Nov 16, 2012
THEME: Sustainability, Workplace

Energy Sucking Workplace Habits: A Plug Load Study

When we renovated the space that is now our new Seattle office, we made big moves to make it as sustainable as possible. We detached ourselves from the building’s HVAC system and replaced all the fixed windows with operable ones. The office is really quite comfortable aside from the few hot days we get in Seattle each summer. But isn’t that what popsicles are for, anyway?

Our firm’s annual inter-office energy competition, the Energy Cup, recently provided us the opportunity to take a closer look at some of the smaller, more mundane energy consumers in the office. Even though we initially renovated the space to serious environmental standards (even achieving LEED Platinum), we’re continually seeking to improve our environmental impact. We worked closely with the Seattle-based Integrated Design Lab (IDL) to do a plug load study of various personal workstations in the office in addition to looking at some of our communal services such as printers and plotters, so that we could better assess our current level of energy consumption. The IDL is a self-supported program of the University of Washington that includes researchers, faculty, staff, and students, who collaborate with building industry professionals in developing high-performance commercial and institutional buildings. They help with everything from daylighting to energy infrastructure, and it was great to have them on as a partner in this effort.

As expected, plug load energy use is dominated by workstations in our office due to their sheer number. By making a change in how many people use laptop-based workstations in lieu of the traditional CPU desktop stations, we literally halved our weekly energy use. Task lamps also present an enormous opportunity. By simply replacing all the different types of bulbs (and there are many!) with compact fluorescents and swapping out a few models of lamps that consume an especially large amount of energy for more efficient ones, we immediately reduced our energy consumption. We also discovered that our color plotter and scanner are constantly using 40 and 30 watts respectively, despite little usage by staff throughout the week. Now, we power down these devices completely whenever possible.

For the Seattle office, this study is just one step in our ongoing commitment to positive environmental impact. Given the right focus on software controls, hardware controls, efficient equipment, and staff engagement, we look forward to advancing from 2nd place to 1st place during the next Energy Cup (watch out, RTP!). We also anticipate an ongoing research partnership with the IDL, which will deepen our understanding of occupant engagement and energy benchmarking in workplace design and help us to improve consumption habits at work for ourselves and our clients.

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