Climate Control for Your Desk

Ransom Riggs

Have you ever worked in one of those big office buildings with air conditioning so arctic that people have to wear sweaters and jackets to work in the summer, or bring personal heaters for their cubicles? It's a common problem, and an extremely wasteful one. I'm reminded of Wal-Mart, where the heating and cooling for each store are controlled not just from one location inside the store, but completely off-site, from Wal-Mart headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas. Now, a new study reported by New Scientist has found that if every worker had their own vent and temperature controls at their desk, a building's energy costs could be cut in half.

Personalised ventilation means less air needs to be cooled and pumped through a building because air needs only to be blown at desks, and not throughout entire rooms. Individual vents can also switch off automatically when a desk is vacant. The result is that a room's temperature can increase while keeping people comfortable at work.

In a quest for further energy cost savings, the Japanese government has been encouraging businesses to relax mandates for employees to wear suits and ties to work; more casual attire, the thinking goes would keep people cooler more easily.

Past research has shown personal ventilation can also make people more comfortable, and hinted it can limit the spread of airborne diseases. The personalised approach isn't always suitable, though. Only workplaces where people tend to stay in one place would benefit, points out environmental engineer Peter Nielsen of Aalborg University in Denmark. Savings are also smaller in cooler climates, where on cold days the number of people directing warm air onto themselves causes the room to overheat.

What do you think -- would you rather have a vent at your desk, or keep things the way they are?

Photo by the Red Cross.