Photo courtesy of Flickr user Anderson Mancini "Three wise monkeys."

In which facilities professionals pretend everyone is happy, instead of understanding and improving.

The New York Times celebrated the holiday weekend with an always timely critique of our over air-conditioned buildings. A few days beforehand, a chief engineer told me his team never get any complaints. None. Ever.

The data suggest otherwise.

First, everyone gets hot/cold calls. IFMA survey data suggest that over 90% of facilities get occupant complaints, and that hot/cold calls outpace every other facility issue by a factor of four.

Data from occupant surveys are even more illuminating. Survey data from over 20,000 occupants tabulated by the Center for the Built Environment indicate that on average occupants are neutral about temperature in their buildings, with many more respondents dissatisfied than satisfied.

Compare this with the code standards. ASHRAE Standard 55 establishes design standards such that 80% of occupants are neutral or satisfied with space conditions. One study found just 11% of buildings meet the ASHRAE standard. The authors deliver what everyone already knows:

This is rather convincing evidence that the standard practice of air-conditioned buildings is not reliably providing occupants with a satisfactory thermal comfort. –Brager, G. and L. Baker, 2008

Perhaps you have a LEED building. You’ll be dismayed to learn a recent study showed there is no difference in thermal comfort between LEED and non-LEED buildings. They have the same average neutral to slightly negative rating of satisfaction.

Let’s not beat a dead horse. Your occupants are complaining. But is your team listening?

If this data is surprising to you, it’s worth stopping to consider how complaints are registered in your building. Do users have to sign up to a tedious portal? How many work order systems do you have? Must they ask their office manager to call a property manager who radios a chief, who stops by the next day to see what the issue was? After a call, do you ask for further feedback? Do you track the frequency and type of complaints?

If you are seeking to reduce energy, the good news is that buildings with good complaint procedures have a much better handle on energy management. They’re much more likely to align operating hours with lease hours and have the confidence to make changes to enhance energy efficiency, knowing they can carefully monitor for any negative feedback. Want to play the demand management game? It’s much more effective if you know hot calls don’t increase on the peak days.

Nobody likes to deal with complaints, but in today’s consumer driven market, complaints are simply part of the job. Your team can be like the three “wise” monkeys and ignore what you know to be true, or you can listen, acknowledge, empathize and improve the operation and value of your building.

About Tom Arnold

Tom Arnold is co-founder and CEO of Gridium. Prior to Gridium, Tom Arnold was the Vice President of Energy Efficiency at EnerNOC, and cofounder at TerraPass. Tom has an MBA from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania and a BA in Economics from Dartmouth College. When he isn't thinking about the future of buildings, he enjoys riding his bike and chasing after his two daughters.

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