Money Matters

08/05/2002 |

High-performance Workplaces — Dollars Saved With Underfloor Air Distribution

Is sustainability part of a high-performance workplace formula? Jim Toothaker, director of the Bureau of Office Systems and Services for the Department of Environmental Protection, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Harrisburg, thinks so. “High performance and green are inseparable in my language,” he says.

By comparing one of the state’s more traditional buildings (distribution system for voice/data/power, systems furniture, demountable walls, and ergonomic furniture) with one he calls “a high-performance green building, predicated by it being located on a raised floor and using that as your heating and cool air distribution plenum – which is the absolute key to being able to make this happen,” he has calculated a 90-percent reduction in costs associated with relocating an employee or reworking an office area.

That equates to $250 per employee for the high-performance green building, as opposed to $2,500 per employee for the conventional building retrofit where lights, power, air bars, and more would have to be configured. “As a result,” he notes, “we don’t do any office buildings anymore that don’t contain a raised floor.”

Flexibility in reconfiguration means a lot, but, according to Toothaker, such modularity also allows flexibility in control – and that’s a big plus for workers whose complaints often revolve around the temperature and ventilation comfort of their particular workspaces. With underfloor air distribution and its associated controls, workers can literally “zone in” their preferences – without interfering with their neighboring colleague.

“Each individual basically owns the control of a particular [air] diffuser in the floor … and the [underfloor air distribution] system delivers the air at a higher temperature because it’s more directly distributed,” says Toothaker. Such actions have an added benefit: HVAC systems may be able to be “right sized” to accommodate less tonnage and greater savings.

Experts at the Snowmass, CO-based Rocky Mountain Institute/Green Development Services tend to agree. In the organization’s Greening the Building and the Bottom Line, five major contributors to worker productivity are outlined:

  • Quality lighting.
  • High levels of daylighting.
  • Increased individual control of the workplace, including lighting, heating, and cooling.
  • Improved acoustics.
  • Improved indoor air quality
  • Isn’t it time to consider underfloor air distribution? After all, high-performance workplaces usually house high-performance workers.

Linda K. Monroe ( is editorial director at Buildings and BI magazines.

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