Airing it out

In the past 40 years, there have not been a lot of changes in how we bring air into rural buildings and how we take it out, but the buildings we ventilate have changed tremendously, which has required the industry to rethink how it approaches ventilation. Ventilation is critically important to the long-term performance of rural buildings. Years ago, these buildings might have simply been referred to as a barn or a shed. Today, they are much more.

High-brow buildings demand low-profile ventilation
Rural buildings have evolved into light commercial-type buildings that are more aesthetically pleasing than they were in years past. Whether it was called a barn, shed or pole barn, 40 years ago, form followed function when it came to the design of rural buildings. Aesthetics were not a priority. No one cared if big ventilators sat atop a roof, marring its lines; they worked. Today, rural buildings have spiffed up and dressed up. Consequently, end users want their ventilation systems to not just work, but look nice, too.
“People want to and need to ventilate their building or attic space but they don’t want to see a big ugly ventilator on the roof, so the tendency has been to make a ventilator with a much lower profile, as low a profile as possible. As a result, there are dozens of products out there that ventilate only under the ridge cap as opposed to the larger ventilators that were manufactured in the past,” says Bruce Nystrom, president of MWI Components. “The emphasis for the past 40 years has been to lower the profile and you can’t get much lower than a ridge cap.”

Attics are born
The change in how we build rural buildings has had a few side effects that have rippled through the ventilation industry. For starters, 40 years ago, few rural buildings had an attic space; consequently, builders had to ventilate the entire building. Now, a high percentage of buildings have finished interiors, so the primary space that requires ventilation is the unfinished attic space.
“People have tightened up the building envelope to have more usable space, but when it comes to the attic space, changing the air is still the most important,” says Nystrom. “You need to ventilate that air to keep the temperature down.”

Overhangs: Beauty and brains
Forty years ago, it was rare to find an overhang on an agricultural/farm building, but now with their new upscale image, overhangs are part of their attire. This design addition has proven to be not only aesthetically pleasing, but has improved ventilation as well. “The most efficient place to ventilate a building is at the peak. You have to have fresh air coming into the building to move the stale air out of the peak. You need an intake and an exhaust. We have reverted to where the form is in control of the function,” explains Nystrom, whose business specializes in passive ventilation. “Overhangs are great because you can have a ventilated soffit panel in the overhang to bring air into the building.”
It used to be there was no reason to be in the soffit business because there were no overhangs in which to install them. “We’re building entirely different buildings than we have before,” says Nystrom. “The overhang has made that big a difference along with the finished ceiling. When you went to grandma’s barn, you’d look up to its peak. In today’s modern machine shed, you look up and see a finished ceiling.
“The ability to bring air in through the overhang is the difference between ventilation working and not working at all.”

Passive or mechanical ventilation?
Mechanical ventilation has changed tremendously in the past two decades but the basic theory behind passive ventilation has not. So is one better than another? “That may be a function of what business I’m in,” says Nystrom. “The mindset is that you can do a great job of ventilating a whole building or an attic space without any power ventilation, but with a properly set up air flow pattern.”
That doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for some mechanical ventilation. More rural farm/agriculture buildings today are insulated and as a result, Nystrom thinks that about half them will have some kind of forced air heat. That is up from zero 40 years ago.

The future of ventilation
To gauge where rural building ventilation will be in another 40 years, take note of the residential market, advises Nystrom. Soffit is a definite migration from the residential market, as are the products that go under the ridge caps.
“Most of the products in our industry migrated directly from the residential market. You could say the same about overhead doors and windows in almost any ag building. Virtually anything you see at a home building show will show up in our industry a few years later,” he says.
Nystrom, who has been involved with companies making ridge vents for 40 years now, admits that he didn’t see this trend coming. “I guess we continually see more variety in the entire building, so as that happens, you’ll have to have different products that will ventilate in different applications,” he says, citing the new products that will ventilate in a retrofit application. “The rural building is becoming bigger and it will need a bigger variety of products to tackle all the new applications.”

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