A Prescription for Ailing Buildings

One of the responses to the energy crisis of the 1970s, was to reduce heating and cooling requirements by sealing up our buildings. An unfortunate consequence of that remains today: chronically under-ventilated and unhealthy indoor environments – what we now refer to as “sick buildings.” Numerous research studies confirm that indoor environments directly impact employee satisfaction, engagement, health, retention, and productivity — so improving the health of your building directly impacts your bottom line.

Gasping for Air?

Poorly ventilated spaces result in a number of health issues, including headaches, fatigue, shortness of breath and sinus congestion. These, in turn, result in increased absences and short-term sick leave. Lack of adequate ventilation also has a negative impact on cognitive function, resulting in decreased productivity.

On the other hand, recent research has found that productivity, decision-making, strategizing and planning to improve for employees who work in buildings where fresh air is adequately circulated. Buildings with low CO² concentrations and high ventilation rates can lead to performance improvements of up to 8%. (Park and Yoon, 2011)

Too Hot? Too Cold?

Temperature also plays a key role in employee productivity. Better temperature control reduces employee fatigue. If interior temperatures are too high, employee performance – including everything from an ability to make decisions to perform simple cognitive tasks – drops. For example, research shows that that computer users are more productive and have fewer keyboard errors when the office temperature is 77°F. Productivity tends to decrease suddenly as temperatures drop below 68°F. Buildings that are too cold also increase the incidence of respiratory infections which, in turn, increase absences and sick leave.

The Cure for Sick Buildings: An Optimized HVAC System

Optimizing the performance and efficiency of existing HVAC systems can provide measurable improvements in employee comfort and productivity, while dramatically reducing energy use and costs. The impact on employee comfort, morale and productivity will be evident immediately, and the returns on investment can usually be measured in months, not years.

We understand that operating an HVAC system at optimum efficiency is a challenging endeavor – so here are a few options for improving your system, and the health of your building and employees.

Retrofit Your Existing System

If your HVAC system is well-maintained but energy-intensive, you might consider retrofitting it to improve performance. Retrofits put off total upgrades and can improve comfort with consistent temperatures and humidity. You can achieve better HVAC energy efficiency sealing heating and cooling ducts and bringing the system up to current standards. The Department of Energy has found that you can save up to 35% annually in energy costs by adding or replacing parts.

Install a Building Automation System

Building Automation Systems (BAS) provide centralized control of a building’s HVAC, lighting, and other systems. BAS provides access to information on equipment performance and utility metering, and allow users to easily schedule equipment and control it at a more granular level.  We recommend that you divide your building into thermal zones with separate controls based on space function and worker needs. The result is improved occupant comfort, efficient operation of building systems, reduction in energy consumption and operating costs.

Schedule regular maintenance

Regular maintenance, scheduled around seasonal changes, will keep your HVAC system running efficiently and will reduce the risk of system breakdowns and costly repairs.

Invest in New Energy-efficient HVAC Equipment

If your existing system is 10+ years old, you can double or triple your investment by replacing it. Newer models have higher EERs  (Energy Efficiency Ratio) ratings, which means much greater energy efficiency and lower energy/operational costs.  It’s worth noting that simply replacing your system won’t automatically improve air quality or temperature control.

A Clean Bill of Health

Optimizing a building’s HVAC system will produce happier, healthier and more productive employees.  In addition to the substantial energy and operational savings, costs related to absenteeism and sick-leave will be reduced.

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