Access Floors and High Performance

May 17, 2005
It’s an important part of the equation

With latest numbers indicating an average 44-percent churn rate in today’s office environments, savvy building owners and facilities managers are investigating best-in-class processes, systems, and designs to ensure flexibility - continual flexibility - for their end-users. Business needs, and the way in which companies operate, have changed dramatically over the last few years. Unfortunately, the way many buildings are still being built and how services are being distributed have not kept pace with these changes.

“High-performance buildings are about creating beautiful buildings on the outside and beauty and functionality on the inside,” says Bill Reynolds, director of marketing and technical services at Tate Access Floors Inc. (, Jessup, MD. “And, in fact, beauty is not just about the aesthetics; rather, it’s about the beauty of a space working for a particular business.”

In addressing these needs, adds Reynolds, the trend is leaning toward larger floorplates, slightly smaller spaces for individual knowledge workers, several small to moderately sized enclosed teaming areas, and larger spaces where impromptu meetings can take place. The trend toward mobility continues throughout the furnishings and peripherals: movable partitions, wheeled desking, etc., he says, noting, “but in delivering wiring and cabling out in that space, these wonderful, flexible, movable systems get restrained. Part of getting back that freedom is in putting the wire and cable technology under the access floor with modular, plug-and-play termination devices.”

Individual control at some level can also be realized, says Reynolds, with the addition of underfloor air distribution. Beyond the ability to adjust thermal comfort to each workstation or to a small cluster of workstations, underfloor air distribution provides occupants the first benefit of clean supply air. When heat rises in the space, it actually pulls the cool supply air and particulates up and away from the user. Another benefit of underfloor distribution is that slab-to-slab heights in a building can be reduced (from 2.5 feet to 12 inches), or building owners can take advantage of floor-to-ceiling heights for increased daylighting.

And for those building owners and facilities managers interested in sustainable design, an access floor that encompasses underfloor air and service distribution is just the fit, says Reynolds.

While a well-designed green building improves indoor environmental quality, provides flexibility, and saves significant resources (in construction, operation, and maintenance), it also reduces waste and cuts first- and life-cycle costs compared to conventional design. The key to cost-effective design is the practice of integrated design, in which the project team thinks holistically - early in the design process. By understanding the relationship between the natural environment and the built environment, advantages are gained so that the resultant whole is greater than the sum of individual parts.

In office settings, a fully integrated access floor system - comprising underfloor power, voice, data, and HVAC serv­ices distribution - means a building owner is able to:

  • Improve indoor air quality, energy efficiency, individual comfort, and flexibility.
  • Reuse modular wiring, modular carpet, access flooring, and underfloor air.
  • Reduce the cost of change, carpet scrap and attic stock, absenteeism through improved indoor air quality, and taxes through an accelerated depreciation rate.

Linda K. Monroe ([email protected]) is editorial director at Buildings magazine.

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