Office Temperature Diversity

October 7, 2005
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Individualized cooling systems can save businesses money and keep peace among office neighbors — even in cold weather.

Most large office buildings are being cooled all year round. With an underfloor cooling system it is possible to allow each individual to control the amount of cool air that reaches his or her desk space.

“It’s a good fit because it addresses head on the No. 1 complaint in offices, which is ‘I’m not happy with how hot or cold I am right now,’” said David Mueller, manager for flooring and technology at Haworth, which carries a line of raised floors called TecCrete access floors.

Mueller said companies that use the underfloor cooling system have seen a dramatic decrease in hot and cold complaints.

“You can provide each person at their workstation a floor-based vent called a diffuser,” he said. “There have been studies that have shown when you put this kind of technology out in the workspace, you can get nearly 100 percent satisfaction.”

Joel Zwier, architectural product manager for Steelcase, said the system helps office workers gain control over their space. Steelcase offers a line of raised floors called Pathways Access Floors.

“If we’re both able to control the amount of air that comes into our space, then we have more control; we’re not dependent on the thermostat to control the space,” he said.

With a comfortable temperature varying 5 to 7 degrees from person to person, being too hot or too cold is one of the top three complaints in a workplace, Zwier said.

When employees are able to regulate temperature from their desks to their own comfort, Zwier said it gives them a sense of being cared for.

“I have confidence that I’m being taken care of and I can control my own temperature and you can control your own temperature, as well, and we don’t have to fight over a thermostat that’s remote,” he said.

The underfloor cooling system also can save companies money by reducing energy costs, Mueller said.

“The cost to cool a space using the underfloor air method can be up to 30 percent less than the conventional method of cooling space,” he said. “A lot of people don’t realize that the interior of most large offices is always being cooled, even in winter. They vary the volume of cool air that comes into the space and that’s how they adjust the comfort level of the space.”

Because warm air rises, air coming from the floor can be warmer than the air coming from the ceiling, so energy is saved in cooling the air to a higher degree.

“With that reduction in fan energy, that’s really where you get most of your reduction in the overall energy cost,” he said.

Mueller said the underfloor systems have caught on in the United States only in the last decade.

“It’s being driven by the green building movement,” he said. “The LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program really has driven a lot of the interest in underfloor air.”

The underfloor cooling system also uses warmer air than the traditional overhead system. Because the air starts at the floor, it does not have to be cooled as much to attain the same comfort level. While ceiling cooling systems have to cool the air to 58 degrees, the underfloor system only has to cool the air to 68 degrees.

“I don’t have to chill the air as cool, so that saves me money, and it allows my air handler to run much more efficiently,” he said.

Despite the benefits of the system, Zwier said only 8 percent to 10 percent of offices in the United States use raised flooring, and of those, only half use underfloor cooling.

Those that are using it are mainly influenced by LEED construction, Zwier said.

“It just has so much higher reuse, as well as lower energy costs,” he said.

Zwier said an underfloor cooling system has other benefits, as well.

“The other thing that we’ve found as we do more studies on it is the air quality is so much better,” he said.

If the air is coming from under the floor, rather from overhead, it does not have to push through the layer of hot air that has risen, picking up pollutants along the way.

“You’re actually able to get it much cleaner, because you’re not driving it through the stratified air,” Zwier said.    

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