With winter coming upon us, heating bills are going up, and our energy management clients in more northern climates are on the lookout for energy saving solutions. One tantalizing thought for many companies would be to merely turn the temperature way down as the logical way to save the most money. And while this would be an easy way to save on your heating bills, keeping the temperature as low as possible may not actually save as much as you think. This is due to a hidden cost that you may not have thought of. In this article, we’ll explore this hidden cost, and later we’ll look at solutions that keep your energy management in balance.
We’re not talking about the obvious fact that keeping the thermostat at an extremely cold setting might make people mad, reduce morale, and increase complaining and bad attitudes around the water cooler. Most of our clients are not looking to turn the building’s temperature down to 50 degrees fahrenheit. However, what is attractive is to turn down the heat just a few degrees below what’s comfortable, and see how many degrees you can get away with. After all, you probably know how many dollars you stand to save for every degree you notch the thermostat cooler.
The hidden costs
Here’s what you might not be measuring at the same time: What is the cost of the toll on your human capital from having interior temperatures too cold?
People who are uncomfortably cold aren’t as productive, and a drop in productivity equals a drop in revenue. Sure, they’re probably not going to get hypothermia or frostbite, and it would be easy to just say, “Hey, wear more layers.” However, correcting this problem goes deeper than just issuing a memo, and measuring the impact of this lost productivity is not nearly as easy as putting an objective dollar amount on every watt and therm.
The winter months are already a season of heightened risk of lost time due to sickness, and feeling consistently cold creates an energy drain that puts your employees at a higher risk for illnesses like colds and the flu.
The science behind what happens when we’re cold
The body’s systems are amazingly precise at keeping our internal temperature at 98.6oF all the time, but the colder the exterior temperature, the harder the body has to work to maintain that temperature. In response to a colder temperature, the brain automatically triggers three physiological processes to keep warm.
First, vasoconstriction means that blood vessels constrict at the extremities (hands and feet), increasing blood flow to our core. If a person’s hands feel cold, there will be more trips to the break room for cups of hot tea, but constricted blood flow to the hands can also present an increased risk of injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome. If any of your employees’ job duties involve typing, keeping an optimum temperature can be part of an ergonomically friendly workplace and avoid costly slow downs.
Second, the brain triggers an increase in our metabolism, where the body begins to burn reserves of brown fat. Great, right? This is a great problem to have if you’re trying to lose weight, but if you have any knowledge workers who do their best work when they’re thinking, it’s important to understand the cost this presents to the brain. While the brain only makes up two percent of our body weight, it uses approximately 20 percent of the body’s calories. An unconscious diversion of these calories to another source (like maintaining survival by keeping the temperature at the right level) can result in mental fog, increased mistakes, and shorter attention spans.
Third, if the first two strategies didn’t work, the body resorts to shivering, which costs the body five times more energy than merely sitting or standing and can burn the same amount of calories in 10 minutes as an hour-long walk or run. With people more and more working at the verge of their energy levels, any sudden tax on energy reserves can cause productivity to plummet. People will still keep showing up and going through the motions, but they won’t be doing their best work.
Measuring the effects of this hidden cost
You can never precisely quantify “what could have been.” While incentives, directives, and inspections can help people to up their productivity a notch in spite of obstacles to the contrary, you can never know what brilliant new idea, innovative solution, or “better mousetrap” design could have come out of your winter session if people had been in an environment where they could thrive.
In our next blog post, we’ll look at some solutions and ideas that can help you to mitigate costs while also keeping your facility at an optimum temperature during the winter months.
Contact us for a consultation on how to manage your facility’s energy needs. Kori Koepke and the Energy Network are here to serve you.