How can you bring about the right thermal comfort, so that the temperature differences between the inside and outside of your building aren’t multiple degrees Celsius—or even dozens of degrees? You’ll find the answer in this interview for #MORETHANOFFICE. We’ve interviewed Lenka Procházková, the head of sales at High 5 Design, a company that designs a variety of interiors for their clients.
“Just yesterday I was at a company that’s headquartered at a rather old building; they’ll be moving out of it in a few months. The inside was in hot competition with the sweltering thirty-degree weather outside. You basically couldn’t breathe in there. I’m surprised that the employees could work there at all,” says Lenka of the challenges in office heating and cooling.
In the last few years, thermal comfort has seen increasing interest from both office real estate’s owners and its tenants. “Companies want to create a high-quality work environment for their employees, and an optimum temperature is an important part of that,” she adds.
Optimum Temperatures? Actually, They Don’t Exist.
But at a company with a dozen or more employees, just try getting them to agree on an optimum temperature. There are differences here not just between men and women and among people from different countries.
“I was working on this question for one real estate investor whose building housed some companies staffed mainly by people from Spain and Italy, as well as some from South America, and then alongside those, companies staffed from the UK and Finland. Some of the occupants want the heat on even in summer, and others would love to walk around in flip-flops even in winter. Setting the building’s average temperature in the various seasons was a matter of diplomatic negotiations and exceptional obligingness and mutual understanding on both sides,” Lenka reminisces.
When asked if either of the two sides received a box of popsicles, or a basket of scarves, from the building’s owner as a part of their reconciliation, she just smiles cordially. Nevertheless, a free scoop of ice cream was one of the methods that Home Credit used when trying to make last summer more pleasant for its employees.
Should Cold Air Blow, or Flow?
The difference between the temperature outdoors and that in an air-conditioned office isn’t the 5 degrees Celsius that we can tolerate naturally, and so health problems—most commonly in the form of various colds—are quick in coming. So how can you avoid battles over the air conditioning’s remote control?
“One unique opportunity for improving your offices’ thermal comfort is moving in to new offices. For these, everything is done from the ground up and comprehensively—adjustments after construction are expensive, and so they generally aren’t done at all. Before we start on a space plan, i.e. the proposal for an office’s future layout, we work with the company to decide how many people will be working at the office and whether they’re considering an open space, closed offices, or some combination of the two. And how many meeting rooms they need, because those see greater concentrations of people, and you need more fresh air / more cooling,” adds Lenka from High 5 Design.
“Based on that, we design the right organization, outputs, and types for HVAC technologies. It can’t all be managed with windows alone, and above all, many old office buildings don’t even have openable windows. Due to health standards, office buildings today are outfitted with either fan coil units or, more recently, chilled beams. They differ in the technology used, and in their operating costs as well. And ordinary users feel a big difference too. While fan coils blow air out, chilled beams let it flow down slowly.”
An office building’s developer or owner can also significantly improve its thermal comfort by giving it high ceilings, making sure its windows are openable, getting the facade right (making sure that it repels solar radiation) and installing external blinds on the windows.