Airex: Smart Ventilation Control

Airex has developed a smart ventilation control – an intelligent air brick – that automatically regulates air flow using sensors to monitor temperature, humidity and air quality.

Tens of millions of homes in the UK were built with low energy efficiency standards, with poor insulation leading to cold rooms and uncomfortable draughts, with traditional air-bricks or vents being responsible for up to 15% of heat loss in the home. This means occupants often need to turn up the heating, which in turn drives up energy bills.

Energy Systems Catapult is using their Living Lab of over 500 real-world homes to help  innovators test new products, services and business models with real consumers connected to a cloud-based digital integration platform by an array of in-home IoT sensors/actuators.

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London-based technology start-up, AirEx, are utilising the Living Lab to test their a smart ventilation control.

The Innovation

London-based technology start-up, Airex, developed a smart ventilation control that uses sensors to monitor temperature, humidity and air quality in the home. It uses advanced algorithms to manage airflow and ventilation, while also considering local weather and air quality data. Airex opens the vents to reduce underfloor humidity and closes them to reduce heat loss and improve overall comfort, leading to:

  • Warmer Homes – improving the thermal efficiency, so rooms warm up faster
  • Improved Comfort – excluding draughts, improving airtightness and thermal comfort
  • Lower Energy Bills – reducing heat loss by 10-15%, with average annual savings of £150
  • Healthy Home – good air quality by mitigating condensation, timber rot and mould risk
  • Minimal Disruption – simple, non-disruptive installation system minimises inconvenience – taking only a couple of hours to replace existing bricks
  • Cost Effective – modest upfront costs, with system pays back in 2-3 years.

The Challenge

Airex believe up to 40 million homes across Europe could benefit from an intelligent airbrick. However with their initial target market being UK social housing, the obvious beneficiary is the tenant rather than the landlord.

Research suggests that traditional air-bricks or vents are responsible for up to 15% of heat loss in the home. However residents that block air vents permanently, can suffer condensation and damp problems, with an average repair bill of £3,000.

The real-time data provided by Airex would be of significant value in enabling landlords and facility managers to carry out preventative maintenance. For example, providing indicators of damp via an interactive dashboard and simple alerts, rather than carrying out expensive repair works.

While the academic trials were very useful to validate the initial hypothesis, Airex realised that larger scale trials were needed. If their customer proposition was going to exhibit clear value, real-world evidence was required to enable landlords to build a business case for investing in the product.

The Solution

Energy Systems Catapult helped Airex accelerate their innovation to market with product validation via test and demonstration, exploiting data from the trial for further product development, support with business planning, and extending the monitoring period in the Living Lab to a larger scale.

  • Living Lab – Airex are receiving a wealth of data about the performance of their smart ventilation product, which enabled them to validate their initial energy savings estimates for their consumer proposition.
  • Consumer Insight – from the consumer trial helped Airex refine their customer value proposition.
  • Industry collaboration – through the Smart Systems and Heat (SSH) programme, we facilitated collaboration with SSH industry partners Engie and EDF Energy; collaborating together at the VivaTech (2018) and EDF Electric Days (2018) exhibitions.

Next Steps

For start-ups, getting orders right and delivered on time can be the difference between building a loyal customer base and losing business – as customers lose trust in your service. And it’s not always easy – especially when you’re planning to scale up your operations.

Airex knew that their manual process of managing stock and fulfilling orders would not last forever. Through the government’s Net Zero Innovation Portfolio programme, we helped them map out a scalable order fulfilment journey, integrating with their current tools and resources, to support their next stages of growth.

  • Service Design – from understanding Airex’s operations and growth strategy via a literature review business operations documentation, to interviews with key employees and a co-creation workshop, we developed a service blueprint. This blueprint mapped each back-office step AirEx would need to take, along with every interaction point with their third-party suppliers and customers – tied together by software integrations, linking their communications, pipeline, and invoicing software with a new manufacturing and stock control software that fit the unique needs of the business.

The Impact

Since Airex began working with Energy Systems Catapult, they have gone on to:

  • Win the ‘pitch prize’ in the home category at Cleantech Innovate 2019.
  • Airex co-founder Agnes Czako was recognised at IUK’s Women in Innovation Awards 2019.
  • Selected as one of only five technologies approved by energy regulator Ofgem for the ECO 3 Scheme.
  • Secure funding from IUK in the ‘Innovation in response to global disruption’ competition, designed to boost economic recovery from the impact of COVID-19 (improving indoor air quality for vulnerable people).

Update: August 2022:

  • Warmer Homes Scotland – Airex in partnership with Warmworks has been added to the range of energy efficiency measures offered under Scotland’s national fuel poverty scheme.

Update: November 2022

  • Scaling-up with service design-thinking – by gathering an evidence base, engaging with operational and executive colleagues, and providing clearly defined actions, AirEx have now embedded the scale up project into their roadmap.  AirEx now has a model to drive efficiencies in their service delivery, and a list of tasks they need to achieve this – helping to bring a cost-effective and high-impact insulation product into more buildings across the UK.

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