Money for old rope - Using the Building Management System to estimate productivity

WorldGBC’s ‘Better Places for People’ campaign and related ‘Health, Wellbeing and Productivity’ research has been central to the rapidly growing attention being paid to the impact of buildings on their occupants.

A quick back-of-the-envelope calculation will confirm that salaries and related overheads for the occupants of, for instance, an office building will dwarf the operational energy costs. And intuitively it seems obvious that different factors of the working environment, such as temperature, humidity and CO2, will impact on the productivity of occupants.

Building design standards have long provided guidance on appropriate levels for many of these factors but, until recently, interest in underlying research quantifying their effect on productivity has been largely limited to academia.  The work of organisations including the GBCs; the International WELL Building Institute; and the Feeling Good Foundation has started to change that. There is now a rapid increase in both the range of property professions paying attention to this subject, as well as efforts to try and identify the impact of measures to improve productivity.

Effects on productivity are highly complex and dependent on an extensive range of physiological and psychological influences. Some may claim that these effects are too complex and interdependent to enable the meaningful isolation of individual factors, but research highlighted by the UK-GBC and others does provide a robust enough basis to produce meaningful estimates of the effect of at least some of these factors. 

Image: a plot of 700 space temperature sensors polled every 30 minutes

Using the example of temperature, the UK-GBC’s offices report identifies a meta-study of 24 research papers that investigated the relationship between temperature and productivity. The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has undertaken a similar meta-study of 9 papers.  Both studies identify approximations of temperatures at which productivity is not affected and they each report drop-off rates when it gets too hot and cold. Though there is inevitably some variation, strong enough trends do appear, to allow the effect on productivity at different temperatures to be estimated.

In order to apply the research, detailed space temperature data must be captured. To achieve this, temporary data loggers can be used, and for many buildings tens, and frequently hundreds of temperature sensors already exist as part of the Building Management System. There is typically one sensor for every terminal unit (chilled beam, fan coil unit etc.) delivering heating and/or cooling.  If the data from these sensors can be recorded, and then compared against the research, an estimate of the effect on productivity can be produced that at least gives a useful indication.

With a few simple, transparent assumptions regarding occupancy density, average salary and overheads, a financial estimate can be produced of the productivity impact that an adjustment in temperature could provide. This will not be highly accurate but can still give an order of magnitude of any potential issues. In buildings where we have produced such estimates, the results are typically in the hundreds of thousands of pounds per year, and occasionally in the millions.

Approximate as these calculations may be, they are likely to be useful to attract the attention of roles such as asset managers and non-technical building managers where individuals may not have the time or interest to go into the detail of energy usage, but are likely to be very interested in whether their tenants are happy, with potential consequences for hot-desk complaints, retention, voids, rents and reputation.

Tom Randall is Director, Development Manager at Demand Logic.

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Tom Randall

Author: Tom Randall

Added: 15/09/2016

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