When running any building whether it’s a commercial office, airport, hotel or shopping centre, it’s important to consider how the temperature of the space affects those who use it. For commercial offices, the people who work in these spaces need to experience a certain level of thermal comfort to be satisfied, productive, and engaged.
How do you improve thermal comfort in your commercial building? In this guide, we take you through the factors that impact thermal comfort, the benefits of improving thermal comfort, and why data and technology should be the first step in any optimisation strategy.
What is thermal comfort?
Thermal comfort is the point at which an individual is neither too hot nor too cold in their surroundings. It’s a state of mind where people are satisfied with the temperature and can operate without being acutely aware of just how hot or cold it really is.
Factors that impact thermal comfort in commercial buildings
Each commercial building will have its own ideal thermal comfort level, depending on what it’s used for. Many factors go into determining what this ideal temperature should be, and it might even change depending on the time of day and relative humidity in the space.
The most critical thing to understand is that poor thermal comfort is entirely avoidable and can be accounted for by understanding the factors that affect it.
Commercial buildings contain a myriad of electrical equipment within them, meaning heat is constantly generated. This could be something as small as your desktop computer, a lighting fixture, a printer in the office or as large as the machines that make up the building’s HVAC system. This needs to be considered when determining how to achieve the ideal thermal comfort level for that space.
The size and construction of the commercial building
The size and structure of your building will have an impact on temperature. For example, an open-plan office will have more airflow than one divided into smaller rooms creating variations in temperature.
The materials used to construct the building will also make a difference. For example, concrete and stone are dense and heavy, meaning they have high ‘thermal mass’ and can, in some circumstances and when used correctly, help maintain comfortable temperatures. On the other hand, timber has a lower density, so buildings made of timber panelling may be less efficient.
Knowing what your commercial building is constructed from will determine how building management improves thermal comfort and what steps may need to be taken to optimise it correctly.
Temperature and humidity of the environment
Unsurprisingly, the temperature of the area your commercial building resides in also has a significant impact on thermal comfort. A commercial building in a hot and humid area will have different requirements than one in a cold, windy location. How drastically the temperature changes throughout the year will also have an impact. You’ll want to make sure you’re improving thermal comfort all year round, no matter what the season, so it’s important to understand the local environment and how it affects your building before taking action.
The activity level of the people using the space
The ideal temperature of a building will also depend on who is using the area and why. In an office environment where people spend most of the day seated, you’ll want the temperature to be higher than in a place where people are on their feet and moving all day.
Purpose of the building
Every commercial building serves a different purpose, and this needs to be considered when discussing thermal comfort. In many offices, the primary reason for adjusting the temperature is for the comfort of the people who work there. It is also used as an important control and efficiency strategy when trying to reduce energy usage.
Ultimately, there’s no exact temperature that will suit every individual. Each person’s metabolic rate (weight, muscle mass and activity) will affect how they perceive temperature. Seasonal temperature changes will also determine a person’s clothing choices, such as how much coverage and type of material one feels comfortable wearing.
What are the benefits of improving thermal comfort in commercial buildings?
Improving thermal comfort in commercial buildings has a vast number of benefits and not just for the people who use them. By improving thermal comfort, you’re also cutting back on inefficiencies such as complaints caused by faulty equipment and energy consumption. When managed well, thermal comfort can help the planet and your bottom line too.
Increased productivity and collaboration of employees
Thermal comfort improves both productivity and wellbeing in the workplace. It makes sense that if employees are comfortable, they’ll be more focused, productive and collaborative. There are studies to back this up. Federspiel (1998) concluded that the ideal temperature for productivity ranged between 21-24℃. Further research also concluded that indoor air temperature had a positive 38.56% effect on an employee’s performance (Vimalanathan, 2020).
Satisfaction of guests
Did you know that 80% of employees have complained about their office being too hot or too cold? Optimising the thermal comfort of commercial buildings benefits the tenants by making them more engaged and productive. Satisfied guests will save building owners and facility managers time in addressing complaints. Around 2% of the average workday is lost adjusting to office temperatures. That is estimated to cost approximately AUD23 billion annually.
Satisfied guests can also contribute positively towards tenants extending leases and providing positive referrals for new or incoming tenants. Optimising thermal comfort can decrease tenant churn and income lost to vacancies.
Saving energy & money
The built environment accounts for about 40% of global energy consumption and over 30% of CO2 emissions. In 2019, direct and indirect emissions from electricity and commercial heat used in buildings rose to 10GtCO2, the highest level ever recorded (The IEA, 2020).
Optimising thermal comfort can help building managers reduce energy consumption and the associated costs. So often, workplaces rely on having their HVAC units set at incredibly high or low temperatures to offset the natural climate. In these cases, the heating or cooling is left at an extreme temperature until the employees become uncomfortable and raise complaints. The cycle of inefficiency then repeats throughout the day, leading to employee dissatisfaction, unnecessary energy consumption and expensive bills.
Optimising thermal comfort avoids this issue by keeping the building consistent all day, reducing energy consumption and costs. Optimisation also helps reduce the stress on existing equipment and prolongs its lifecycle. This helps facilitate smarter capital planning and predictive maintenance.
Economic cycles can also help save energy and costs. Where appropriate, having an in-depth knowledge of the area’s temperature and humidity can open the office to outside air that is free and ultimately cleaner than the building’s manufactured air.
How to improve thermal comfort in a commercial building
When adjusting the temperature, building management teams can be tempted to manually override Building Management System setpoints rather than identifying root cause problems. Unfortunately, this creates extreme temperature changes and results in adverse environmental and operational performance. This is because the building’s HVAC systems are performing over their optimal rate, exposing them to an increased likelihood of wastage from faults and breakdowns. While other factors such as insulation, building design, and ventilation can improve thermal comfort, building analytics and technology are essential for optimising and maintaining performance over the long-term.
Using technology to improve thermal comfort in a commercial building
One of the best strategies to improve thermal comfort in a sustainable and long-lasting way is by combining technology and building analytics to identify performance opportunities. This involves using technology to track the performance of a building’s assets, including energy consumption, in real-time so that you can find inefficiencies easier and faster.
Technology facilitates increased onsite productivity and collaboration because of an improved ability to locate faults, prioritise them and triage accordingly. For example, the heating and cooling systems within the building can be set within an optimal temperature setpoint range backed by data. With temperature regulated and optimised throughout the day, it saves both time and money.
Building analytics technology can also measure weather data so that the systems can adapt depending on the climate, meaning the building will be comfortable all year round. This also assists building management professionals to use economic cycles more effectively to save costs and improve natural ventilation. This was an essential strategy utilised by building management teams throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Allowing fresh air to flow more freely throughout the building prioritised occupant health and safety and reduced the load on the existing machinery during low occupancy periods.
In addition, building analytics software such as CIM’s PEAK Platform provides Facility Managers, owners and contractors added visibility, accountability and control of data to optimise the performance of the building. It also offers complete transparency over decision-making which helps maintain performance and facilitate smarter capital planning.
How CIM can help with thermal comfort in your commercial building
Improving thermal comfort in your workplace is a great way to boost productivity, collaboration and increase customer satisfaction while reducing the inefficiencies that cost time and money. CIM’s powerful building analytics platform uses machine learning, artificial intelligence and technical engineering support to help improve efficiency, comfort and sustainability in your commercial building.
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