While an optimal, energy efficient heating and cooling system can save money on energy costs, what we might not realise are some of the other important benefits to having an efficient building. Studies have now shown that factors which contribute to an efficient building can actually have a significant impact on both wellness and productivity.
A major report put together by the International Energy Agency (IEA), the global body responsible for energy analysis, finds the total benefits from energy efficiency upgrades equals — and often exceeds — the energy savings.
The report’s core findings on buildings included this important discovery for the building industry:
Energy efficiency retrofits in buildings create conditions that support improved occupant health and well-being, particularly among vulnerable groups such as children, the elderly and those with pre-existing illnesses.
The potential benefits include improved physical health such as reduced symptoms of respiratory and cardiovascular conditions, rheumatism, arthritis and allergies, as well as fewer injuries.
Several studies that quantified total outcomes found benefit-cost ratios as high as 4:1 when health and well-being impacts were included, with health benefits representing up to 75% of overall benefits. Improved mental health (reduced chronic stress and depression) has, in some cases, been seen to represent as much as half of total health benefits.*
Additional Savings Beyond Energy
When owners calculate savings for energy efficient systems, they rarely account for productivity increases, and this isn't surprising as these figures can be difficult to determine. The IAE report now indicates that, the non-energy benefits of energy efficiency upgrades can be up to three times the size of the energy savings.
This study finds that when the value of productivity and operational benefits of industrial efficiency measures were factored into “traditional internal rate of return calculations, the payback period for energy efficiency measures dropped from 4.2 to 1.9 years.” Payback time was cut in half.
The Connection Between Productivity and Comfort
We can now see that comfort itself plays a key role in productivity. Factors such as indoor air quality, humidity, temperature, acoustics, and even lighting all affect our level of comfort. Studies now demonstrate that substantial productivity gains can accrue from comprehensive energy efficiency improvements as well as individual efficiency components.
A meta-analysis of studies of temperature and productivity found that performance increases with temperature up to 21-22°C and that performance decreases with temperature above 23-24°C. At 30°C, performance is only 91.1 percent of the maximum. This indicates that energy efficiency improvements that also help maintain indoor temperatures in the optimum range may result in significant productivity gains.^
Better light and more natural light can improve office worker productivity, improve health and well-being in medical facilities and improve school achievement. The Center for Building Performance and Diagnostics at Carnegie Mellon identified 12 studies linking improved lighting design decisions with 0.7 – to 23 percent gains in individual productivity.^
Indoor air quality and humidity are also major factors and these are directly related to a properly designed HVAC system.
While comfort and energy savings are important goals for any commercial space, it's especially important when considering the impacts on occupants.
If you would like more information about achieving optimal building design or how your building can benefit from both productivity and energy savings, contact our Design team today.