Making open plan offices work – insulation, the critical ingredient
Open spaces have been a growing trend since 1990. But they are not always the most suitable option depending on where you are in the world. The sustainability, comfort and profitability of a business space or open space home will depend on insulation, climate and location.
A study back in 2014 found that nearly 70% of offices in the US were designed to be open plan. The trend for more open, shared workspaces has been the norm since the 1990s; a recent high profile example would be Facebook’s new Frank Gehry-designed headquarters with its campus-inspired space holding 2,800 engineers in a single room! Facebook, Etsy, Google, Apple… pretty much any modern, trend-hungry business favors the open plan office - a single main space that can be divided into separate areas for different uses.
The much-stated benefits of the open plan concept include the flexibility to change the space to the needs of the occupants, allowing interior designers a great deal of freedom. The open plan approach is touted with promises of natural light and better air circulation, and improved communication and interaction between employees.
However, some recent studies have suggested drawbacks to the open office, with employees saying that it actually decreases productivity, is associated with high levels of noise and stress, and brings additional costs due to energy inefficiency, primarily due to poor lighting schemes and incorrect insulation affecting the use of HVAC systems to keep the space warm or cool.
All the same, many still argue that open-plan offices bring a level of togetherness, proximity, and teamwork to a company which increases employee engagement and collaboration between departments. Homeowners in America and Europe are also increasingly keen on open floor living.
Home or business, the sustainability and cost effectiveness of an open floor layout always depends on location, climate and insulation.
As you might imagine, keeping a large open space at the right temperature can be a challenging and potentially very expensive task, especially if it isn’t properly insulated. Some even argue that properly insulating buildings are a more effective means of reducing greenhouse gas concentrations than planting trees!
The truth is somewhere in the middle. Open floor plans make total sense in temperate, sunny climates such as the Mediterranean or, to name a specific example, Atenas in Costa Rica, where the minimum of insulation can guarantee a stable indoor temperature throughout the year. Looking beyond Costa Rica and the whitewashed edifices of the Mediterranean coastline, insulation has a great deal to offer in terms of energy efficiency and modern acoustic challenges.
Insulation is an ancient best practice we have inherited from the times of our Egyptian forebears who created thick bricks made of mud which together could block the desert heat during the day and retain its warmth after sunset when the desert temperatures dropped considerably. Another best practice comes from the Greeks; they were the first to use cavities and air pockets in walls to provide better insulation. So, insulation may not be the newest nor the sexiest technology, and yet there is no possible argument against the results it produces towards sustainability. Properly installed insulation makes the difference between a building meeting the 2030 European energy goals, or not.
What is the best insulation practice for open plan spaces?
Basically, the thicker, the better. Good thick insulation will save you money, increase the occupants’ thermal comfort, and reduce the risk of mold formation due to dampness. Also, by properly insulating a building, one is saving energy and reducing CO2 for the community. The better the insulation, the less an HVAC system is needed to maintain the building’s temperature. And of course, ultimately, keeping our energy consumption to reasonable levels will slow down climate change.
- Big Data
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Protect the climate and stimulate the economy with efficient support programs
At the heart of European climate and energy policy is the creation of structures for a secure, affordable and environmentally compatible energy supply. Given the consequences of the corona pandemic, Europe is also facing massive economic challenges, e.g. rising unemployment, declining economic output, a drastic slump in local business and income tax revenues, cancelled or postponed investments.
The new 55% target for energy efficiency: is it feasible?
Can we reach the new goal of 55% of energy reduction? Of course, we can but we need to set a clear path for local governments to transform goals into executive actions. At Eurima (European Insulation Manufacturers Association) we believe in three main areas key to help all actors to achieve this goal.
Our goal: Safe work
Safety in the workplace is a top priority at URSA as part of Xella Group. That's why we see it as a matter of course to promote the long-term health of our employees and ensure their safety. We want our employees to go home from work every day healthy and unharmed.
#GreenRecovery: Adaptation of Subsidy Programs is Key Now
It is great to see that the German government decided on a green recovery package. It increased the budget for #EnergeticRenovation programs for private and public buildings, and social facilities significantly by 2 billion EUR in 2020 and 2021 totaling each year 2,5 billion EUR to reduce our #CO2emissions.
Big Data and building renovation: out of sight, out of mind
If we use Big Data for almost everything, why not use it for energy efficiency? Right now, we have no real idea of what is going on in Europe´s building stock. Information is key to change things, also in energy efficiency in buildings.
Our goal: A strong team
Our employees form the basis of our long-term success. We want to be an attractive employer in all respects. High-quality training at Xella and investments in our employees' qualifications contribute to this, as do fair, performance-based remuneration, a non-discriminatory working environment, and flexible options for balancing work and family life.
Women in construction
Today, it is still unusual to find women in construction. We would like to stand out one of the exceptions at URSA. Marina explains her work and her daily challenges in an interview in which she claims: "Girls must be empowered to design their future and fight for it"
Our goal: Improving circular economy capabilities
Building materials from Xella consist mainly of natural raw materials and are almost completely recyclable. URSA insulation products are already largely made from reused materials. Therefore, the conversion of value chains to value cycles makes sense for us for ecological and economic reasons. The circular economy is thus a key aspect of our ESG strategy.
Being energy certified means up to 10% more value for your property
The real estate market increasingly values sustainability in buildings. But how to measure your capacity for savings and efficiency? New buyers are willing to pay up to 10% more for properties that can prove their reduced consumption with energy certificates. Insulation is the first step.
Our goal: Reduce CO2 emission intensity by 30% by 2030
URSA will contribute its own efforts to help Xella, the parent group, achieve its ambitious environmental goals aligned with the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.
URSA joins Xella Group in supporting UN Sustainable Development Goals
With our business model, we have a high level of positive impact opportunities. To actively leverage this, we sharpened our ESG focus as part of the review of our Sustainability Strategy 2020 and worked out how our strategy can contribute to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In this core vision, URSA has joined as well to work towards progress and sustainability together and better.
Acting responsibly: Xella joined UN Global Compact
Xella Group has joined the world's largest and most important initiative for responsible corporate governance: The United Nations Global Compact. Xella is committed to the ten sustainable principles in the areas of human rights, labor standards, the environment, and corruption prevention.
Our grain of sand to a Net Zero society
Xella has started an ambitious ESG journey and URSA has jumped on this train. Among our commitments, URSA MW insulation solutions will incorporate up to 80 % recycled materials in their manufacturing, besides other concrete and tangible objectives for occupational safety, diversity, and corporate social responsibility.
The first step towards insulation: mineral wool
Good insulation provides comfort, safety and sustainability for the home. Glass mineral wool solutions offer thermal and acoustic comfort, directly contributing to the reduction of CO2 emissions in the European Union.
Dialog with our stakeholders and our essential sustainability topics
Our mission is to enable energy-efficient and long-lasting housing – and to provide as sustainably as possible. To achieve this goal and keep improving, we are in constant exchange with our stakeholders.
Solidarity goes beyond borders
At this important time, we want to promote the value of solidarity by sharing the different initiatives carried out by the different URSA regions with the aim of preserving the basic needs of people and contributing to a decent life.
Sustainability at Xella: Best in Class in our industry
The reputable ESG rating agency Sustainalytics has given Xella a rating of 18.3, putting Xella in first place out of all 115 companies in the building materials sector assessed by Sustainalytics. Sustainalytics therefore classifies the risk of financial impact caused by ESG aspects at Xella as low.
Healthy Buildings for Unhealthy Times: Why Renovate Europe should lead the post-COVID-19 era
It has been shown that the condition of buildings can impact the health of the people who inhabit them. Good insulation or adequate ventilation not only reduces the risks of contracting diseases but is also beneficial for people’s mental health. What should Europe do about it?
Energy efficient and affordable housing – delivered sustainably
URSA, as part of Xella Group, stands for innovative, safe and sustainable building and insulation materials and is the solution provider for energy-efficient, healthy and cost-optimized construction. Thus, our product portfolio contributes to decarbonization and to a low-carbon construction sector.
Does the circular economy help minimize the environmental effects of the construction industry?
Applying the principle of the circular economy to construction materials and the renovation of buildings offers benefits not only for the sector but for society in general. The architect must be a fundamental part of this change in the way the world thinks.