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Murphy's Law: What Did You Do This Summer?

June 14, 2010
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Mike Murphy

We can all remember that infamous first day back at school, when thoughts of sunshine lost were floating in the breeze outside the classroom windows, and the teacher was waiting impatiently for us to finish The Writing Assignment - What I Did on My Summer Vacation.

I recall once wanting to start the masterpiece by writing, “I damn sure wasn’t sitting inside a stuffy classroom.”

Instead, I usually wrote something rather boring about our family’s annual trek to the balmy shores of Lake Bistineau. Now, decades later, the term stuffy classroom has much more meaning for me than I might ever have imagined in the days before air conditioned classrooms.

Let us fast forward to the end of the 2010 summer. If you were asked what you did with your summer - aside from the vacation - what might you be able to say? Did you help change a stuffy classroom into one that enhanced the learning environment for young people? Did you know studies have proven that worker productivity is greatly affected by the work environment? Did you know that classroom learning is also greatly affected by the temperature, humidity, CO2 levels - in other words, the indoor environment?

According to studies conducted by Lawrence Berkeley Laboratories for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), “The performance of office and school work is affected by indoor environmental conditions and by the features of buildings that influence indoor environmental conditions. Work performance may be improved from a few percent to possibly as much as 10 percent by providing superior indoor environmental quality (IEQ). The economic benefits of the work performance improvements will often far outweigh the costs of providing better IEQ.”

Information from such studies may not be any big surprise to you or to building owners, but many buildings and schools are still lacking in good IEQ, and many are suffering from the dreaded sick building syndrome. I’m not even sure what sick building syndrome actually does to a body, but I don’t think I want to be surrounded by it during my working hours.

As it is, I already get sleepy every day about 2:30 p.m. I don’t want to take a chance on getting burning and watering eyes and nose, chronic fatigue, cancer, irritability (probably too late on that one), an inability to concentrate (well, got that one, too), burning in the trachea, debilitating fibromyalgia, depression, nosebleeds, headaches, hair loss (check that one, too), or any of about 20 other things that don’t sound very good.

So, if I could be losing my hair because of bad indoor environments, why isn’t more being done about it? Business as usual would dictate that unless a payback is realized, nobody is going to spend any money to help me keep my curls intact. What most owners may not know is how much money poor IAQ can cost.

HOW GOOD CAN IT GET?

Consider an example of a change in ventilation rate (in cfm per person) from just 15 to 25 cfm. This is estimated to increase performance by 1.4 percent, which would result in an annual economic benefit per worker of $1,400, again, based upon a salary and benefit package of $100K per worker.

Or, consider an example of a change in the temperature of just one degree. Increasing temperature from 67° to 68°F in the winter months would result in an annual economic benefit per worker of $430 based upon the same $100K salary and benefits. (The energy used for such a one degree change is not taken into consideration in the DOE research, but one could guess that even if the energy cost vs. the economic benefit is a wash, paying for my hair loss treatments might swing the vote for a building owner. Seriously, with the rising costs of health insurance, something such as radiation and chemotherapy cancer treatments can be very expensive for a company.)

More detailed information on the Berkeley studies is available at http://eetd.lbl.gov/ied/sfrb/ performance-cost.html, which might come in handy the next time someone in your company is explaining the esoteric benefits of investing in better IEQ and the subsequent payback that can make the cash register start to ring in the accountant’s office.

MURPHY’S LAW: Walk in the sunshine, breathe the fresh air.

Publication date: 06/14/2010
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