Study: Top HVAC Complaints among Office Workers Include “Too Hot,” “Too Cold”

The International Facility Management Association (IFMA) has released a new report that examines the most common heating and cooling complaints made by office workers. It also looks at the ways facility managers respond to these complaints. Obviously, this means the spotlight is on HVAC systems (hardly a bad thing, in our book).

Temperature Wars: Savings vs. Comfort” (pdf) is the result of a 2009 study whose purpose, as stated in document’s introduction, was “to identify when most thermal complaints occur, the nature of the complaints, and what building actions and improvements are made to make workers comfortable and able to concentrate on their jobs.”

The study, which is just the latest in a long series of studies undertaken by the IFMA over the years to identify the most common complaints among office employees, reiterates the results of past studies by finding thermal complaints — “too hot” or “too cold” — to be tops, outranking high noise levels, limited space, and bad odors.

Specific findings from the 2009 study include the following:

  • The most common HVAC complaints are “too hot” (94 percent) and “too cold” (91 percent).
  • The next most common HVAC complaints are bad IAQ (25 percent), “too drafty” (21 percent) and “too noisy” (16 percent).
  • Building occupants respond to thermal issues in various ways: by using personal fans, changing clothes, using personal heaters, and even by using stand-alone AC units, blankets, and wading pools under their desks (!).
  • Facility pros respond to occupant complaints in various ways as well: by checking temperatures and adjusting thermostats accordingly (or sometimes just telling the building occupants that adjustments have been made); moving occupants or encouraging them to wear different clothes; taking votes among them; or taking other actions. One respondent said, “We sometimes say we’ll make an adjustment, but don’t. This actually seems to work.”
  • Quoting straight from the IFMA’s press release: “Energy efficiency is of prime importance to facility professionals, with the vast majority of respondents saying they utilize a number of energy saving techniques. 77 percent say that they have updated or replaced an HVAC system or components; 73 percent have verified that their building automation system is working as designed; and 52 percent have installed more efficient light fixtures to reflect less heat. Common responses also include modifying ductwork (27 percent), installing new window shades (24 percent) and adding window film to improve thermal properties (24 percent).”

May we just suggest an additional “best practice” to add to that fine list of energy-efficient practices? Conduct regular and preventive maintenance on your HVAC system!

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