‘Why Automate Windows’ Part 1. ‘Fresh Air & Actuators’ Will Perkins – Managing Director – SE Controls


In this series of articles by Will Perkins we look at the provision of adaptive natural ventilation for healthy and efficient buildings and the safety provision of smoke ventilation. The series attempts to explain some of the pitfalls in the lack of early design and understanding of such systems.

One of the main reasons to automate windows is that of convenience. Not all windows are located at reachable height and may need a pole to operate, in some larger rooms and corridors many windows may need to be opened, so clearly an automated solution is preferable. On securing premises in the evening, automated systems can ensure all windows are closed prior to setting alarm systems. Other benefits can include ‘night time cooling’ strategies, when premises may not be occupied, and an automated solution can operate above ground windows on a time switch basis.

The integration of automated windows into a complete building management system can ensure the most efficient use of energy. Many of BREEAM excellent rated projects in the UK today use natural ventilation strategies based on window automation.

But why do we need to ventilate our buildings? According to Approved Document F and CIBSE it is mainly for health reasons offering the occupiers appropriate Indoor Air Quality (IAQ). Inadequately ventilated buildings can harbour such gases as radon, a naturally occurring gas in the earth, hydrogen sulphide, which often results from the bacterial breakdown of organic matter in the absence of oxygen, carbon monoxide, by combustion processes, dust, virus and fungal spores. The presence of any of these elements can prove to be the cause of ‘sick building syndrome’.

Today we are also much more aware of VOC’s  (Volatile Organic Compounds), which have significant vapour pressures which can  affect the environment and ultimately human health. In newly fitted buildings VOC’s are often present in high quantities in materials such as setting paint and new carpets, these ‘smells’ can easily be identified in the atmosphere. Whilst many are non-toxic at the levels present, VOC’s can still have chronic effects on health. Today anthropogenic VOC’s are tightly regulated, particularly in materials used indoors, but ventilation strategies can play a big part in negating the risk.

In busy buildings, body odour, an increase in moisture from breathing and build-up of CO2, often leads to lethargic working or learning environments, resulting in poor working performance – this issue has been well documented in schools where an ‘appropriate indoor air quality’ is crucial to learning ability.

It is crucial that the ventilation strategy is decided at the outset of the design process. By adopting either a completely natural ventilated solution or a hybrid mixed mode solution with mechanical cooling for in only the harshest of weather conditions, can significantly reduce a buildings running costs.

So we have covered the practical reasons and the need for ventilation in our buildings today, but how do we achieve the ‘automation’?

A window ‘actuator’ is usually an electrical device which is placed on the leading edge of a window to open and close a window to various degrees as required. These come in two basic types, a ‘chain’ actuator and a ‘linear’ actuator. Chain actuators are the most compact and operate by pushing a one way folding chain out from a flush motorised housing fitted to the frame or opening light. In areas where windows are much larger, linear actuators, based on fixed ‘screw’ and motor principle may be used.

Whilst these devices may seem to be simple, window actuators do come in a very wide range of sizes and typical offer the following choice specification:

Voltage: Either in 24V DC or mains 230V AC ratings. Where smoke control is required 24V DC actuators are used so that these can be operated from an independent battery back-up in case of fire and power outage in the building.

Load: Usually indicated in amperage and is very important to consider when specifying a complete system. Often cheaper units are less efficient and require greater loads which results in an increase of control panels to operate at the higher amperage, not to mention the increased energy requirements.

Force: Indicated in Newtons (9.81 N = 1Kg) and required to open and close the window safely in all weather conditions. Referring back to efficiency, the available force within the unit should be as efficient as possible to reduce the amperage required. Some larger windows may need two actuators to perform correctly.

Stroke: This is the distance the actuator travels creating the safe opening of the window normally indicated in millimetres.

Speed: Indicated in millimetres per second. This is an important consideration in smoke ventilation situations where smoke vents must fully open with a 60 second time limit.

Size: Units vary in size depending on their specification but housings are very important to be considered when looking at the space available within the reveal, the size of the vent and the stroke required.

Intelligence: Some basic actuators rely on simple switches to limit and run the actuator motor, where occupant intervention is required. Some more sophisticated devices offer resistance feedback and information on where the actuator is within its cycle by the use of incremental volt measurement.

The most important aspect of all these variables is getting the right actuator in the right place to do the job most effectively with the minimum of maintenance. As mentioned earlier it is crucial to get a specialist involved at the very early design stages to determine the most efficient product and designs available. Leaving the choice of actuator to the lowest common denominator – cost, can have a serious detrimental impact on an installations performance and  on-going maintenance requirements.

In the next article we will cover free area calculations guidance under the new Approved Document B 2007, and how to achieve this effectively and safely.

SE Controls operate across the globe with offices in several continents, with specialists offering clients expert advice based on local legislative requirements. Visit the website at www.secontrols.com for further information. To discuss your requirements with SE Controls, or request literature, please call their head office in Lichfield on 01543 443060.


Focus on waste management and recycling pays off for SE Controls

An ongoing programme of effective waste reduction, management and recycling by Staffordshire based smoke control and natural ventilation solutions specialist, SE Controls, has enabled the company to ensure that none of its waste goes to landfill sites.


Since mid 2008, SE Controls has partnered with commercial waste management and recycling business, Briers, to not only reduce the level of waste it produces, but to also improve the efficiency while increasing the proportion of waste material that could be recycled.


In addition to metals, plastic, paper and cardboard waste produced by the company from its day to day operations, a proportion of the SE Controls waste is made up of electronic components and equipment, which is managed in compliance with WEEE regulations.


Mark Soleil, SE Controls’ operations Director, explained: “All businesses have an obligation to meet the minimum standards for waste management, but at SE Controls, we’re always looking to reduce our waste material and its impact on the environment, as well as reducing our packaging waste costs.”


He added: “Our partnership with Briers has proven to be highly productive and we have worked together closely. Their high quality recycling solutions coupled with our focus on reducing scrap and waste has enabled us to achieve our present situation where no waste from our UK operations is sent to landfill.”


SE Controls specialises in the design, project management and installation of advanced smoke ventilation and natural ventilation solutions to meet the needs of architects, contractors, building services engineers and facilities managers worldwide. Further information on SE Controls’ products, solutions and projects can be obtained by visiting www.secontrols.com or calling +44 (0) 1543 443060.

SE Controls tops £12,000 in Macmillan charity fundraising

A year long fundraising initiative by employees at Midlands based smoke and natural ventilation specialist, SE Controls, has generated more than £12,000 for national cancer support charity, Macmillan.


Macmillan Cancer Support was chosen by SE Controls after the company’s Commercial Manager, Mark Hargreaves, initially nominated the charity as a worthy cause and fellow employees voted overwhelmingly to select Macmillan as its ‘charity of the year’ for 2011.


During the year every opportunity was taken by SE Controls staff to raise money for the charity, using numerous initiatives ranging from a wacky Duke & Duchess Cambridge inspired Royal Wedding Fancy Dress and cake baking competition to a marathon 127 mile sponsored bike ride and the setting up of an ongoing book lending library at the company’s Staffordshire head office.


“The support from everyone has been phenomenal,” said a delighted Mark Hargreaves who recently presented the final donation cheque with SE Controls’ MD, Will Perkins, to Macmillan’s Hilary Barnes and corporate fundraiser, Sue Allcock.


He continued: “ It’s amazing what can be accomplished when people pull together to help support charities, such as Macmillan and I’m particularly proud of our fundraising achievement, which we hope to be able to repeat with our nominated charity for 2012.”


Macmillan’s Sue Allcock added: “What SE Controls has achieved is absolutely marvellous and is greatly appreciated not only by us, but also by those who rely on Macmillan for care and support at an extremely difficult and challenging time.”




SE Controls specialises in the design, project management and installation of advanced smoke ventilation and natural ventilation solutions to meet the needs of architects, contractors, building services engineers and facilities managers worldwide. Further information on SE Controls’ products, solutions and projects can be obtained by visiting www.secontrols.com or calling +44 (0) 1543 443060.Image

Triple RIBA Stirling Prize success for SE Controls

The hotly contested 2011 RIBA Stirling Prize has resulted in a triple success for SE Controls as its specialised smoke and natural ventilation solutions are used not only in Zaha Hadid’s stunning award winning design for Brixton’s Evelyn Grace Academy, but also in two of the other five shortlisted finalists.

The Evelyn Grace Academy incorporates four separate schools within a single building and to ensure that high levels of natural light are available throughout the building, the exterior makes full use of glass cladding, which forms part of the natural heating and ventilation incorporated within the design.

Control and management of natural ventilation system’s concealed vents is handled by more than 70 SE Controls OS2 Controllers linked to the building management system (BMS) to provide incremental operation of the vents to ensure ample fresh air is supplied at all times throughout the building.

Natural ventilation also forms part of the SE Controls’ solution installed at another RIBA Stirling Prize finalist, the new Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford upon Avon. SE Controls provided the smoke and natural ventilation strategy in the rebuilt restaurant area, the colonnade and the link bridge connecting the building to a newly built
observation tower.

The multi-zone smoke and natural ventilation solution developed and installed for the RSC theatre by SE Controls utilises a range of EN12101-2 chain actuators connected to dedicated zone control panels as part of the fire alarm system and linked to the building’s BMS. The natural ventilation solution is also linked to the smoke ventilation system to clear smoke and enable visitors to evacuate the building in the event of a fire.

Darren Wainwright, SE Controls’  Project Leader, commented: “These two projects, together with our involvement in the Olympic Velodrome, reinforce the important role that effective smoke and natural ventilation play in modern architecture. While we might not provide the vision for these outstanding pieces of architecture, our role is to ensure that the ventilation and building safety needs meet the demanding specifications and I’m delighted that we have been involved in these three unique buildings.”

SE Controls specialises in the design, project management and installation of advanced smoke ventilation and natural ventilation solutions to meet the needs of architects, contractors, building services engineers and facilities managers.

Advanced smoke ventilation solution from SE Controls protects Nottingham students

A £55 million student accommodation development in Nottingham is using integrated smoke and heat exhaust ventilation systems from SE Controls to provide smoke free
escape routes for around 1000 students living in the new purpose designed apartments at Chettles Yard.

To meet the fire safety and smoke ventilation needs in three of the new buildings at the Chettles Yard development, SE Controls developed specific smoke and heat ventilation
solutions for each accommodation block based around its versatile SHEVTEC®

Dedicated extended travel distance escape solution

As the maximum escape travel distance in two of the apartment buildings was within the 7.5 metre limit covered by Approved Document B of the Building Regulations, the SHEVTEC Natural Corridor Ventilation System was installed. However, the six storey F Building had a travel distance of 12.0 metres so SE Controls created a dedicated fire engineered solution around its LABC approved SHEVTEC Extended Travel Distance System.

In the event of a fire, the main exit route is through a singe protected stairwell, so the SE Controls solution had to provide high integrity smoke and heat ventilation that not only allowed occupants to travel the increased distance to safety, but must also perform at least as well as the code compliant systems installed in the other two accommodation blocks.

Fully compliant smoke ventilation system

The extended travel system used in Building F was originally developed by SE Controls using advanced computational fluid dynamics (CFD) to create an off the shelf, fully compliant and CE marked solution that can not only assist escape but also simplify the building’s design by removing the need for additional escape stairs.

In addition, the size of the smoke shafts used can be reduced to less than half of the 1.5m2 required under a typical natural ventilation system. When combined with the requirement for only one escape stair, this allowed the developers to incorporate more apartments within the building’s envelope.

The SHEVTEC system uses a dual smoke shaft and fan ventilated solution linked by smoke sensors through SE Controls’ powerful OSLoop® control system, which when triggered determines which shaft is closest to the fire and automatically opens the smoke shaft doors on each floor to extract smoke away from escape routes, corridors and stairs. Once actuated, OSLoop continues to monitor the entire system throughout the incident to ensure the system maintains its performance in accordance with the imminent EN12101 part 9 standard.

Fully managed turnkey project

SE Controls provided a full turnkey solution to the Chettles Yard development, involving project management, the supply and installation of the SHEVTEC system and liaison with all the appropriated authorities and inspectors, as well as full testing and rigorous commissioning procedures to verify the system’s performance, operation and compliance with the design brief.

Will Perkins, SE Controls’ Managing Director, explained: “This is an ideal example of how we combine our technical expertise, immense experience and innovative products to develop an outstanding solution on a challenging project.”

He added: “Chettles Yard itself is an incredibly innovative development and is providing much needed high quality accommodation for students at Nottingham and Trent Universities and I’m delighted that we have been able to play a key role in maintaining their safety.”

Further information

A fully detailed PDF case study covering the specific fire engineered smoke ventilation solution installed by SE Controls is available for download from the company’s website at www.secontrols.com/library.

SE Controls specialises in the design, project management and installation of advanced smoke ventilation and natural ventilation solutions to meet the needs of architects, contractors, building services engineers and facilities managers worldwide. Further
information on SE Controls’ products, solutions and projects can be obtained by visiting www.secontrols.com or calling +44 (0) 1543 443060.


Natural Ventilation Strategy for Highbury College

Highbury College, located in Portsmouth, is a fine example of how our modern colleges should look and perform. Proud of their status as one of the highest achieving colleges in the area, the college has seen a multi-million pound investment in recent years and can now boast ownership of some of the most sustainable buildings in Portsmouth.

SECO 20 Chain Actuators’, from SE Controls were specified to form part of the natural ventilation system being installed into the main building. These actuators have a proven long life expectancy and have been used extensively in window automation requirements on many UK projects. In total 82 actuators are linked back to the buildings BMS which maintains air quality and temperature within the classrooms and main communal areas of the college.

SE Controls were specified on the project as they were recommended by the window specialist, the SECO 20 Chain Actuator provided a low power drain on the BMS system as compared to other actuators currently available. By choosing low amperage actuators, cost savings can be made both in the fixed hardware required for control and save energy requirements over time.

The project required SE Controls to install the actuators on site and ensure that they were commissioned ready to be wired into the BMS system by others. Whilst SE Controls can offer a wide range of services from design through to installation and on-going maintenance, the flexibility of the services provided allows the company to quote for any window automation requirements and to closely liaise with other specialists on site.

SE Controls supply window actuators and sophisticated control systems to cover both natural ventilation and smoke control strategies. SE Controls is a
UK based company operating across the globe with offices in several continents
and regional specialists offering clients expert advice based on local legislative requirements, visit the website at www.secontrols.com. To discuss possible project requirements with SE Controls and request literature, please call their head office in Lichfield on 01543 443060.

Placing SE Controls on the Map

Completed early this year, the new Ordnance Survey headquarters in Southampton is one of a growing number of office buildings meeting the demand for high levels of energy savings. An adaptive natural ventilation solution was specified from SE Controls, which works in conjunction with other low energy systems and has ultimately led to the building being awarded a BREEAM ‘Excellent’ rating.

The new Ordnance Survey headquarters consists of a large three storey atrium with four buildings attached in an array of ‘fingers’ to the East of the the development.
To capture natural light, each of the ‘fingers’ has large areas of North facing
curtain walling, installed with opening lights. To the South, the envelope
consists of few opening windows in a white cladded facade to reduce the
incidence of solar heat gain.

Adaptive natural ventilation is provided by the top hung windows to each of the three floors together with the provision of six ‘chimneys’ within the office complex.
These ‘chimneys’ funnel the air rising from the atrium and drawing air from the
three floors, expelling it from the building, whilst fresh air is drawn in
through the windows. By utilising temperature and CO2 zoned sensors across each of the office floors, windows can be automatically and precisely opened to
ensure optimum levels of fresh air are provided. The adaptive natural ventilation system is integrated within the Building Management System (BMS) to
ensure that heating, cooling and lighting requirements work together in an
optimal manner which in turn ensures low energy consumption.

Together with the adaptive natural ventilation provision, the building is heated and cooled, when required, by a large array of boreholes coupled to a
ground-sourced heat-pump system. Furthermore rainwater is harvested for
flushing toilets and landscape irrigation in dry conditions. Large North facing
curtain wall facades offer high levels of internal illumination and is balanced
with supplementary lighting, which has also been optimised to match daylight
sources. Sensors ensure that supplementary lighting switches off automatically
when not required. Other initiatives include a large composter to recycle all
kitchen waste on-site and the planting of a further 375 trees to supplement the
adjacent woodland.

Greg Tumilty, Senior Manager at the Ordnance Survey headquarters comments, “The facilities offered by the new building are impressive. Staff now have the perfect place to work and hold meetings in a light, and well ventilated space, it’s a far cry from our old offices, and too early to tell if the systems are running at their optimum capability at the moment, but we are gathering on-going information from the BMS which we can adjust to maintain and improve efficiencies in the future. We are all proud to be working in one of Southampton’s’ most impressive and sustainable buildings”

In total, 480 No. ‘TGCO 24 30 ED  chain actuators with soft close’ were fitted to 480 top hung, open out windows, these in turn are wired up in banks of no more than 6, to 105 No. OS2 control panels and switches. These control panels are in turn wired into one of three LON Networks, 1 on each floor, which are coupled to the BMS system.

Each bank of automated windows  are operated on a voltage signal from the BMS which is rated between 0 and 10 volts, each volt represents 10% opening of the windows in the bank. This way, small increments can be made in the window opening to ensure that ventilation conditions are always kept at an optimum.

Whilst the adaptive natural ventilation installation at Ordnance Survey headquarters was commissioned by SE Controls in the normal manner to meet a set specification, the systems installed are capable of data capture over time. This way, installed systems can be monitored and measured for various outside weather conditions and internal occupancy. These measurements can then be fed back into the automated system to ensure optimum and efficient performance.

As our new buildings become ever more energy efficient with effective and sustainable systems, an adaptive natural ventilation strategy is key to achieving air quality to meet the requirements of building occupiers. As in the design of the Ordnance Survey headquarters, only by considering all these systems at early design stages can they fully integrate and provide efficient and sustainable
buildings needed for our low carbon future.

SE Controls is a UK based company operating across the globe with offices on
several continents and regional specialists offering clients expert advice
based on local legislative requirements. Visit the website at www.secontrols.com for further information about the company. To discuss possible project requirements with SE Controls, or request literature, please call their head office in Lichfield on 01543 443060.