Containing cabling and HVAC equipment under the floor provides adaptable features and indoor air quality required in today’s offices.
The changing face of the modern office environment is based on a number of architectural and human factors. In the past few years, the “feel” of the office has changed, based on the evolving needs of an increasingly Millennial-dominated workforce and a change in workplace priorities. Offices are becoming more open and collaborative and incorporate more elements of well being.
With less employee space now the norm (down to 151 sq. ft./worker in 2017 from 225 sq. ft. in 2010, according to a recent study by CorNet Global, Atlanta (corenetglobal.org)), the driving trend in workspace design has been moving to an open layout with areas of shared desk workstations. Where private offices and conference rooms have been set up, it’s often done using moveable partitions instead of permanent walls. Together, this allows the space to be broken up and reconfigured in whatever manner fits current needs and provides higher office density. But, it leaves few options for traditional service distribution.
In fact, when this move away from walled offices and traditional cubical spaces gets combined with the design principles surrounding the open-ceiling aspects of the industrial aesthetic, one major architectural issue emerges—if the design needs to be sleek, minimal, and flexible, where can all the wires, cables, and HVAC apparatus necessary for the modern office be hidden?
One of the most economical and efficient solutions for the modern office environment is to use an access floor and under-floor service-distribution (UFSD) system. Modular access floors create an under-floor void that provides the perfect space through which to run wire and cable. Using UFSD makes a space more flexible and reconfigurable. It also makes it possible to quickly and easily swap out or move under-floor modular plug-and-play power and cable boxes.
When under-floor air distribution (UFAD) is added to the equation, the benefits become even clearer. UFAD improves air quality by using natural convection to carry contaminated warm air to a ceiling return plenum. This minimizes air mixing and supplies continuous fresh air directly to employees. All of this results in enhanced employee comfort and control, and reduced energy consumption due to the personal adjustability that comes with the use of air diffusers at each workstation. With fewer, or even no, ductwork required with UFAD, the amount of fan energy required to heat and cool the building can be greatly reduced. Since the system conditions only occupied space, higher cooling set points can be used to produce the same comfort levels.
The ability to reconfigure a workspace quickly and easily, as needs change, can’t be underestimated. A 2016 survey by CompData Surveys & Consulting, Olathe, KS (compdatasurveys.com), states that total annual employee turnover is 17.8%, with some industries as high as 28.6%. In part because of this, more than 40% of all spaces undergo some form of annual redesign, which means that design flexibility can save time and money. Using the modular design of an access floor and under-floor service-distribution system makes it easy to convert a workspace to meet ever-changing needs.
In addition to all of the benefits that come from using an under-floor service-distribution system, the access floor itself can also offer an advantage by potentially increasing the slab-to-slab height for each individual floor. This allows increased daylighting opportunities and higher employee productivity.
All of this can be achieved without sacrificing aesthetics. Innovative engineering and manufacturing processes now mean that architects and designers can truly capture the signature style their clients want, while maintaining the freedom to take full advantage of the accessibility and flexibility offered by access flooring.