Scientists Are Engineering Better Temperature Control for Your Office
Offices aren’t typically considered the most comfortable places on earth—and that's bad news for employers. According to a study conducted by researchers at Cornell University, workers placed in chilly offices committed 44 percent more errors than when they were in a more comfortable environment. And because what’s considered comfortable to one employee may be sweltering to another, scientists are now looking into ways to tailor temperature to meet individual preferences.
The “Comfort Suite” at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s headquarters in Colorado is a 250-square-foot office simulator where engineers and ergonomics experts test energy-efficient ways to create a more comfortable work environment. Some examples of the technology include desk chairs that can be warmed up and cooled down from a smartphone app, infrared cameras that detect chilly fingers, and sensors that track carbon dioxide levels and adjust temperatures accordingly.
While the Comfort Suite is currently being used for experimental purposes, many similar devices have already made their way into real offices around the country. Peter Rumsey, the CEO and co-founder of Personal Comfort Systems, tells WIRED that his company recently shipped 70 of their Hyperchairs to the Rocky Mountain Institute in Colorado. The chair's personal climate control is determined using a smartphone or the built-in interface, and the power it consumes never exceeds 15 watts (compared to the 1500 watts used by a space heater). However, that level of efficiency comes at a price—$1900 per chair to be exact.
But not every aspect of the comfort equation can be customized to please everyone. To settle the age-old conflict over the office thermostat, companies can now download Comfy, an app that allows employees to vote on the temperature setting. After Johnson Control tested the app on two floors of their Milwaukee Headquarters, the building cut the amount of steam used for heating and electricity used for cooling by about 23 percent over four months. But based on the track record of office buildings, we'd recommend keeping a cardigan at your desk just in case.