Temperature in any building plays a major role in the comfort of its occupants; but it should be given special attention in shared and communal spaces, like the workplace. The right temperature doesn’t only influence comfort and well-being, it also has an impact on productivity, something we have previously explored. The ‘battle’ in the office space to control the temperature is a reality, especially in countries where seasons are marked and weather conditions change often, making finding the setting that suits all needs almost impossible. In fact, according to a study conducted in the UK, employees spend on average 2% of their office hours adjusting the temperature, turning on and off the air conditioner, reducing its efficiency and wasting precious energy.
How can businesses make sure that the temperature and comfort conditions in the workplace are met while using energy-efficient solutions? One of the tools that can help achieve this is using a zoned air conditioning system.
What is AC Zoning and How does it Work?
A zoned air conditioning system divides space into different areas, or zones, to provide separate heating and cooling. Instead of having one thermostat or controller for the entire workplace’s air conditioning, each zone could have its own thermostat or controller to adjust the temperature according to employees’ preferences, making it possible to meet different temperature requirements in different zones.
Zoning can be done using both ducted and ductless air conditioning (HVAC) systems. In the case of ducted systems, it requires dampers, which are movable vents that channel the air that circulates through the ducts by fully or partially opening and closing them. Modern systems have automatic dampers that move according to the comfort required in each zone and are controlled by the thermostat or controller.
Meanwhile, ductless air conditioning systems can be zoned through multi-split or Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) systems, the latter allowing up to 64 indoor air conditioning units to be attached to only one outdoor unit. Depending on the system, each interior unit can have its own remote control to adjust the temperature to different zones’ requirements. There is also the option of having a centralized controller that gives the operator full visibility of a zoned AC system’s operation. We’ll be taking a look at the benefits of different types of control options in the next section.
What are the Benefits of AC Zoning?
A zoned air conditioning system has many benefits beyond reducing potential arguments between colleagues, Here are some of the key advantages:
- Energy efficiency: A zoned AC system can signify increased energy savings. With more control over each zone, including the ability to turn zones off when they are not occupied, wasting energy can be avoided or greatly reduced. Through Hitachi VRF systems, energy efficiency can be optimized further still by adopting motion sensors or the Twin-Sense panel, which detects whether a zone has human activity, and signals whether or not to operate. This smarter operation means running costs can be greatly reduced without physical interaction with the system, and always making sure that the optimal comfort is delivered.
- More even temperature: One of the most common complaints in workspaces of a conventional air conditioning system is the presence of hot and cold spots. If a certain area in the building feels several degrees warmer or colder than the rest, you are facing a hot or cold spot. If the system uses a single thermostat, irregular temperatures are given when providing air conditioning to large areas, as it gives the temperature reading only for the surrounding space of the thermostat. A zoned system makes is easier to generate even temperatures throughout an entire workspace or even floor.
- Reducing the impact of large windows and sun direction: Somewhat related to our previous point, if the office space is spread throughout an entire building floor, sun direction will greatly impact temperature in different areas, making some spaces feel naturally warmer than others. For example, south-facing windows barely get any sunlight, while north-facing windows receive plenty of it throughout the day, making the latter significantly warmer than the former. This can be further exaggerated when there are large glass windows, which can make employees sitting next to or around these areas feel like in a sunroom. Zoning can reduce this feeling by allowing these areas to be cooler than those that are less affected.
- Different temperatures for different types of work. Workplaces that have employees doing different types of tasks have different requirements; for example, office work in contrast to warehouse work. Employees working in the warehouse will probably be doing more physical activities, and thus will have different temperature requirements than their colleagues doing office tasks. A zoned AC system can divide the office space into zones based on the type of work being done and fulfilling their comfort needs.
- Improved indoor air quality. A building’s indoor air quality (IAQ) is an indicator that impacts occupant health, productivity, and more, and is the result of aspects like temperature, humidity, CO2 levels, and tiny particles (dust, hair, fibers) present in the air. Zoned air conditioning systems can help reduce the buildup of some of these, meaning the spaces are healthier, safer, and more comfortable.
How do Employees Benefit from AC Zoning?
As highlighted above, comfort is crucial for every occupant of a building, though in the case of employees, who may spend around 8-10 hours a day in their place of work, temperature and air conditioning becomes an element that can impact their health and well-being. Taking efforts to maintain optimal IAQ will ensure that employees spend office time in healthier and safer environments, reducing the risk of unnecessary stress and/or illnesses.
Employee productivity and comfort are unavoidably linked. One of the elements that employees take into account that influence their job satisfaction is a healthy work environment. Maintaining high rates of employee satisfaction results in higher productivity, which in turn ensures increased profits. And zoned air conditioning can help. Here are the key benefits of a zoned AC system for employees:
- Reduce the impact of temperature-related complaints. Our bodies react in different ways when exposed to different temperatures. Warmer temperatures can make us feel drained, as the body needs to spend more energy to cool off. Also, if environments are too hot for extended periods of time, it can cause dizziness, one of the symptoms of heat exposure and dehydration. On the other end of the scale, slightly colder temperatures may cue our brain to sleep, making us feel lethargic and unable to focus for prolonged periods; Air that’s too cold, hot, or even dry can also aggravate allergies and skin sensitivities. These benefit from a zoned AC system that provides even temperature comfort throughout all areas of the workplace. However, air conditioning is not enough and indoor spaces should be ventilated to replenish air 2 – 3 times per hour.
- Cater to different temperatures and needs. Optimal thermal comfort is the temperature at which an individual feels just right, not too cold nor too warm. But applying this in the workplace is not as easy as it sounds, as it can be different for each person, and the difference is quite significant between men and women. According to studies, women tend to have a lower resting metabolic rate than men, which means that women’s bodies produce less heat, which explains familiar scenarios of women feeling too cold in the workplace, while their male colleagues may feel too warm. With AC zoning, it is easier to provide employees with different comfort temperatures in different zones.
Hitachi Solutions for AC Zoning in the Workplace
As mentioned briefly above, the range of Hitachi HVAC products features a variety of solutions for zoned air conditioning systems depending on the specific requirements of each space. You’ll also find next-generation controllers that make monitoring and controlling energy efficient and simple, whether in a small office space or on multiple floors.
To learn which Hitachi HVAC system can help you achieve a zoned air conditioning system that works best for your workplace, click here.
Johnson Controls-Hitachi Air Conditioning