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Behind the Lines of Temperature Wars

Aug. 1, 2009
IFMA surveys facility pros

A report examining the most common thermal complaints made by office workers and the variety of ways facility professionals respond to them is available for free download.

“Temperature Wars: Savings vs. Comfort,” a survey of facility professionals conducted by the International Facility Management Association (IFMA), reveals the most common HVAC complaint from workers is the temperature being too cold (94 percent) or too hot (91 percent). Complaints related to indoor-air quality are a distant third (25 percent), followed by complaints of too much draft (21 percent) and too much noise (16 percent).

Building occupants adjust to thermal-comfort issues in different ways, the most common being through the use of personal fans (66 percent) and by changing clothing (64 percent). Also popular is the use of personal heaters, which 60 percent of the survey respondents reported seeing, even though personal heaters often are prohibited over concerns they present a fire hazard. Other responses include the use of stand-alone air-conditioning units, blankets, and even small wading pools under desks.

“We have people with lap blankets and fingerless gloves on,” one respondent said. “Sad, isn't it?”

When it comes to addressing thermal complaints, 90 percent of the survey respondents said they check the temperature in the area in which a complaint was made to see if it is within acceptable limits. Eighty-seven percent check to see if the HVAC system is working properly, while 75 percent adjust thermostats.

Less-popular responses include encouraging occupants to wear layered clothing (35 percent) and temporarily moving a worker to another area (4 percent). Others include taking a vote of all occupants in a given control zone, asking occupants for a budget code to charge them for additional costs associated with running units, and doing nothing.

“We sometimes say we'll make an adjustment, but don't,” one respondent said. “This actually seems to work.”

According to another respondent: “Usually, a prompt response saying that we are handling it is key. Then, we follow up in a couple of hours to find out if the ‘adjustments’ made an improvement. Often, we haven't actually physically done anything to change the temperature.”

During summer, survey respondents said they hear complaints that the temperature is both too hot (66 percent) and too cold (58 percent). However, 57 percent said their company does not relax the dress code during summer to improve occupant comfort. Summer “pre-cooling,” a practice by which cool outdoor air is brought into a building at night, was reported by 47 percent of the survey respondents.

The majority of the survey respondents (56 percent) said temperatures at their facility are centrally controlled and cannot be regulated by individual occupants. Forty-two percent said temperatures in their buildings are zone-controlled, allowing facility managers and sometimes occupants to adjust the thermostat, while 2 percent reported buildings that feature individual occupant or work-station temperature control.

Energy efficiency is of prime importance to the facility professionals surveyed, with the vast majority saying they utilize a number of energy-saving techniques. Seventy-seven percent said they have updated or replaced an HVAC system or components, while 73 percent said they have verified their building-automation system is working as designed, and 52 percent said they have installed more efficient light fixtures to reflect less heat. Common responses also included modifying ductwork (27 percent), installing new window shades (24 percent), and adding window film to improve thermal properties (24 percent).

The study shows many facility professionals are adjusting thermostats to higher settings during summer and lower settings during winter in an attempt to cut energy consumption and costs.

The survey was drafted with the assistance of several HVAC experts and conducted during June and July 2009. It is based on the responses of 473 IFMA members, with a margin of error of approximately ±5 percent.

For a copy of the report, go to

For more information on IFMA, go to

Send news items to the attention of Scott Arnold, executive editor, HPAC Engineering, The Penton Media Building, 1300 E. Ninth St., Cleveland, OH 44114-1503; e-mail: [email protected]; fax: 216-696-3432. Electronic submissions are preferred.