How to protect building occupants from extreme temperatures

26th September 2023

Maintaining thermal comfort inside our buildings and workplaces is critical for occupant wellbeing and productivity. However, with rising global temperatures and more extreme weather, regulating indoor temperatures has become an increasingly complex task for facilities managers (FMs).

Thermal comfort and our changing climate

Climate change has caused average temperatures to rise globally. Last year, the UK recorded its hottest day, hitting 40°C for the first time. The average daily temperature in 2022 was more than 10°C, marking another significant milestone for the UK.

Globally, the past decade was the warmest on record, and heatwaves are becoming more intense and frequent. Much of Europe is currently experiencing a heatwave, with temperatures in Italy set to hit 45°C and Greece ravaged by wildfires.

At the same time, some regions are experiencing more extreme cold snaps and winter storms. These outdoor temperature swings make it challenging to maintain optimum temperatures indoors.

New build commercial offices are generally designed based upon a maximum external ambient dry bulb temperature between 28 and 30°C, and cooling plant to be able to operate at up to 35 – 40°C. It is clear that maintaining water quality and operating conditions are ever more critical to occupier comfort.

FMs must plan ahead for changes in outside air temperatures, proactively adjusting and maintaining HVAC systems to ensure thermal comfort is optimised.

What is the legal maximum temperature for a workplace?

Under the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, employers are required to provide a reasonable indoor temperature in the workplace.

HSE’s Approved Code of Practice provides further guidance, stating the minimum temperature for working indoors should be at least 16°C (or 13°C if the work involved rigorous physical effort), however, there is no maximum limit specified.

Overheating is a common problem for buildings and workplaces, particularly where key building services, such as HVAC systems, have been retrofitted or the building has changed use. Optimal temperature range depends on various factors like humidity, ventilation, and occupant activity levels; striking the right balance can be difficult.

Do high operating temperatures impact productivity?

Thermal environments directly impact employee health, comfort, and productivity. Prolonged heat exposure reduces cognitive function, while cold environments decrease manual dexterity and focus.

High temperatures make it difficult to focus and accomplish tasks. Studies show that even minor differences from optimal temperatures can decrease productivity. Researchers at Loughborough University looking at the impact of heat stress on productivity found an average 75% decrease in productivity throughout the when operating at temperatures of 40°C, compared to 35% at 35°C.

What can FMs do to maintain optimum thermal comfort?

Building design and layout of furniture play a role in ensuring even distribution of conditioned air and reducing overall temperatures, but HVAC health is essential:

  • Keep the building occupancy schedule in mind and scale HVAC appropriately during unoccupied hours to save energy.
  • Rely on a building automation system to continuously monitor indoor and outdoor conditions.
  • Check that sensors are properly calibrated for accurate readings.
  • Provide a way for occupants to give feedback on thermal comfort and adjust protocol accordingly, for example, relaxing formal office dress codes.
  • Perform regular HVAC maintenance to ensure systems are responding appropriately to changing loads. Seasonal commissioning is a key part of this process.
  • Use real-time monitoring to identify and rectify problems within the HVAC system promptly, preventing bigger issues.

Take control of your HVAC health

At Guardian Water Treatment, we take an alternative approach to HVAC health checks.

Our intelligent maintenance and real-time monitoring package, BG50i, is designed to put FMs firmly back in the driver’s seat, providing unparalleled insight into water systems conditions and allowing swift and informed interventions that prevent, rather than control, corrosion.

During seasonal commissioning stage, real time monitoring provides critical information about hydraulic integrity, which, alongside traditional BMS information, provides clues that indicate whether commercial equipment is likely to fail and disrupt the building operations and occupant comfort.

With HVAC systems operating as they should, FMs can strive for a harmonious balance between external weather conditions, energy efficiency and occupant wellbeing that will result in a more productive and sustainable environment for all.

If you want to find out more about how Guardian Water Treatment can help improve your building’s resilience against extreme weather conditions, contact our team of experts today