Office design is changing and building services must keep up
With new ways of working continuing to shape office design, Toby Buckley, Managing Director of REL Building Services, explains the impact on M&E solutions.
The pandemic has accelerated many office trends with wellbeing, flexibility and hybrid working all rapidly moving up the priority list. Mechanical and electrical services play a key role in meeting these requirements, ensuring offices can meet the changing needs of both owners and occupiers now and in the future.
Lighting has a huge impact on office space, contributing towards people’s wellbeing as well as the building’s efficiency and security. Technology is advancing rapidly with lighting design changing dramatically within the last three years.
One of the biggest drivers of change is the WELL Building Standard (WELL), which focuses on measures that improve the health and wellbeing of occupants. With the pandemic increasing the emphasis on health, a growing number of companies are adopting the standard.
As far as light is concerned, WELL addresses a range of elements including visual acuity, glare reduction, colour, flexibility, daylight, and people’s circadian rhythm – the physical, mental and behavioural processes we all experience in a 24-hour cycle.
There are various ways in which these requirements can be achieved through lighting design. One of the most effective is tunable lighting which comprises LED chips in red, blue and white, enabling the user to adjust the colours for different working conditions.
A strong blue colour for example, can help boost concentration and productivity while a warmer light towards the end of the day will help to aid relaxation. By emulating natural patterns of sunlight, this can benefit people’s overall wellbeing.
Technological advances are also improving lighting control, ensuring the right amount of light is delivered when and where needed. Intelligent, self-learning systems are available featuring luminaires fitted with sensors that respond to the environment. We have recently installed this technology for a new office building spanning 10,000 sqm.
Supplied by Whitecroft, the ‘Organic Response’ system comprises of luminaires each containing an occupancy detector and photocell. As it features individual photocells per luminaire, this gives maximum control over areas of the floor plate where ‘deep’ parts may not benefit from natural daylight and perimeter areas may not require artificial light, thereby optimising building energy use.
The system uses an infra-red signal for communication. As the infrared signal can only travel three metres, each luminaire will only communicate with its direct neighbour. When occupancy is detected, the luminaire will energise the appropriate luminaires. Once occupancy is no longer detected, the luminaire will dim for a pre-set time and then switch off automatically.
As the occupant travels, and a travel pattern is established, this transmission process continues ensuring the minimum number of luminaires operate, further reducing building energy use.
The system is quick and simple to install, with only a permanent, live electrical supply required for each luminaire, providing building owners with a cost-effective and efficient lighting solution.
Furthermore, the system commissioning only requires a simple ‘grouping’ setup, which is achieved by a mobile app.
This technology also helps to futureproof spaces. If the building use changes through the addition of cellular offices, the luminaires contained within these areas will no longer communicate with other luminaires outside the partition area. Wireless kinetic switches can be used within the offices eliminating the need for additional wiring and, again, the use of a mobile app will allow separate groups to be created if needed.
Creating more flexible and efficient office space will fuel the need for smart technology. Devices and apps that can monitor and control the working environment are continually evolving, helping to create spaces that are tailored to the needs of tenants.
Ensuring the correct infrastructure is in place to integrate smart technologies is key to futureproofing office space and saving time and costs further down the line. This can be achieved through technology which allows multiple smart devices to be integrated into one central control.
As far as mechanical services are concerned, the biggest shift is in line with the Government’s plans to achieve net zero in the UK by 2050. This is increasing the specification of air source heat pumps, which over the long term, provide cost effective and environmentally-friendly heating for air and water.
The cost of installing an air source heat pump will depend on the size of the office but if designed correctly, will significantly reduce energy bills and require minimal maintenance. Further efficiencies can be gained by integrating solar panels into the M&E design.
In addition, there is an increasing focus on how air quality can be improved in offices post pandemic. As recently highlighted by Professor Chris Whitty at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference, improving the ventilation of workspaces is becoming more important than ever before. Investing in appropriate HVAC systems, which reduce the re-circulation of air within a building, is key to reducing the potential future impact of viruses such as Covid-19.
Making the interfaces between electrical and mechanical services more efficient is another role of a specialist contractor. Traditionally, an office may have had one system for controlling the lights and another for mechanical elements such as thermostats and humidity sensors.
These can now be integrated using one control protocol. The use of a universal bus control cable reduces onsite costs and control accessories. Lighting and temperature control, CO2 and humidity monitors plus other environmental controls can be grouped together in one room control panel. In addition to the significant cost savings on installation, the system means that building owners and facility managers can easily and effectively control the M&E services.
Fit for the future
As office design continues to evolve, so must the services of M&E contractors. Keeping up with the pace of change requires specialist skills and understanding of how building services can be designed and installed to best meet people’s changing needs. Solutions must be tailored to the building’s use with an increasing focus on elements which can enhance, health, productivity and efficiency now and in many years to come.
Toby Buckley is Managing Director of REL Building Services