Tips for keeping tenants cool, comfortable

With an efficient system and proper settings, efficiency increases and tenants don't have to cope with excess heat. (istockphoto)

Nina Winham

It's here: the season when trying to get your building's temperature right can make everyone hot under the collar. Keeping tenants cool during the summer, while also ensuring they have heat if they need it on a sudden chilly day, can be challenging to tenant-management relations.

It can also be a challenge in terms of energy efficiency, as temperatures wander up and down and everyone strives to stay comfortable.

Here are a few tips from BC Hydro for energy efficiency – and happier tenants.

1. Ensure good separation between heating and cooling thermostat settings

If your building has air conditioning, make sure the minimum temperature is set at least three degrees higher than heating temperature. If the two are too close together, your systems can "short-cycle" – switch on and off in rapid order.

That's highly inefficient (you keep cooling the air you just heated) and adds wear and tear to your equipment. If you have central heating, also consider smart controls, which can sense outdoor air temperature and adjust if needed in certain cases, for example, if there's an unexpected cold snap.

2. Divide your "stack"

The older and less airtight your building, the more you need to be aware of "stack effect."

"Hot air naturally rises, so that actually causes more air pressure at the top of the building," says Steve Cao, Commercial Engineering Team Lead at BC Hydro. "As the air vents at the top, cool air is pulled in at the bottom. Especially in a high rise, you get a temperature gradient: the upper floors are going to be warmer than the lower floors.

"You almost have to have a different temperature setting for each floor, and as you move up the floors, lower the settings so it's not too warm."

3. Think in zones

Common areas in your building are less occupied than the suites themselves. This means they don't need as much heating – or cooling. Save energy by lowering the heat and cooling in areas such as stairwells, hallways, and lobbies.

Consider adding separate thermostats so these areas can be appropriately managed in keeping with needs. If your building has hydronic (hot water) heat, you may be able to add valves to separately control different floors and spaces.

4. Beware of badly-placed thermostats

"If the thermostat has a built-in sensor, make sure it's in a location where it can accurately read the temperature," cautions Cao. "Sometimes they're placed right near a sunny window, or hidden in the cool shadow behind a column. You may need to adjust the setting in such cases to make sure everyone is comfortable."

5. Give tenants their own control

"If tenants don't have their own control over temperature in their suites, it's energy inefficient," says Cao. "For example, if the heat is on and it's too hot – they open windows [and waste the energy]. It's much better with individual suite control , both in terms of comfort, and fewer complaints."

6. Consider non-mechanical cooling options

It's not an immediate fix, but options such as strategically placed shade trees, building greenery and planter boxes can help block sun and create a cooling breeze effect near your building, especially on the south and west sides that tend to overheat. (In winter, trees drop their leaves and let the sun's warmth in.)

Awnings and external balcony shades can also improve tenant comfort and reduce their energy use.

7. Keep your systems clean and well-tuned

Whether you're heating or cooling, you'll spend less on energy if you follow the recommended maintenance schedule for your HVAC system, and make sure any filters or screens are unimpeded, and dirt-free. A little investment of time and money can keep your costs down year round.

8. Engage your tenants

From planting their own shade plants to learning how to stop the excess summer heat from getting in, you can help your tenants save on energy and stay cool. Involving tenants in energy efficiency is a great way to send a positive message and invite collaboration about temperature issues (instead of complaints).

For more information

Learn about BC Hydro financial incentives to help you improve your building's energy efficiency. Save money every month on reduced power bills, and get rebates for upgrades as well, on everything from lighting to HVAC to controls and sensors.

Now, some incentives have been improved – and program application is easier than ever.

It's a great time to get started on energy efficiency. Call Power Smart at 1 866 522 4713 or send an email with any questions you have.

Nina Winham is a Vancouver-based sustainability consultant and regular contributor to