Earth Notes: On Office Comfort and Energy Efficiency

Auto-updated 2022-07-01.
By Damon Hart-Davis.
Sweating or shivering 9 to 5 at work? Small business or home office? Get comfy, save money, cut carbon! #office #thermostatWars
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Use appliances as efficiently as possible. Switch all your lighting to LED. Put up blinds and set windows correctly. Help beat the heat in summer, and the midwinter blues too!

Sweats and Chills

Keep a lid on sweats and chills outside the boardroom!

There are simple things that you can do to save money and keep your cool. Especially in summer, use equipment efficiently and turn off gadgets that you don't need. It will help save the pennies, and keep you more comfortable. Oh, and save carbon emissions and the planet!

Battles

Many of us have been caught in passive-aggressive office thermostat battles.

Someone wants to wear a level of clothing more appropriate for the beach. They demand that the heat be turned up, forcing the rest to sweat and swelter.

Or they come dressed as if ready for a shift in a walk-in freezer. The rest are forced to shiver while the aircon is cranked to the max.

Everyone will be much more comfortable with seasonally-appropriate clothing and a light hand on the controls. It's a fight that management should help resolve. Save money and tempers all round!

What to fix in 2022?

Summer

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Some ideas to beat the office heat...

  • Try to fit reflective blinds or shades to keep excess sunshine and heat out. Especially on south- and west- facing windows. Once sunlight is absorbed by a dark surface it will turn to heat and add to your discomfort.
  • Whenever replacing equipment such as photocopiers, PCs, monitors, laptops, etc, go for the most efficient that you can afford. Also make sure that the new gear has good low-power automatic standby modes. Then you don't have to remember to manually turn things off when no one is using them.
  • Make sure that you are not air-conditioning a room with open windows and doors. You may be wasting half your building's energy. And exposing yourself to air pollution from outside.
  • A small fan (and lighter clothing) may maximise comfort without boiling any penguins...
  • Even without aircon, keeping blinds and windows closed during the heat of the day can help keep heat out and indoors cool.
  • Replace any lighting you have control over with the latest efficient LEDs. (Get the right light colour while you're at it.) High efficiency will minimise unwanted waste heat. Preferably better than 100lm/W ie 100 lumens per watt, but over 60lm/W as a minimum.

Oh, and if your office heating is wonky in winter, lobby to fix it now while heating engineers are charging normal rates. Then no one will have to be bounced into an expensive instant fix!

Winter

office open door drafty window

Avoid your fingers freezing to the desk...

  • Avoid heating a room with open windows and doors. You may be wasting half your building's energy. And exposing yourself to air pollution from outside.
  • Clear obstructions around radiators and other heat sources. Allow them to work efficiently.
  • Fix draughts around doors and windows. Cold draughts lead to significant discomfort. Make sure that you still have enough healthy ventilation, eg MHRV.
  • In winter don't be tempted to turn equipment on just to thaw the office. Using your building's dedicated heating system will be cheaper. It should work better too. Not everyone realises it, but electricity and heat are both forms of energy. Use the right one for the right job!
  • Get up and move about from time to time rather than cranking up the heat. Activity is good for you and can make toes and fingers feel warmer.
  • There is no shame in thermal underwear. Or even a second pair of socks. It can be sexy too! Keeping your body warm can be more effective and pleasant, and lower carbon, than trying to heat the whole room that you're in.

You know what makes building managers cry? Electric space heaters plugged in under desks. For a start, they might overload circuits only meant for computers. Think of low-power 'UPS' circuits meant to stay running though a power cut. Yes, I've seen it happen. But they are also a fire-hazard and inefficient. Try and find another solution. Something as simple as a raised footrest if the floor is cold!

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