Your Office Building: Optimizing Both Energy Conservation and Employee Comfort
A major concern in modern construction is the energy efficiency of buildings. Sophisticated techniques and advanced materials are available for improving energy efficiency and boosting office building energy conservation. At the same time, many building owners and occupants practice conservation that reduces energy waste and overall consumption even further.
In some cases, the requirement for energy efficiency has become the most important concern in design, construction and practice. Attention to energy use and prevention of waste is certainly a valid issue. However, overstressing energy efficiency often causes building designers, owners, managers and engineers to forget a fundamental fact: there are people occupying the structure, and those people must be kept comfortable while in the building and doing their jobs.
Comfort and Safety
When designing and building a new commercial structure, construction professionals should strive to find a balance between office building energy conservation and the needs of the tenants and employees who rent space in the facility. Maintaining consistent temperatures should not be the only goal of a well-balanced energy conservation program. Health and safety of building occupants can also be affected by energy efficiency measures that are too strict. Tightly sealed buildings have few areas where energy or conditioned air can escape, which makes them extremely energy efficient.
However, remember that:
- Tightly sealed/energy-efficient buildings can suffer from degraded indoor air quality. Often, a good seal means that indoor ventilation will be reduced. This places additional stress on the building’s HVAC systems to filter the indoor air and capture particulates such as dust, pollen, mold, and other airborne contaminants. With decreased ventilation, there is not a steady supply of fresh outdoor air entering the building, which means stale indoor air and the contaminants it contains are not being adequately vented away.
- Tightly sealed/energy-efficient buildings can accumulate excess moisture. Ventilation not only removes airborne contaminants; it also gets rid of excess moisture that can encourage mold growth and provide an environment where insects and other pests can thrive. Excess moisture can also cause damage to equipment, furnishings, papers and even the structure of the building itself.
- Tightly sealed/energy-efficient buildings can encourage the growth and spread of disease-causing microorganisms. If germs, viruses, bacteria and other microorganisms aren’t being removed from the building through ventilation and airflow, they have a greater chance of causing disease and discomfort among the building’s inhabitants.
Finding the Balance
- Occupant surveys: The comfort needs of building occupants can be assessed by conducting surveys to find out what temperatures are preferred and what temperatures are required. The types of green-building ratings encapsulated in standards such as LEED and Green Globes can be moved toward modification by the statistical and numerical results of coordinated surveys.
- Benchmarking: Energy management systems can be put into place that will help with establishing benchmarks for building temperatures and comfort levels. These sophisticated systems can reliably show how long boilers or other HVAC equipment must run, and at what rate, to achieve the desired indoor temperature. They can also help identify rooms and areas where temperatures run higher or lower than preferred. With this data, facilities managers can then look for issues that lead to energy waste, such as equipment problems, HVAC inefficiencies, or air and energy leaks throughout the building.
- Simple awareness: Simply being aware of the temperatures and comfort levels in a building, whether through occupancy, building visits or reports from trusted sources, can help owners and managers determine where the balance between office building energy conservation and employee comfort lies. Saving energy and reducing monthly utility expenses are both admirable goals, but neither should be pursued at the expense of tenant comfort, health and safety.
Our goal is to help educate our customers about Plumbing, HVACR, Fire Protection and Alarm Systems in Mechanical, Commercial and Residential settings. For more information on how to effectively balance tenant comfort needs with office building energy conservation, or to view projects we’ve worked on, visit our website!