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Office design makes the energy-efficiency difference

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Imagine the energy-efficient office of the future. Do you see a space filled with smart gadgets and low-energy technologies?

If so, you're partly right — but you're not seeing the whole picture.

BC Hydro's work on the "Advanced Energy Office" has proven that offices can cut their energy use 30-60 per cent by taking on a comprehensive office retrofit. Of course, efficient technologies play a role. But smart design — of the office space and lighting — is where efficiency really begins.

Daylighting: a culture shift that cuts costs

A simple but game-changing example of efficient design is making use of daylight. Shifting where people sit, particularly those who spend most of the day at their desk, saves energy.

"People used to put offices around the windows; it meant you were in a higher position in the company," says Susi Krauss, owner of AP/ID Design.

Krauss worked with BC Hydro to apply advanced energy office principles in its own office spaces.AP/ID changed the floor plan so that workstations are beside the windows, and offices and meeting rooms are planned on the interior of the floor space.

Says Krauss, "Offices often stand empty because people are out doing their jobs elsewhere. It's a big cultural shift but gives the views and natural light to everybody. Using as much daylight as possible allows BC Hydro to reduce the amount of [electric] light needed."

"It's totally free, so why wouldn't you take advantage of lighting your space with daylight, and supplement it as needed?" says Margot Richards, a lighting designer who teaches energy efficiency principles to interior designers. "Plus, all the studies show people like to feel connected to the outdoors. We benefit from the presence of daylight."

Smart lighting design means using just enough

In advanced energy offices, lighting systems respond to a mix of factors. Motion sensors in meeting rooms and washrooms turn lights on only when people are present. Light sensors note how much daylight is available, so the system comes on incrementally. The goal is to light only as much as needed.

"Offices and school rooms of the 1960s and 70s were lit at 100 foot-candles at the desk level, says Richards. "Now, depending how much computer use there is, we're designing to 30-50 foot-candles maximum.

"And efficient lighting can be used without any compromise for aesthetics. People used to be hesitant to use it because they perceived that it would feel really cold. But it can look great and be energy efficient too."

Interior design choices support sustainability

A range of other design elements make a difference in the office of the future. Standardized sizes for workstations and equipment means fewer components are discarded when the space needs to be reconfigured.

Low-VOC (volatile organic compound) materials protect air quality, and easy-to-dissemble furniture aids recycling when a piece has come to the end of its useable life.

Colour choice makes a difference too. A lighter colour palette for fabrics, carpets, and desktops helps make the most of available light.

"Thinking sustainably, we make conservative color choices that will stand the test of time for permanent elements like furniture and carpet," says Krauss. "Then you can achieve accents with pops of trendy colours that are easily changed by painting a wall or adding a carpet insert."

Finally, smart design helps the space support a shift to a newer styles of work — which can also save energy.

"BC Hydro is trying to use less space, which brings down their real estate costs and environmental footprint," says Krauss. "Things like shared work spaces, different types of collaboration spaces and drop-in workstations with wireless accessibility support worker flexibility and shift how much space people need to do their work.

"For more than 10 years, the commercial design industry has been moving towards sustainable design," she says. "Today, the combination of energy efficient design principles with many new product choices makes sustainability more commonplace."

To learn more, read the Advanced Energy Office pilot project results. For information about incorporating Advanced Energy Office principles in your office, contact your Key Account Manager.