Does a personal climate control system solve open-plan office issues?
We asked a researcher from TNO
By: Jessica Merkens
Especially in open-space offices, a personal climate system has many advantages
Are you freezing behind your desk during dark autumn days, while your neighbour is still wearing t-shirts? There is a big difference in what people experience as comfortable, and this also holds true for working environments. The Netherlands Organisation for applied scientific research TNO is researching the concept of a personal climate system, where employees can individually regulate temperature and lighting. Especially in the highly popular and increasingly criticised set up of open-plan offices, this control system is said to improve employee wellness and productivity. Researcher Linda Hoes- Van Oeffelen of TNO talks about the research project her group is working on together with partners from the industry.
What is a personal climate control system?
“When you walk around in workspaces, especially open-plan offices, you see significant individual differences in temperature preference. This is also true for lighting. Elderly people need more light than teenagers, and for different tasks, you need different lighting levels. Someone might prefer a warmer light, while another prefers a cooler light. These individual differences can lead to complaints concerning comfort. The idea of a personalised climate control system arose ten years ago from a thermal issue: can you heat a space on a personal, local level?
The workspace we developed has heating in the desk and it is cooled by airflows. When looking at lighting, colour temperature and intensity can be individually controlled, and there is a possibility to have the lighting mimic daylight light intensity levels.
Especially in open-space offices, a personal climate system has many advantages. It is challenging to regulate settings on a personal level in an open-space office because you’re sharing general lighting, heating and cooling settings with others.”
Photo by: Ahrend
You can definitely still create a certain ambience for the office with a light plan
Photo by: Ahrend
Will it not create chaos when everyone can regulate his or her own lighting?
“No, it is a very subtle nuance in colour temperature. It is white light where the amount of blue or yellow light can be increased or decreased. The luminaire is also aimed at the employee’s workspace so you will not have someone else’s lighting on your desk.”
Can designers still create ambience in the workspace?
“Next to desk lighting there is still a need for universal lighting in the office space, so you can definitely still create a certain ambience for the office with a light plan.”
What effects does the system have on the user?
“Research shows that people find it comfortable to have control over their environment. They have a preference for manually turning switches. This control also makes you a more satisfied user. We will have to see how users will experience our personal climate control system. A little over fifty prototypes were placed a year ago at real-life testing locations in offices. We’re still studying the long-term use and user experience results.
Whether it will also enhance productivity, we will have to see. You would expect people to be more productive when they are more comfortable, but productivity in itself is very hard to measure.”
It would be better when lighting, heating and cooling topics are integrated into the design process
Does a personal climate system also help energy saving?
“We expect that it will contribute to energy saving. Office occupancy is often low, with people working from home or being in meetings. General energy use can be cut down substantially when only the office spaces that are in use are being lit and heated.”
What can the architect do with lighting and the end-user?
“That is a difficult question. What I see is that the manufacturers we’re working with are often in the wrong place of the building process. It would be better when lighting, heating and cooling topics are integrated into the design process instead of all the way at the end. If you know beforehand that you want to install a personal climate control system, you can also tailor the rest of the lighting to this.”
When is the study finished?
“We are doing tests until the end of 2018. After that we will round up the testing phase, draw our conclusions and publish our findings.”
Project: TKI ImPeKt
Subsidised by: The Dutch ministry of Economic affairs
Parties: TNO, Ahrend, TRILUX, Abel Delft, TU Delft, ING and Sodexo
Linda Hoes- Van Oeffelen studied building physics at the Technical University of Eindhoven. She works as research scientist at TNO in the field of energy performance and comfort in the built environment.