For the team at SketchUp HQ, Boulder is home. Our office has a fantastic view, three-hundred (or so) sunny days a year, and more perks than most: nerf guns, a kickball team (go Sketchballs!), and a pro-grade espresso machine that pumps coffee-scented life into our veins during the afternoon slump. Not to mention, we’ve got some of the coolest, most inspiring people to work with.
But, as with anything, our office is not perfect. Like most companies, we didn’t get to design our space from scratch to custom fit our needs. One of the less desirable aspects is that the temperature always seems to be a little… off, to put it gently.
Whenever you put a group of people in one space, inevitably there will be some who are too hot or too cold; everyone has a different idea of what comfortable is. There is one thing our entire office can agree on: some spaces are way outside of the acceptable range of thermal comfort.
Fortunately for us, our parent company Trimble acquired Sefaira in early 2016. Sefaira is a building energy and daylight analysis tool that, like SketchUp, is excellent for decision making during early-stage design. Also like SketchUp, that’s not all it’s useful for! Even if you’re not designing a building from the ground up, Sefaira can help you understand what’s happening in your space.
Eat your own dog food
During our annual office Hackathon, any SketchUpper can work on something that improves our office, our products, or our culture. For one week, a few of us (props to our SketchUp Hackathon Team: Eat Your Own Dog Food (EYODF)! – Andy Steere, Trent Cito, and Joy Tennenbaum) put our heads together to take a deeper look into the temperature control issues. Rather than executing band-aid solutions, like changing the thermostat when no one’s looking (just kidding, no one does that!), we used Sefaira to help us get to the root of the problem. Why is it so cold or so hot in some areas?
We needed to get our hands on two things: the 3D model of the building, as it exists today, and the utility bills, in order to understand our current energy use. Fortunately, Trent had already modeled our entire office so that we could have a neat 3D map of all the conference rooms. Using Trent’s model as a reference, we created a Sefaira-ready model for the analysis.
Sefaira just needs a few inputs: where the building is located and its use type. We are now able to calculate how much energy the building would use annually if constructed to meet today’s stringent standards. Since our building was constructed in the 1990’s when few performance standards were in the code, we expected the actual performance of the building to be quite low. Sefaira allowed us to compare the two, and here are the results:
Click images to enlarge
If our office was constructed to the minimum requirements by recent standards, we would save more than half on our operating expenses! That’s remarkable, but that doesn’t even include all the benefits of having happy, comfortable tenants. There’s an incredible amount of data to prove that occupant wellness in the workplace boosts productivity. Despite the overwhelming evidence, many offices and their tenants still suffer from the effects of poorly designed or outdated buildings.
So there’s plenty of room for improvement, but what should we improve? Our Sefaira analysis pointed us towards our three biggest energy offenders and some solutions for each.
Solar gain and glare are due to two main factors in our building’s design: high window-to-wall ratios and low-quality, double-pane windows. While we can’t change the window-to-wall ratios, and replacing all the windows would be very expensive, applying a thin energy film to all 5,000 square feet of glazed area would be a cost efficient and easy-to-install solution.
We also proposed light-shelves… which just happen to add a bit of character to the space:
High lighting and equipments loads are expected in an office, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do something about it. For example, we can:
- Replace the fluorescent tube lighting with high-efficiency LED lights that are also less harsh on the eyes.
- Install occupancy sensors so that lights do not remain on overnight or in unused spaces.
- Address thermal comfort requirements and remove the need for individual space heaters and fans. For those folks who always run cold, seat warmers are a cheap solution that require barely any energy.
Replacing the lights and adding occupancy sensors would require labor costs, in addition to the cost of the equipment. These are all good solutions, but they can get a little pricey.
Heat loss through roof conduction. Our office building is quite old (constructed in 1990), and a field-trip into the plenum space to look at the roof assembly revealed little-to-no insulation! We approximated an insulation value of R-5 for the assembly — well under the 2013 code minimum of R-32 for buildings in this region of Colorado. Unfortunately, replacing the roof or adding insulation to an existing building is not a cheap or easy fix, but hey, you can’t win ‘em all.
We did a side-by-side comparison of energy and operating costs in the existing SketchUp building against each of our three strategies. Then we whipped up another scenario comparison that grouped these solutions, all in a matter of minutes.
Based on the results, and by weighing real-life constraints such as capital costs, we determined that the most effective and cost-efficient solution was a combination of things! Our suggestion would be to improve our windows with light shelves and a thermal window film, as well as reduce interior loads by opting for more efficient lights, occupancy sensors, and seat warmers.
Strategies 1 (Better Windows) & 2 (Reduced Interior Loads)
Energy Firm (~$11k) +
Light Shelves (~$20k) +
Occupancy Sensors (~$10k) +
Seat Warmers (~$3.5k) +
Energy Efficient Lights (~$20k) =
$64,500 (Capital Costs)
$12,023 (Annual Energy Savings) =
5.36 year payback period
We could simply look at this as a $64.5K estimate for materials and installation that would take a little over five years to earn back through operating cost savings. Or, we could think about the millions of dollars invested annually in hiring and retaining bright, talented people, and giving them a space in which they can thrive. Is it worth it? We guess that depends if you’re asking our landlord or our CEO! But, as employees of SketchUp who love our building, ninja-ing our budget, and the environment, we know that’s a simple answer. And we have a feeling we’re not alone.
Published first on our sister blog, SketchUp.