For six years, a team of faculty, researchers and students from Carnegie Mellon's Center for Building Performance and Diagnostics in the School of Architecture studied federal buildings across the country.
One key goal: to recommend major energy savings strategies that would also yield health and productivity gains for U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) facilities.
"I want people to think of architecture as central to the solution, not peripheral," said Vivian Loftness, Carnegie Mellon's University Professor of Architecture who led the team.
The group took physical instruments into the field and met with more than 600 employees from San Francisco to Ft. Worth to Washington, D.C. to Kansas City to Denver. Based on their findings, they made several key recommendations. At the top of the list: raise summer air conditioning temperatures and lower year round light levels.
"The federal work environment was really too cold for summer clothing. This not only wastes energy," she said, "but research reveals that productivity is also reduced in too cold of an environment."
The Carnegie Mellon team also identified that federal buildings have two to three times the amount of lighting that is needed for today's computer-intensive work.
"Lowering the ambient lighting and providing relocate-able task lighting would result in improved health, productivity and immediate energy savings," she said.
In addition, the team found that too many offices still had older cathode ray tube (CRT) computer screens, which have significant energy penalties.
"These older computer screens also have significant reflective glare and poor contrast, making tasks harder to see and leading to headaches. Replacing these old monitors will save energy and provide health and productivity benefits," Loftness said.
Another major energy conserving action with performance benefits is decreasing the number of printers in use and improving their location.
"There is one printer for every five people in the federal workplace," Loftness said. "Not only do people not get the health benefits of getting up and walking around, they lose the 'collaborative moment,' the serendipitous collaboration that occurs at community printers."
The team found that an excess of printers are often located in circulation areas and empty workstations, where noise from the printers led to headaches and lower productivity. Moreover, the printers were being left on all night.
"That's a lot of parasitic load, not serving any use 90 percent of the time," she said. "Let's retire these dinosaurs, and set up a shared service space where you can get coffee nearby."
Loftness serves on the Board of Directors for the US Green Building Council and is on the Pennsylvania Climate Change Advisory Council, charged with recommending new state mandates for reducing our carbon footprints.