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Space heater initiative: Oxford Properties balances tenant comfort with conservation

Image of Oxford Properties' property managers
Oxford Properties' (left to right) Michael Toy, Ravino Singh, Luther Narcisse, John Oliveira, and Mathew Chow, used an audit of their buildings' space heaters to start conversations with tenants aimed at reducing electricity waste.

Property management company's audit starts ball rolling on conversations

Oxford Properties knows that space heaters consume a huge amount of energy at their buildings. But telling tenants to get rid of them isn't an option.

Heating and cooling issues are important topics in office environments because a tenant's thermal comfort is a key part of customer satisfaction.

"Issuing a building-wide directive that space heaters need to go isn't the solution, even though they're a huge energy hog," says Jennifer Davis, Principal of TurnLeaf Consulting Inc. and Oxford Properties' Workplace Conservation Awareness consultant.

A traditional space heater uses anywhere from 700 to 1,700 watts per hour. They can also wreak havoc on a building's heating and cooling system, especially when a space heater is close to a thermostat. And if left on overnight, they're a serious fire hazard.

For these reasons, every winter Davis and Oxford's property managers, Steve Patrick and Jesse Hague, carry out space heater audits at four downtown Vancouver buildings: 401 West Georgia St., Guinness Tower, Oceanic Plaza and the Marine Building.

Oxford identified 274 space heaters among 5,250 occupants

Working at night in the winter of 2012/2013, janitorial staff were asked to count the number of space heaters tucked under desks, including how many were accidentally left on overnight. They logged their findings in a template created by Davis and Oxford's property managers.

Once the audit results were in, Davis and Oxford's property managers met with the building operators to ask them to partner in reducing the number of space heaters.

At first, the building operators were reluctant to talk to occupants about removing their space heaters. Heating and cooling is a tricky topic, because what's comfortable for one person may be too hot or too cold for someone else. They didn't want to frustrate their occupants. According to Davis, identifying this barrier was very important. It gave her the chance to create specific tools to help the building operators navigate sensitive conversations with customers.

Speaking notes and role-play conversations help build operator confidence

Davis first drafted speaking notes for the building operators. She then facilitated a practice session with the operators, where she played the role of customer. The run-through gave the operators the chance to experience a variety of customer reactions ahead of time.

Oxford's property managers were also on-hand to coach their operators through a variety of different scenarios.

Davis notes that another smart move was accepting the fact that in some cases, building operators may need to compromise with customers. For instance, if an occupant did not want to give up their space heater, the building operator could offer to replace their model with a more energy-efficient option, such as a vertical panel heater or mat heater. In the end, building operators were able to remove 59 of the 274 space heaters and replace an additional 25 heaters with energy-efficient alternatives.

"Looking back, one of the audits biggest wins — in addition to saving energy and improving occupant safety — is that building operators were able to have meaningful conversations with occupants about energy conservation at Oxford to help build a culture of conservation among tenants," remarks Davis. "They have become important partners in delivering our employee engagement programs."