Why Occupant Comfort Matters and How to Achieve it Without Sacrificing Energy Efficiency Goals

Comfort is a high priority in buildings. The instant someone enters a room they realize if it feels hot or cold, smells stale, feels too humid, or another substandard observation. If the place isn’t comfortable, fixing it becomes a top priority and buildings that keep occupants comfortable are often perceived as high-performance.

The balance of comfort and sustainability can be at odds. Keeping an entire floor at a preferred temperature is nice for occupants who want to feel comfortable in any room they select. However, it can be expensive and wasteful due to the energy required to keep empty spaces within a preferred comfort zone.

Comfort has a direct impact on retention as well as wellness, an area with increasing importance. Comfort also includes how safe someone feels in a location whether it be about pathogens, how loud a space is, or if the layout of a room isn’t conducive to work. Looking at it in another way, comfort affects the bottom line when absenteeism, employee attraction and retention, and health insurance costs are considered.

The value is clear but that doesn’t mean achieving satisfactory occupant comfort is simple for building operators or owners. Physical changes like putting blinds on windows is a good way to block out the sun and keep temperatures down during warmer months. Fortunately, technology has amplified the ability to prepare for and keep occupants comfortable without delaying progress towards energy efficiency targets.

One way technology is helping with comfort is through automation. Simple if this, then that processes use real time information to dictate what the environment should be in a space. This real-time information can come from occupancy sensors. For example, say there is a conference room with a dozen chairs around a table. If there is one person in the room, there shouldn’t be a noticeable difference in the perceived temperature or freshness of the space. If the room is full, occupants may feel confined, stuffy or too hot.

An automated system is able to take into account the real-time status of a space and change policies for cooling, airflow, window blind settings, and more based on what is happening in the room instead of what was projected to happen. Assumptions can be useful as a baseline, but there is no comparison with the effectiveness of real-time data and hard facts. This is especially true in complex situations where two goals are important: comfort and energy efficiency.

Another option is to give occupants control over the ambient conditions of their space. Whether through a smart app that is connected to a BMS or BAS, occupants may feel better about a space when they have some control over it.

Fortunately, there are multiple ways to reach the same goal. Did you know low-wattage fans (3 watts) producing 1 m/s air movement near an occupant are capable of offsetting a 6ºF (3K) increase in indoor air temperature? This is important as increasing the indoor temperature reduces a building’s total HVAC energy about 10% per ºC. Creating a feedback loop between occupants and building operators about comfort can be done with the right app, minimizing assumptions and increasing data-backed strategies.

Just like data helps building operators better manage a space, data can also have a powerful impact on occupants’ understanding of how their behavior effects the building’s energy efficiency. Dashboards that show trends or real time data about a space can be very insightful and motivational for occupants who want to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem.

If you’re looking for a way to increase your occupants’ comfort while still reaching your buildings’ energy goals, it’s important to have accurate and precise data that is accessible, user-friendly, and empowered by capable automation systems. This may seem like a big undertaking but you don’t have to do everything at once and, with the right team behind you, you can make improvements that will have the most impact first. Curious what that looks like? Let’s set up a call and talk about your building.

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