).
> The inlet location affects airflow patterns far
more significantly than outlet location. Inlet
location should be a higher priority
(if faced with a choice) as a high inlet
will direct air toward the ceiling and may
bypass the occupied level.
> Ensure windows have effective seals to avoid
unwanted infiltration.
> Orient the building and openings to maximize
exposure to prevailing winds.
> Consider designing cross-ventilation openings
that are secure enough to be left open at
night, so that natural ventilation can provide
additional night time cooling benefits.
> Figure 3 For effective cross ventilation ensure > Concentrate ventilation openings in spaces
partitions are designed to minimise resistance most likely to require cooling.
> Minimize solar gain use shading devices
like overhangs, awnings and fins to control
Integration with windows solar gain.
The apertures for cross ventilation can also
serve as windows for views and daylighting. > Awning windows work for air intakes, hopper
All architectural elements intended to enhance windows for outflow. Double hung windows
one strategy should also work for the other. are ideal for single sided ventilation because
However, an orientation that works for ventilation they provide high and low openings in the one
(the windward side) may not be ideal for unit. Casement windows are suitable to catch
daylighting for which north-and south-facing are breezes when the prevailing wind direction is
best. In Victoria, windows ideally should take consistent.
advantage of the cool south westerly winds in
> Window insect screens decrease the flow rate
summer. Prioritise the needs of the space based
of slow breezes more than stronger breezes
on function and climate > Reference 1 .
(60% decrease at 2.4 km/h, 28% decrease at
Summary of considerations: 9.7km/h) > Reference 4 .
> Openings should not be obstructed. > Only the clear opening area of a window can
> Openings should be staggered and the be used to calculate capacity.
maximum vertical distance apart possible to
increase pressure differences – this will depend
on ceiling height but research shows 1.5 m or
more is best.
Integration with HVAC Case study – Single sided ventilation
Natural ventilation can replace air conditioning – State Emergency Services HQ
entirely or may be integrated with mechanical South Melbourne
systems in a hybrid/mixed mode. There are two
This building uses single sided natural ventilation
options with this approach. The first, such as
to all the open plan office areas. Air comes in
used at Reservoir Civic Centre where there was
via floor level attenuated grills and is expelled
a highly climatically controlled sound studio, is
through high level attenuated louvers. Being near
to divide the building into separate zones for
a busy roadway the air is drawn through a system
natural ventilation and mechanical ventilation.
to minimise air and noise pollution. The natural
The second is to have a system that switches to
ventilation system is integrated with the nearby
natural ventilation when the weather conditions
tunnel controls so that air intake closes when
are favourable such as Kangan Batman Tafe.
tunnel venting occurs and wind directions are
Another option is a hybrid system, where natural unfavourable. Sophisticated design and integrated
ventilation is used when the weather is mild modelling was requires to ensure sufficient air
and the HVAC when external conditions are pressure could be achieved.
beyond comfort parameters. This can work with
a changeover system in which windows are
shut when the air conditioning is on. Carefully
designed changeover controls can be used
to automatically shut off the air conditioning Capital costs for a fully naturally ventilated building

if windows are open, if mistakes are made may be 10–15% lower than air-conditioned
in design this will lead to dissatisfaction equivalents > Reference 3 .
> Reference 1 .
Costs for cross ventilation are low to moderate.
Crucial for the use of natural ventilation is that it is Buildings that use natural ventilation may have
designed to work on still days, regardless of wind higher initial costs because operable windows
direction. This will require modelling and potentially typically cost 5% to 10% more than fixed glazing,
the use of mechanical systems such as fans. but the savings from not using air conditioning will
Site considerations: offset this added cost. Hybrid systems will be more
> Use good site planning, landscaping and expensive because of the higher cost for operable
planting strategies to cool the incoming air. windows and interlocking controls for the HVAC
A body of water or fountain on the windward system. Costs vary greatly depending on installation
side will precool the incoming air through of HVAC system – key criteria that determine cost
evaporative cooling. Tall deciduous trees on the are the complexity of the system and if it is manually
windward side will lower the temperature of the or automatic controlled. This cost can vary between
inflow and shade the openings though careful $50–$150 per square metre (2006/7 prices).
choice of species must be made to minimise
such as pollen infiltration.
> Avoid locating heat retaining ground surface
treatments on the windward side such as large
asphalt parking lots. The benefits of natural ventilation are threatened

by poor management and operation. Problems

Design issues to consider with associated with building openings are:
single sided ventilation > Safety – people may fall out
Using single sided ventilation is less effective
> Security and fire
than cross ventilation and will need careful
design and modelling to work effectively. The > Outdoor Noise
summary below outlines the general issues that
> Internal Acoustics
should be considered:
> Insects, odours, dust and air pollution
> Will work effectively at a distance into the room
which is two times the ceiling height. > Fluctuation of internal temperature
> If openings are designed to be around 1.5 m
apart vertically then the effective distance will
be 2.5 times ceiling height.
> The openable component needs to be 1/20 of
the floor area.
In stack ventilation, air movement is created by cool Design considerations with
Stack driven ventilation

air being drawn into the space low down to replace Stack ventilation
warmer air that naturally rises as it is warmed and is The design considerations with the integration of
then exhausted at the top see > Figure 4 . stack ventilation are similar to those for wind driven
To obtain cooling, the incoming air must be cooler ventilation discussed above. The most important issue
than the ambient internal temperature. The cool air is ensuring that the pressure within the stack remains
may be drawn from a shaded or landscaped space high, so that air is always travelling upwards and out
or from over a body of water, a thermally massive and therefore drawing fresh air in.
labyrinth or other source of cooling. Stack ventilation The main points to consider when designing
works best in spaces with high ceilings and where stack ventilation are:
cross ventilation is not feasible. > Effective across a width of 5 times the vertical
Solar Chimney distance from inlet to exhaust.
Solar chimneys are a method of enhancing stack > Chimneys can be used as the exhaust point if the
ventilation. Additional height and well designed air temperature inside can be kept warmer than the
passages increase the air pressure differential. Chimneys ambient internal building temperature.
should be constructed to capture solar radiation to > Design chimneys to minimise pressure drops
increase the heat of the air at the top and increase to allow movement of air, for example through
the difference in temperature between incoming and techniques discussed below.
out-flowing air. The increase in natural convection that
> The function of solar chimneys is improved by
occurs from these measures enhances the draw of air
through the building > Figure 5 > Figure 6 . techniques to increase the air temperatures at the
top of the chimney such as glass panels and dark
coloured surfaces to capture solar radiation
> The exhaust must be placed on the leeward side
to take advantage of negative wind pressures to
Outlet draw the air out and not block flow with positive
Low pressure zone
pressure. It may require operable vents on all faces
to respond to different wind directions.
> The function of solar chimneys is improved by
shaping the roof to aid air flow over it, in the
Inlet manner of an aerofoil, to increase the negative
pressure on the exhaust side.
> Design of chimney to ensure that pressure remains
High pressure zone low (i.e. air inside is warmer than outside) to
maintain correct flow direction in cool weather, for
example use glass or dark heat-absorbing material
> Figure 4 Pressure effect from stack ventilation, make sure near the top of the chimney.
height difference between openings is maximised > Reference 1 > In unpredictable climatic areas fans could be used,
these could be run by solar panels on the solar
chimney. Caution needs to be used when using fans
that they do not interfere with natural air flow.

Thermal mass
Exhaust air
Rotating turbine

Replacement air
Metal absorber drawn from cool
with black side of house
Fresh air selective coating

> Figure 5 Cross section of Victoria Barracks, Sydney, showing air flow > Figure 6 Thermal chimney > Reference 4
path of cross flow natural ventilation incorporating a solar chimney.
Rules of thumb References and Tools
Controlling ventilation > Reference 1 Hawaii Commercial Building Guidelines
Manual or occupant: for Energy Efficiency
> Occupants only affect the control of their own space general//chapter2_nat_vent_030604.pdf
with minimal effect on the whole ventilation strategy. > Reference 2 Natural Ventilation in Non-Domestic
> The BMS lets user know when to open and Buildings CIBSE AM 10 – 1997 and 2005
close windows. > Reference 3Making natural ventilation work, Andrew
> Building users are trained. Martin and Jason Fitzsimmons, BSRIA GN 7/2000.
> Controls are intuitive and accessible. > Reference 4 Passive Solar Guidelines (Residential)
> Any night cooling is automatically controlled to
> Reference 5 Gage S. A., Hunt G.R. and Linden P.F.
avoid over cooling and to restrict operation to
unoccupied times. (2001) Top down ventilation and cooling. Journal of
Architectural and Planning Research 18:4, p.286.
Automatic: > Reference 6 Chilengwe N. and Sharples S. (2003) Low
> In heating mode, ventilation rate should be controlled and High Pressure Experimental Analysis of Ventilators
by CO2 levels or occupancy sensors. for Natural Ventilation in Buildings. International Journal
of Ventilation 2:2, pp. 149-158.
> In cooling mode, ventilation rate should be controlled by
> Reference 7 Heiselberg P (2002) Principles of Hybrid
internal temperatures and some anticipatory control to
increase ventilation rate before temperatures rise. Ventilation. Hybrid Ventilation Centre, Aalborg University.
> Include night cooling strategies if temperatures are Principles%20of%20H%20V.pdf
high at the end of the day. > Reference 8 Rowe, D. (1996) Mixed mode climate

Mixed mode > Reference 8 : control AIRAH Vol 50, Issue 12.
> Planning for mixed mode control systems needs to be
carefully undertaken.
> Ensure sufficient commissioning over all seasons to
allow for tuning.

Operational considerations:
> If manual operation is required, train occupants so
that they understand how the system works.
> The mechanisms for operable inlets and outlets
should be well maintained and clean.
> Periodically clean windowsills, panes, fins and louvres
to ensure healthy air intake for the space.
> Careful consideration needs to be taken of how the
system will function in winter, ensure that the system is
not creating heat when the windows are open.

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