We spend more than 80% of our time indoors, but how much consideration is taken for our comfort and happiness when constructing those buildings? Looking for the triple bottom line, researchers in the UK and India set out to study the relationship between energy use and occupant satisfaction in office buildings. The triple bottom line in business looks at people, planet and profit, and should be a factor when considering green and sustainable design.
The study explored ventilation systems and the occupants’ level of control over the system in 12 case study buildings (six in the UK and six in India). These buildings could be classified into six categories, according to whether they were air-conditioned or ventilated naturally with central or local control.
Of the 12 buildings the study looked at, an office building in India with an advanced natural ventilation system had the lowest energy consumption, with a UK office building that uses central air-conditioning ranking the highest. No surprises there.
But the finding that should put a smile on everyone’s face is that the researchers found no correlation between high energy use and employee satisfaction- in fact, in both countries, buildings that combined air conditioning with local ventilation control reported higher satisfaction than centrally controlled systems. What’s more, researchers found that seasonal ailments in the UK were lowest in naturally ventilated buildings and in mixed mode buildings in India.
On average, naturally ventilated buildings create 50% less emissions than air-conditioned buildings, which is a strong argument for switching on its own. Couple that with energy efficiency meaning healthier working conditions and you’ve got a sustainable case for sustainable design.
Researchers found that in temperate climates, office occupant comfort and satisfaction appears to be linked to the degree of control that occupants have over their office environment- not the amount of energy used. In essence, the more control office employees have over the temperature in their direct environment, the happier they reported being.
So what does this mean for green building design? It means that the time of high-energy, centralized air-conditioning systems should draw to a rapid close. Not only do offices with central air and heating systems use more energy on average, the employees who work in them are less satisfied with their work environment and are less healthy.
Want lower energy bills and happier employees? It’s time to invest in energy efficient technologies that allow occupants a high level of individualized control. Who doesn’t want to save energy and be more comfortable? It makes sense- and now we have some research to back it up.