Heatmap of the month – improving energy efficiency

There are many new products that help energy managers save energy from HVAC – one of the big challenges is understanding how to use them to reduce energy without compromising comfort.

Heat maps this month comes from an estate in the North of England with a very active programme of energy reduction. They show what happens in the office over three weeks as they trial a novel system in their condenser units, which offers exciting energy savings.

Here’s the first week – a record of seven days before the system was engaged.

In the second week the set up was tested for maximum theoretical savings. It’s immediately obvious that the building is struggling to shed excess heat after a warm weekend and although the performance is better towards the middle of the week, a warm day on Friday shows that the set up needs to be backed off to maintain comfort.

Has it worked? There is obviously still a problem in week 3 which was traced to a faulty HVAC sensor, not the new system. By the end of the week the sensor is replaced, comfort is restored for all occupiers and the energy manager can collect the savings from the new system knowing the output is what it should be.

Have you got an energy efficiency initiative that needs benchmarking? Get in touch and we can help you put some hard numbers around the performance of your systems.

Is there more to proptech than cleantech?

A recent survey from the RICS found that interest in proptech is reaching a high, with 79% of those surveyed saying their companies are planning to increase investment in technology.

Consensus in the profession seems to be that we’re only scratching the surface with what technology can do:

Cleantech and energy efficient buildings present one business case, but there is a lot of interest in what better workplaces can do to improve productivity.

Anyone with views on that relationship might want to get involved in the Stoddart Review, which promises to put the workplace on the corporate agenda – and provide a lot of data on what technology should be doing for the built environment.

When Cleantech met Proptech – The Cleantech Futures Conference

Believe you me, startups in clean tech and property can end up going to a lot of networking events. Experience has taught me that a small conference that tries to cover a lot of ground risks leaving its audience behind – ‘stretching’ the schedule can leave delegates listening to topics that don’t engage them. Cambridge Cleantech’s agenda for their 2016 event was ambitious, covering clean tech growth, ideas and innovation for Connected Cities, presented by 26 speakers in a single day.

So I was sceptical. And I was proved wrong.

This was a conference with a lot to say and a lot to do, and if the objective was to arm us with facts about smart cities and innovation, it certainly succeeded. A random selection of fun facts:

– The UK’s emissions have fallen by 36% since 1990, according to the Committee for Climate change. Following the policy pathway fixed for the next 7 years should see the reduction increase to 57% down.

– In the UK water industry 24% of water supplied is still lost through leakage. That’s 24% of pumping energy wasted

– In terms of the ratio of broadband speed to broadband cost, large Asian conurbations like Mumbai are streets ahead of European capitals.

Unexpected heroes – the real estate industry.

Unexpectedly however a common story came across from a number of different speakers. A story about the real estate industry, community and sustainability. Historically, real estate (I include developers, landlords and their advisors in this group) haven’t treated sustainability as a priority. This is now beginning to change, at first at the top end of the commercial markets, where Colin Lizieri from the Land Economy department at Cambridge showed us how green premiums and the poor risk profile of less efficient buildings was beginning to influence valuations for property portfolios.

Slides on sustainability and real estate

The real estate industry: 40% of the world’s energy use and 40% of the enthusiasm needed to do anything about it. Slide from Colin Lizieri, Department of Land Economy, Cambridge University

Coming in the other direction, Savills latest research (presented by Nicky Wightman and available online with a fun interactive model) on the most attractive cities to operate tech companies in emphasised the importance of quality of life in cities, and how efficiently they work. Remember, the value of any individual building is limited by how attractive it’s city is – by its context and the community which it sits in.

From building to city to community

And here’s the interesting part…what happens when developers start to think about not just individual buildings but how they work together to create effective cities, and even effective communities? A couple of great examples came from Rebecca Britton at Urban & Civic, developers of two substantial sites in Cambridgeshire (Alconbury and Waterbeach Barracks). Urban & Civic are spending a lot of time working with the existing communities around their developments to make sure that these developments enhance their lives and are sustainable.

These sorts of brownfield developments are small scale templates of how to integrate smart city solutions – for transport, sustainability, quality of life – and offer some useful lessons for anyone interested in larger smart city innovations and how they might get adopted. Particularly in how to work with the public to make sure existing communities feel a sense of ownership and interest in these solutions. Craig Bennett, CEO of Friends of the Earth  made this point in his opening – smart city solutions need to be adopted from the grass roots up, and as with low carbon generation technologies, the most effective way to engage people is not to thrust top down solutions on them but to give them ownership of the technologies.

Smart city technologies

And yes, there was a lot of technology at this conference. It’s a smart cities conference in Cambridge, what did you expect? From a new marketplace in energy proposed by Origami Energy, to hyperlocal weather forecasts for bike commuters, there is a huge range of solutions just waiting for markets to mature and business cases to be made. This has been the case for many years in smart cities and while government initiatives in many countries have supported pilots there has always been a sense that wider adoption is just around the next corner.

Yesterday was the first time that I genuinely felt the industry might be turning the corner. A Real Estate industry which learns to build efficient high quality places, not just buildings, and is rewarded for doing so by a community that gets returns from these better cities – that’s a welcome step up from our current situation.

We’re looking forward to doing business with them.

What’s the Grand Challenge?

COINS Grand Challenge award for R&D on temperature and HVAC monitoringWe’re very happy to be winners of the COINS Grand Challenge this year for our R&D in HVAC monitoring. If you don’t work in the construction industry you may not know COINS – they are huge supplier of enterprise software to construction companies. And they fund the COINS Foundation which uses enterprise to address issues of social justice.

A fundamental principal of the COINS Foundation is that if you have intellect and ideas they are more powerful when shared. This spirit drives the awards – set up to encourage innovation and big ideas throughout the construction industry they aim to give a leg up to small companies and young people who have big transformative ideas.

Other winning ideas like community led solar desalination and building government schemes to reward the development and construction of green homes – these are the sort of thing that will add technical impetus to the UN’s climate change deal. HVAC is part of this – it’s responsible for more than 5% of energy consumed in western countries and often shockingly badly run.

Preparing for these competitions is often a sweaty, nervous process but it does make you evaluate why you’re doing it. Which is a real benefit. For the pre-startup team sitting in the pub and dreaming of building a great company, finding your big challenge should be easy. Once you’re stuck in the middle of customer feedback, fixing bugs, scratching heads over cashflow projections, it can be less easy to remember why you’re there. That’s the real prize of a well run competition: a chance to get a bit of perspective.

And for us, the Grand Challenge still stands. Looking forward to dealing with it in 2016.

Merry Christmas!

It pays to pay more attention to temperature

Last week I had a great conversation with Roger Whitlock at Hoare Lea consulting engineers which raised an important question.

What’s the most important problem with poorly performing HVAC? Nobody likes wasting energy, but with energy bills at less than 5% of most companies’ revenue, it’s not that big a deal, right?


Because it turns out that a poor environment, particularly poorly controlled temperature, has a direct impact on productivity. And thus on the bottom line.

Getting office temperature right

This is not new news. Studies since the 1970s have consistently demonstrated a link between performance and temperature.

Some highlights:

Study 1 – A 2004 study in a call centre showing that temperatures above 25.4°C had the largest impact on productivity, beyond ventilation, CO2 levels and even staffing and shift length1

Study 2 – A 2009 laboratory study used a range of neurobehavioural tests to try and dig into the effects of temperature on more complex cognitive skills. The study found that motivated participants can maintain productivity for short periods (30 minutes) over temperature ranges between 19° – 32° c, and that moderate warmth can affect mental performance in some tasks, while cold temperatures can affect physical performance in other tasks.2

Study 3 – A 2004 office study showed a steady increase in keying (typing) rates from 20° – 25° and a decrease in errors.3

One temperature to rule them all? 

A 2011 meta analysis of these papers and others shows a steady and pretty consistent relationship between workplace temperatures and loss of productivity, with a broadly neutral effect between 20 and 23°c and a loss of about 1% of productivity for every degree either side of 20 – 25%

Effect of temperature on productivity

Temperature’s impacts on productivity come in a range of effects – from routine tasks taking longer with more mistakes, all the way to increased rates of absenteeism.

So if you put all of these studies together do they give the final word on what is the best temperature for workplace productivity?

Nearly – it seems there is a pretty narrow band where optimisation is likely to happen. They certainly make a strong case for taking temperature very seriously in any workplace, along with other factors in comfort like lighting, airflow and humidity. An important point here is that the subjects in most of these studies were properly randomised – different genders, wearing a range of clothing – meaning the results should carry over into a normal working population.

There’s a couple of points that aren’t clear yet. First the effect of acclimatisation. Does the external weather tend to increase peoples’ tolerance for higher or lower temperatures? With results from Helsinki to Florida, there does seem to be a small effect.

Secondly does this effect apply to all tasks? Many of the studies looked at administrative tasks where it’s possible to define how long something should take and what a mistake looks like. It’s obviously difficult to design similar tests for more creative or analytical work in realistic environments. But one big anecdotal clue here – there are very few offices where individual workers have complete control over their environments. The few that there are are in places where these workers produce extremely high value output and a mistake can be very expensive indeed – trading desks for example.

Getting temperature right in the real world

How does this fit with running conditioning systems in a truly efficient manner?

In a system where heating and cooling are split, the recommendation is to run a ‘dead band’ between the heating and the cooling to avoid them fighting. The heating is turned off at 20° and the cooling comes on at 24° for example. It’s clear from the research that the tighter you can keep the dead band, the more time your colleagues will spend in the productivity sweet spot.

And a tight dead band relies on tight control to avoid clashes between heating and cooling. If sensors are drifting over time, or the thermal load is higher than the original design, then buildings can be locked into a cycle of rapid heating/cooling that gives the worst of all worlds.

Reframing the temperature conversation

Nobody sets out to make an uncomfortable workplace. However maintaining the systems that keep our work comfortable is often treated as a low priority, because 1) there seems little quantifiable payback and 2) it is sometimes difficult to measure improvements. The result is that apathy takes hold and it becomes difficult to justify investment, especially where budgets are tight.

Perhaps it is time to reframe the conversations facilities managers have with the board. By producing evidence of better productivity (or raising awareness of the dangers of lost productivity) you can start to build a serious ROI for investing in better control.

For more ideas about how to measure productivity and temperature in your building without needing a scientific research grant, head over to our LinkedIn discussion on the Corporate Real Estate group.

One temperature to rule them all?

'I'm not saying it's hot in my office, but a couple of hobbits just threw this in'

‘I’m not saying it’s hot in my office, but a couple of hobbits just threw this in’

How much comfort should we expect HVAC to deliver? Is there such a thing as one ideal temperature for a workplace?

The facilities management group on LinkedIn has been wrestling with the question of how to create the right temperature for all staff. There is a constant string of war stories where occupiers deliberately or accidentally prevent their building systems from doing their job:

– the tenants who move temperature sensors around the room, away from the zones they are meant to control

– the pupils who come to school in strappy tops and sandals and are too cold

– the call centre operative who hid a 2.4 kW heater under their desk…except it was heating their colleagues and the wall temperature sensor, not them

– and yes, the placebo thermostat really exists.

But even though occupiers don’t always make it easy, most facilities managers take pride in trying to produce a comfortable working environment and spend a good deal of energy and time investigating complaints, especially at the transition times of year. A few top tips from the group about how to minimise complaints:

– ‘education is key. The more informed the user the less problems I have’. (Although I think the FM who gave his occupier a copy of the ASHRAE standards might have been setting the goal a bit high!)

– know your occupiers as well as you do your building services

– use different settings for areas with different loads

– accept that communication and discussion with the building’s users is an important part of the job

– set a consistent, visible and enforceable policy around temperature in the workplace.

For the full discussion and more on managing office temperatures from an facility manager’s point of view, you can join the LinkedIn group here.


Thermostat wars – what if they’re not all in your head?

So we’re coming into the office air conditioning season after a warm dry spring. And that means it’s time for the annual crop of headlines about thermostat wars. Like this one, and this one and this one. Notice something similar with these?

That’s right – all of the ‘discussion’ about office temperature seems to be about the difference between people. Specifically, that men generally like it colder than women. Oh, and for some strange reason the ladies in marketing always feature as needing it hotter than anyone else.

Folks, I smell a giant, slightly sweaty, rat here. Of course, there are differences in how people perceive temperature. However, if you’ve had the pleasure of ploughing through the ASHRAE and CIBSE literature on temperature and comfort in offices, then you know that an immense amount of research effort goes into identifying a range of temperatures that works for the largest number of people.

So when you get surveys that suggest 60% of people are unhappy with the temperature in their office – cooling in summer or heating in winter – my conclusion has to be that its much more likely the problem is the HVAC.

Too hot and too cold. In the same office?

People disagreeing about office temperature and fighting over the thermostat makes good headlines. Truth is, they may both be right. Its completely normal for office temperatures to vary across the room. So Karen sitting under an air conditioning vent may well be freezing while Mick starts to sweat in the sun at the other side of the room.

And while humans aren’t very good at estimating absolute temperature, we have quite high levels of sensitivity to changes in temperature – anything over 1 degree in 15 minutes is generally detectable. So even quite small variations throughout the day tend to get noticed, particularly if they coincide with peaks and troughs in metabolism.

Why does my office temperature vary so much?

Temperature – and how it affects comfort – is a more complicated subject than it might first appear. If we break it down to its component parts it begins to be obvious why variations happen in buildings.

Perfect office temperature

Perfect office temperature – they don’t seem worried by convection

The basic physics of how heat moves around is probably familiar. Heat can be transferred from one thing to another by radiation (heat energy being transferred directly – like in sunlight), convection (heat being carried around in air or other fluid) or by conduction (transfer along a physical object like a metal spoon in coffee). In an office, radiant heat and convection are normally the two most significant mechanisms for transferring heat around, and these create the first set of challenges.

Because heat will move around a bit differently, depending on the mechanism. Unless you’re sitting in an office made of warm water convection is going to rely on warm air circulating around your office. On the other hand, any ‘body’ – a window, a wall, a desk, a laptop – that you can see will be radiating heat directly at you. If they are at a similar temperature to you this effect will be small, but once the mean radiant temperature gets more than 5 degrees out of whack to air temperature, you are likely to feel uncomfortable.

Since the biggest ‘bodies’ in any office are generally windows and walls, and since they are generally exposed to external temperature, being close to a hot window or a poorly insulated wall makes you very vulnerable to fluctuations in their temperature. And you might be freezing while Frank near the kitchen is toasty.

But wait, there’s more! Why your office’s temperature varies over time.

Do you like graphs? Of course you do. Here’s a fun one:

Measured temperatures in open plan office

Office temperatures Cambridge 7th – 27th April.

This is a graph of the temperature measured at multiple points across an open plan office for 19 days. Spot the two weekend periods (here’s a clue – look at the minimum temperatures). Why are they significantly cooler? It’s not just because there is no heating on. In fact the main difference is the lack of people. Occupation adds heat. A lot of heat. Each person gives out about the same about of heat as a 100 Watt lightbulb, and that’s before you add in the lighting and equipment that they need.

On top of that, there are long term trends that change how hot offices get, from cooler technology – computer monitors that use LED screens – to hot desking. So over the course of the day and over time you can expect to see the heat load (how much heat is generated) change a lot.

Surely my office heating and ventilation is designed to deal with all this?

Indeed it is. And in future blog posts we’ll have a look at some of the work on how zoning, building management systems and natural ventilation is helping.

However, as you can see, how comfortable you are during the working day is actually the sum of some complicated factors, and that’s before we get into activity levels, clothing, humidity, air speed and all the other issues that have significant impact on the working environment. A good building should compensate for many of these, but there are multiple reasons why they change over time, so regular reviews of whether the building’s heating and cooling is doing its job is always a good policy.

Not just telling the lady in marketing to put on another coat.

This is just the first in what we hope will be a series of posts about HVAC and comfortable buildings. Tell us what problems you’re having and we’ll make sure we cover them.