How insulation can help to create healthier, more desirable offices

13 January 2020 Kingspan Insulation UK
The design of offices has been transformed over recent years as companies look to meet the shifting priorities of a changing workforce. Rather than a set of cubicles and a kitchen, modern office environments can now include a variety of flexible spaces supporting different working practices, including quiet individual focus and collaboration, as well as rest and recreation. This move towards so called ‘activity-based working’ also forms part of a wider trend for healthier working space design which supports employee wellbeing.

The challenge for employers is that these flexible environments often require more floor space. With this in mind, it makes sense for developers to look to maximise the leasable floor area on each storey of a building. Research from Currie & Brown has revealed that the choice of external wall insulation can significantly impact this.

Wellbeing benefits

The changes in office design trends are the result of a variety of factors, the most fundamental being the need to attract and retain staff. Research has shown that the perceived quality of workspaces is now a key factor in determining this with almost half of  UK office workers stating that the design of their workplace has a notable impact on whether they choose to stay at a company.

The drive for greater productivity is also a major factor in changes to office design. A study of over 151,000 employees worldwide found just 64% of responders thought their workspaces allowed them to work productively and there is a growing body of evidence showing that healthier, more varied environments can improve task performance.  

A project conducted by CBRE in the Netherlands showed objective performance improvements of as much as 45% could be achieved through simple changes such as effective daylighting, whilst a market analysis has shown that companies which give employees flexible workspaces and the opportunity to move to an area where they can play music are likely to be over 20% more profitable.

In the face of these factors, it makes sense for companies to look for adaptable, high quality spaces. The question for developers is how best to meet this demand.

Why insulation specification matters

One of the most significant challenges for office developments is the limits on building size, particularly within urban locations. In these areas, the footprint is typically pre-defined. One way to make the most of this space is by slimming down the external wall construction. By specifying more thermally efficient insulation materials within the walls, it is possible to achieve target U-values with a reduced construction thickness. Whilst these insulation materials typically have a higher upfront cost, they can also allow significant volumes of floorspace to be recovered, offering the potential for significant short, medium and long-term returns.

To investigate this, Currie & Brown carried out a detailed analysis looking at how the use of different insulation materials within identical constructions impacted the overall amount and value of space within a building.
Office case study

The research features 10 real case studies including a six-storey development in London comprising a ground retail floor and five stories of offices with a development cost of £15.476 million. To assess the impact of the insulation material on internal floorspace, Currie & Brown modelled the building with two cavity brick and block wall constructions. The constructions were identical aside from the insulation material, with one using Kingspan Kooltherm K108 Cavity Board and the other less thermally efficient glass mineral fibre.

With the glass mineral fibre specification, a 155 mm thickness of insulation was required to achieve the target U-value of 0.22 W/m²K leading to a total external wall construction depth of 388 mm. When using this construction for the external walls, the total lettable floor area of the building was 6,800 m².

By using Kingspan Kooltherm K108, the same level of thermal performance could be achieved with an insulation layer depth of just 60mm, creating a final external wall construction depth of 343 mm. Whilst the insulation specification added £60,235 in upfront costs to the project, its reduced thickness allowed 29.30 m² of floor space to be recovered. With a projected annual rental value of £701.00/m², this additional floor space has an estimated value of £20,515.00 per year in rental income and a capitalised value of £537,208, representing a 792% return on the additional cost of the insulation material.

You can read more about the research and the potential returns achieved through the use of more thermally efficient insulation in the Real Value of Space white paper.

Natural light

Beyond these clear cost benefits, a side effect of slimmer external walls is that window reveal depths are also reduced. Research from Peutz B.V. has shown that this can help to increase the average amount of natural light within a space. This can reduce reliance on artificial lighting, make spaces more desirable and help to safeguard the wellbeing of employees.

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