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VOICES FROM THE INDUSTRY: A few ways to put an end your office thermostat wars

September 15, 2008

It's game time in corporate Indiana.

The competitors: warm-blooded workers vs. cold-blooded workers. The battlefield: the thermostat.

The unofficial season of the thermostat wars is about to begin. Anyone who's worked in an office knows exactly how this game shakes out.

An employee who complains it's too hot nudges the thermostat dial farther toward the 60s; an employee who complains it's too cold gives the dial a shove toward the 80s.

The only one to win a thermostat war is the energy company. The more temperatures fluctuate, the more it costs to heat and cool office spaces.

Buildings account for 70 percent of all the electricity used in the United States, according to the U.S. Green Building Council. That's a lot of electricity, a lot of coal being burned to produce it and a lot of carbon dioxide emissions.

Green design standards are helping all of us do a better job constructing buildings that conserve resources and energy. Instead of building new, most of us are looking for ways to increase the energy efficiency of the space we have.

There is plenty you can do in order to use energy more efficiently, help employees stay more comfortable, and save money.

Because of the increased availability of new energies and green products, there are steps building owners can take now to reduce that usage, even in existing structures.

Too often, people will say things like: I only have a 10,000-square-foot office, turning off the lights isn't going to make a difference. That's where they're wrong. It does make a difference.

There are 78 billion square feet of space in commercial buildings in the U.S., according to the Environmental Protection Agency. If each building or office reduced energy usage by 35 percent, we'd save $25 billion collectively. That's a nice chunk of change, not to mention what that kind of reduction could do to the environment and the impact it would have on energy costs.

GoGreen.comput together facts and figures about the value of going green. One that hits home: For every 50,000 square feet of space you have, you'll save $25,000 in energy costs by cutting your usage by 30 percent.

Following are some easy, inexpensive ways to reduce energy usage:

Lighting

Rethink lights. They account for an estimated 20 percent to 25 percent of a building's electricity.

Replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent lamps, which use less energy. Make sure you use CFLs only when there is proper air circulation as they aren't appropriate for recessed canisters.

Replace magnetic ballasts with electronic ones. T-8s last longer and provide better light than T-12s, plus they can reduce the number of fixtures needed.

Use natural light. Open blinds and shades to let sun in. Some studies have shown that natural light increases store sales and increases students' math and memory skills.

Install occupancy sensors, which automatically shut off lights when the room is empty for a specific amount of time. Photo-sensors can help lights adjust to natural daylight, too, reducing the need for some lights. You can install sensors throughout the office. Start with restrooms, work closets and conference rooms.

Delamp. Many older offices have more lights than are needed. Not only does excess light cause computer glare, it wastes energy.

Use task lighting instead of overhead lighting when possible.

Heating and cooling.

It can take a big bite out of the budget. When determining the proper temperature for the office, you need to consider the heat that will be given off by the amount of machines and number of people in the office.

68 is the magic number. Ideally, set the thermostat to 68 degrees during work hours and 63 degrees on off-hours.

Program thermostats to turn on before people arrive and off after they leave. If possible, make use of cool, outside air by ventilating your workplace at night or in the early morning.

Maintain and clean the furnace filter and vents. The most efficient system won't work as well as it could if it's not properly maintained. Regular cleanings and service will preserve the life of the system, too.

Install an Energy Management Systems, which allows the building manager to control the entire building. Although individual tenants can regulate office thermostats, temperatures can't be adjusted by more than 2 degrees warmer or cooler. Another advantage of EMS is that a building owner can program temperatures to adjust for holidays, weekends or even vacant spaces.

Insulation

Insulation may be a no-brainer, but newer insulation products are helping conserve energy. Among them, cellulose insulation, which has been found to reduce heating and cooling costs by as much as 40 percent, and denim insulation, which also absorbs sounds.

For those employees, who complain it's still too cold? Stock sweaters in the closet, and make sure the last one out shuts off the lights.



Cleveland is director of property management at Mann Properties, an Indianapolis-based company that develops commercial, industrial and residential communities. Views expressed here are the writer's.
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