Keeping cool and efficient in the rising temperatures

Now that the sun seems finally to have found the UK and summer has arrived, we might be turning our attention to occupant comfort in the workplace.

Although the temperate UK climate does not often make us uncomfortably hot for too long, a sweltering afternoon in the office will soon bring the calls that most facilities managers would rather not get: “We’re too hot” or: “The air conditioning isn’t working.”

Extreme temperatures, by this country’s standards at least, can also lead to occupant behaviour that is less than energy efficient. Windows are propped open; desk fans brought in from home and running all day; thermostats turned to the minimum.

Occupants’ control of their environment is an important psychological factor in how people feel about their workplace, and hence has an impact on their productivity. Studies by the Usable Buildings Trust show that office workers perform better if they have some control over their workplace environment.

Windows which open and local thermostats do make people feel better. However, from the point of view of energy efficiency, occupants can also be one of the main factors in causing energy waste. It is tempting to centralise control of the internal environment to avoid this. But since it’s impossible to please all the occupants all the time, they must have some sense of control.

So the answer is a balance between centralised and local control. For example, it is possible to allow occupants to change temperature settings, but the building energy management system (BEMS) will automatically bring these back to set points after a certain time.

Education is a vital part of balancing occupant requirements, comfort and energy efficiency. It’s also a good way to avoid those phone calls to the FM’s office when the outdoor temperatures start to rise. Allowing set points to drift upwards from 21ºC in summer will save energy on cooling; but it’s an approach that works best if occupants’ know what to expect. What’s more, if it’s 27ºC in urban London, then having the office internal temperature at 23ºC will feel pleasantly cool rather than chilly.

If people understand what the organisation’s goals are in terms of reducing energy use, they are far more likely to be supportive. By combining an intelligent approach to control, both locally and centrally, with occupant involvement and education, it’s possible to survive a hot summer without skyrocketing energy bills.

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