QUESTION OF THE WEEK: The War Of The Thermostats

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Q. I have an ongoing battle with our property manager over HVAC issues. I am told the equipment is “functioning as it should be,” so there is nothing he can do. Yet, we have staff members wearing winter coats and fingerless gloves to be able to work at their desks (Bob Cratchit would be proud). Is it too much for a building occupant/tenant to expect a comfortable working environment?

The building engineers take the temperature reading at ceiling box level, and I’m concerned with the temperature at desk level. What recourse do I have?

Frustrated In Illinois

This question was originally published in the January 2010 issue of Today’s Facility Manager. Read Elledge’s response here. Share your feedback and suggestions in the LEAVE A COMMENT section below.

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6 Responses

  1. Boyd White says:

    I was in facility management for many years and the issue of space comfort always a concern. After years of trying to make everyone happy I learned that this was impossible. What I started doing was installing a decent size thermometer at each thermostat and posted a sign that said. “Call maintenance if the temperature is below 72 or above 76”. I also hung coat hooks in all the cubes and offices and suggested that everyone keep a sweeter handy that they could put on and take off as needed. This pretty much stopped the nuisance calls. We all have different tolerances for temperatures based on gender, weight, physical condition, age and what not so trying to please everyone is impossible. An HVAC should be able to maintain a fairly tight temperature range. If your system has over a 4 degree swing then you need to address things such as system performance or maybe thermostat locations. One thing that happens when you are trying to satisfy every individual is supply registers get closed, taped off or covered with cardboard. This forces more air out of the surrounding registers and over time you may end up blocking off 50% or more of the registers and your system is way out of balance. Now your systems cannot perform as designed any you will get even more complaints. I would talk to the facilities group and come up with some temperature standards that will satisfy a majority of the occupants and hold them responsible to maintain these standards. Both sides have to be willing to give a little.

  2. Your problem with building space temperatures is a common one in the commercial world. Consider the building HVAC system that returns to a night set back temperature which can range to as low as 62 degrees. When you enter the building all the desks, walls, flooring and chairs you sit in are normally at the same temperature.

    When a building enters its occupied mode the HVAC system adjusts building temperature. The building gently warms until it reaches its setpoint temperature. The time and range of recovery are dependent on the design of mechanical system and building management system.

    As facility managers we always surveyed the complaints from tenants and noted that in some cases there were the human factors. In some cases we adjusted the building occupancy mode start-up time to get the building warmer intime for occupancy. Heating a building cost dollars, and most building operators are trying to save heating and cooling dollars these days. Office locations below a diffuser is also a concern.

    Your concerns ring loud across the office world and we try to resolve them with response, hope this helps in your remedy to the cold.

  3. Donnie Bergquist says:

    I also have been in this business for many years and it is the most controversial issue in Facilities. Men vs. Women, Large vs. Small… Thin vs. Thick… too many variables. Just came to the conclusion that one should have a 3-4 deg. F. spread and lock em out….
    Have a great day.
    db

  4. Christine says:

    No one has addressed the possibility of dumping. I am an HVAC engineer and design systems for a living. Right now it’s 89 degrees outside and I’m wearing a polartec jacket because the air system was designed without balancing dampers or mixing diffusers – horizontal discharge grills. The first diffusers get all the air and the last on each box are starved. Combine with cable trays at the same elevation and you get dumping. The temperature sensor on the wall 20 feet away and 5 feet below the diffusers is happy but I’m freezing. I’ve seen 4 way diffusers installed in corners, next to columns etc. No ceiling systems, like ours, are terrible for dumping if the right diffuser/balancing isn’t installed. It doesn’t help either that our temperature sensors go down to 40 degrees and the people at the end of line set it there all the time in the hopes of gettin some air.

  5. Randy Rogers says:

    Good advice from the others above but I would also check to make sure there is not heat-generating devices or equipment located around the thermostats. The stat may be operating properly but if there’s a table lamp, copying machine, or a ‘hidden’ spce heater close by the stat will be affected and get a false signal.

  6. joe taylor says:

    Also a facility management veteran, I keep the 3-4 degree swing and leave it alone. In a perfect world the EMS would have supply and return air thermistors and no adjustable thermostats, although the system program will only allow for a 2 degree differential which tends serve as a psychological pacifier. Air balance is crucial for maintaing a proper indoor environment.

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