“We have an on-going issue of people constantly changing the temperature. One office might be warm whereas another office might be cool. When the thermostat is readjusted, it messes up the temperature for everyone in the building causing more battles for controlling the thermostat!”
-Insight from a TherMOOstat user
Who touched the thermostat?!
Have you ever taken sides in a thermostat war? Or are you neutral like Switzerland and come to work with an extra wardrobe to adapt to the office climate? In this post you’ll find out a little more about what’s happening in the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system that can make these wars so intense.
In any given building on campus there is an HVAC system that controls the temperature and airflow in the rooms. However, every building is a little bit different in how the HVAC system serves the rooms. In bigger buildings, the space is typically divided into different zones. The number of rooms in each zone can vary, but there is typically one thermostat per zone, the prize everyone strives to control in a thermostat war. Lastly, within each room, the number of people, and their demands upon the system can vary.
The first offense
The outside air temperature is beginning to drop. It’s a high of 55 degrees F outside, and when Sara gets to the office at 7:00 am she raises the thermostat to 73 degrees F.
The HVAC system supplies warm air to the space Sara is in, but she’s not alone. Sara’s desk is in a large open space of the building (Room 1200), which accounts for one HVAC zone and has ONE precious thermostat.
Above is the layout of the Rifle Range, the Energy Conservation Office’s home turf. We’re all about saving energy, but let’s face it, sometimes thermostat wars are inevitable. As you can see, Sara sits in the same space as her co-worker Dan, who is about to arrive to work.
The second volley
Around 9:00am Dan gets to work. He just rode in on his bike and even though he’s taken off his jacket, scarf and hat, he’s still hot. So Dan walks over to the thermostat and thinks, “73 degrees! I don’t think so!” and he commandeers the thermostat, lowering it to 68 degrees F.
However, when Dan changes the set point on the thermostat, well you already know… he’s changing the set point for all of Zone 2.
The skirmish has begun
Sara feels a draft in her workspace and starts to shiver. What’s happening behind the scenes in the ductwork of the building is a fluctuation of air temperatures that is not peaceable or energy efficient.
Let’s extend this concept a little wider:
If 10 offices are in one zone with one thermostat, one person changing the set point to over cool a space can waste energy in the entire zone. This is bad, but now consider multiple zones in one building. If one zone has a low set point that is calling to the HVAC system for more cooling, the air handler in the HVAC system must supply cool air to every zone. For the rest of the zones that don’t want that set point, the cool air from the air handler is re-heated to their desired temperature. So not only is the one zone being overcooled, but the entire building is now being overcooled and spending energy to re-heat the other zones. This is a serious issue.
How to Avoid a Thermostat War
Every building is different, so proposing a solution to all thermostat wars everywhere is a tough egg to crack. Some buildings have more zones than others, sometimes there’s one thermostat to one zone, and other times there are multiple thermostats to one zone. This means people rarely get to change their own room temperature, and have to learn to adapt. Adapting to indoor temperature can actually be more difficult than adapting to the weather outside! On the bright side, you’re likely helping save energy on campus and may have gained a skill that will help you save energy at home too.
Thankfully, raising a white flag by adapting isn't your only option. In their article on thermostat wars, Small Business Trends proposes proven battle tactics for thermostat wars:
"Get people involved in setting the ideal temperature for your workplace. People are more comfortable at the same temperature if they have control over the setting."
"Institute flexible work hours or telecommuting. If you have the kind of business that allows employees to work from home or to work on a flexible schedule, this may be a boon to productivity."
Crowdsourcing Can Save the Day
The Energy Conservation Office wants it to be as easy as possible for you to avoid thermostat wars without having to adapt your work schedule. We built TherMOOStat because we want to know how your space feels.
By leaving your comfort feedback on TherMOOstat our office can track when you’re uncomfortable. We want to investigate why your room may be chronically warm while your neighbor's remains chilly. At the same time, we want to share with you why it’s happening and what’s going on in the HVAC system.