Rapid Changes in Workplace Design Impacts Engineering
Fueled by a desire for collaborative team experiences, Workplace design is experiencing a move away from personal offices to an open concept. This new layout enables views of 70 to 90 percent of occupied spaces, pushing the conference rooms and closed offices to the core and placing workstations at the perimeter.
The open office concept inspires mechanical designers to find innovative solutions in order to provide adequate ventilation, and heating and cooling for these large open spaces to support increased efficiency and personal comfort.
Reduced Ductworks = Higher Ceilings
We have seen solutions such as chilled beams, variable refrigerant flow, and chilled sails or ceilings becoming more popular to support open office designs. Building codes in many states are requiring 100 percent dedicated outside air systems which are able to decouple the ventilation from heating and cooling. Heating and cooling can then cycle on and off when not required. The air flow required solely for ventilation can sometimes be 1/5th to even 1/10th of traditional supply air volume. This ensures the duct work in these spaces is much smaller.
High Plug Loads = Free Heating
I believe that leveraging high equipment plug loads is a pivotal Workplace design strategy to increase energy specific savings. For example, high tech office plug loads can range from 2-8 watts per square foot in the office zones, compared to 1.5-2.5 watts per square foot in a traditional office environment. As central plant equipment is getting more sophisticated this allows for heating and cooling sharing opportunities. The plug loads are a large portion of overall energy consumption in these buildings and need to provide an added benefit.
Next Frontier - Personal Comfort Systems = Increased Productivity
Designing the appropriate mechanical system will only go so far, the next frontier is personal comfort systems like heated/cooled chairs or personal fans. Personal control or access to modify your thermal environment can increase productivity by 3 to 7 percent. Fine tuning your environment to eliminate the need for overcooling and then reheating is a necessity in this age of environmental stewardship.