The dog days of summer have begun; time to whip out a woolen cardigan for the office. It’s a summer ritual in New York. Outside the temperatures go up, inside office buildings the temperatures drop. As I am writing this, it is freezing cold in here. As I forgot to bring a warm blanket, I make frequent runs to the water cooler to get hot tea. It is not the first time that I feel like working in an ice box. In fact, it’s seasonal. Since I came to New York many years ago, I witnessed the peculiar appearance of desk heaters, cellophane wrapped vents, colorful Pashmina scarves and thick sweaters in offices around summer time. However, with the backdrop of rising energy prices, the availability of energy management systems and a sleuth of green building initiatives, it still surprises me that little has changed since my first encounter with the summer chill.
This year is not different, although we are located in a green office building. In general, tenants want to keep their foot print small and provide employees with a comfortable work environment. But a comfortable temperature lies in the eye of the beholder. As it turns out some tenants are still feeling hot, when others - like me - are freezing. In an attempt to find a consensus, our office building follows a policy to set the temperature at 69°F.
The general recommendation is that office temperatures should be held constant in the range of 69-73°F as the standard for the thermal comfort level – meaning that a person wearing a normal amount of clothing feels neither too cold nor too warm. Other recommendations are more specific for each season, taking consideration the humidity as a factor. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) recommends setting the office temperature between 73 - 80°F during the summer. So, our office building’s temperature of 69°F is within the general standard. Although it is at least 5 degrees lower than the recommended temperature level for the summer by ASHRAE, there is no law that would require the building to change the current temperature level.
So, the AC keeps running at low temperature level while at the same time space heaters are being cranked up. This automatically translates into unnecessary higher electricity consumption during the summer.
Granted, some building owners – and thereby buildings - have become smarter. A number of new Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified office buildings, such as Hearst Tower and the new Bank of America Building (BOA) in New York City set an example for energy efficiency. Dubbed as the first occupied “green” commercial building in New York City to receive a Gold Rating under the LEED rating system by the U.S. Green Building Council, Hearst Tower also earned the Energy Star designation for superior energy performance in 2010. It is among the top 10% of energy-efficient buildings in the nation.
The new 55-story high BOA skyscraper was the first building to earn a platinum designation from the LEED program. The focus is on resource preservation. As reported in Time Magazine, about 65% of the new BOA building’s annual energy needs are generated on-site, thanks to a natural-gas powered cogeneration plant.
But there are still a large number of older office buildings that need retrofitting, including – unfortunately - our own office building. While this is the case, there could be a practical way of stopping the energy waste during summer, such as finding a comfortable, while environmentally friendly temperature level in the office. Even a small difference of one to two degrees can make a huge impact. Imagine the electricity we could save with a more climate friendly temperature standard. I am bringing in duct tape tomorrow to cover our office vent.
Post also appeared on GreenGoPost, July 30, 2012.