The Key To Office Wellness Is Below Your Feet
Most people can think back to their days in high school and remember some of the basic science they learned: Hot air rises and cold air sinks. But few people will have considered how much the way hot or cold air is delivered into an office can affect employee health and wellness.
As wellness has climbed the corporate agenda, Mark Johnson, national sales director of raised floor manufacturer Tate, said that property developers and owners need to be better educated about the real benefits that an underfloor service distribution system can bring. Not only will these systems deliver better-quality air than traditional systems, but they are well-suited to adapt when the workplace needs to be reconfigured.
“Today more than ever, health and safety in the workplace is at the top of people’s concerns,” Johnson said. “If you know you are getting cleaner air, people will have greater confidence in returning to the office. Wellness is only going to be more important moving forward.”
Why The Science Behind Airflow Matters
Indoor air quality is now a key consideration of both landlords and tenants. Aside from reducing the risk of spreading diseases such as Covid-19, there is a far greater awareness of the impact of air quality on employee health than there was a decade ago. Certifications such as the WELL Building Standard place huge importance on clean air.
However, until recently, it has generally been considered enough to just supply clean air into a building, with little attention paid to what happens once it is inside.
“In most office buildings, services are distributed in the ceiling, including power, low voltage and HVAC distribution,” Johnson said. “An overhead HVAC system will blow cold, clean air out of ceiling diffusers to cool down a room. The problem is, this mixes with the warm, dirty air as it rises to the ceiling and is then sent back down into the breathing zone, often referred to as a well-mixed system.”
Alternatively, when clean air is supplied through a plenum under a raised floor and distributed through floor diffusers, Johnson said that it is an opportunity to provide much better air quality.
“CO2 and other pollutants rise up through the breathing zone without mixing and are returned at ceiling level to be exhausted and filtered as needed back at the mechanical room,” Johnson said.
Another benefit of underfloor air distribution is improved comfort, the result of a higher supply temperature at the floor level, 63 degrees, compared to 55 degrees at the ceiling, Johnson said. UFAD offers the added ability for the occupant to control the amount of air at their individual floor diffusers versus traditional single-thermostat control of larger overhead zones, improving the comfort level of the individual worker.
Johnson highlighted that a raised floor can impact another aspect of wellness: access to natural light. When access floors are incorporated into the base building design, higher ceiling heights are possible, allowing for better access to daylight and views. Typical raised floor heights today are in the 8-to-14-inch range, compared to an overhead system that typically requires 24 to 36 inches of space for the same distribution of services. The net difference can be used to increase the floor-to-ceiling height, reducing the need for a dropped ceiling.
Flexibility That Suits Offices Today
Wellness aside, the most common reason to supply services under a raised floor is flexibility. As markets recover from the coronavirus pandemic, people are coming back to the workplace. The question is, what is it going to look like? As more companies embrace flexible working to cope with uncertainty and new working practices, where will people sit?
“Access floor systems ideally support more flexible furniture and wall system strategies, making it easy to reconfigure power, low voltage and HVAC services to accommodate new workplace layouts,” Johnson said. “The one constant that doesn’t change is change itself. Future-proofing your building for the unexpected is beneficial for both owner-occupied and multi-tenant buildings.”
Johnson estimated that about 15% of commercial buildings in the United States use a raised floor to distribute building services, compared to 60% or more across the broader international market. He said he firmly believes this is set to increase as health and wellness grow in importance. People returning to the workplace are likely to have higher standards for air quality and natural light levels.
“Twenty years ago, the concept of a green building design really started to be embraced in the U.S. and had an immediate effect on the adoption of access floor systems,” he said. “Now, green building design is mainstream. The same will be true of increasing health and wellness of the people occupying the building, including the adoption of UFAD.”
Many organizations are still trying to understand how their employees want to mix working from the office and working from home post-pandemic. Creating a workplace that provides better air quality and light than an employee might be able to experience at home is certainly one way a business can show its team that health and well-being are of paramount concern.
This article was produced in collaboration between Tate Inc. and Studio B. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.
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