New study on occupant comfort advances saint gobain’s design approach for renovation and new construction building design + construction

Saint Gobain, the giant building materials supplier, has released the results of a three-year-long study that compared occupant comfort for the 800 employees at its old headquarters in Valley Forge, Pa., with the comfort levels for those same employees after they moved into the company’s new 277,000-sf North American headquarters in Malvern, Pa., which opened in October 2015.

The four-phase study, buttressed by a 76-question employee survey, found significant improvements in employees’ perceptions about indoor air quality, visual comfort, and acoustic comfort as a result of Saint Gobain’s “multi-comfort design approach” that combines sustainability, aesthetics, and comfort to improve occupant well-being. However, improving thermal comfort proved to be a harder nut to crack.

Saint Gobain “wants to be the leader in habitat” by aggressively promoting its multi-comfort approach, says Stanley Gatland II, Manager of Building Sciences and Comfort for the company’s CertainTeed division. “We want to make occupant outcomes part of the conversation” with customers, adds Lucas Hamilton, CertainTeed’s Manager of Building Science Applications.

To evaluate the impact and efficacy of multi-comfort design elements in the new headquarters, Saint-Gobain partnered with a group of experts led by Dr. Ihab Elzeyadi, Director of the University of Oregon’s High Performance Environments (HiPE) Lab, to conduct an extensive four-phase comparative analysis of Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ).

In the first phase of the study, a research team inspected the existing unoccupied Malvern facility prior to its adaptive renovation and reuse. In the second phase, the team examined the former Saint-Gobain headquarters in Valley Forge, to establish a benchmark for the performance of the new headquarters. In phase three, the team analyzed the new headquarters following envelope upgrades and interior design retrofits, but prior to occupancy. Finally, the fourth phase of the study assessed the newly completed Malvern headquarters post-occupancy.

The visual comfort parameter focused on daylighting and, more specifically, the relative impact of installing Saint Gobain’s SageGlass on the building’s western and southern façades. That electrochromic glazing provides three levels of tinting that are selected automatically in response to system programming and the changing light conditions throughout the day. These are detected by sensors on the roof of the building. The brightness of interior LED luminaires is similarly controlled according to incoming daylight.

Unsurprisingly, employees reported a 56.4% overall improvement in visual comfort in the new headquarters, including gains of 30% to 60% in each of the following categories: overall lighting comfort, amount of light for working, glare from electric lights, ability to adjust to electric light, amount of daylight, glare from windows and the ability to adjust window shades.

Hamilton points out that the developer of the new headquarters (which wasn’t Saint Gobain) insisted on repurposing as much of the Malvern office structure as possible, including its mechanicals. Consequently, the HVAC system wasn’t always rightsized for a new headquarters with 116 collaborative spaces. Hamilton believes that thermal comfort results would be “a lot better” in projects that are completely new construction or have more extensive renovations.

The study found much greater success in improving acoustic and indoor air quality. For acoustic comfort, the new headquarters was designed with sound-absorbing surfaces, high-performance interior partitions and exterior facades, isolating vibrating components in the HVAC system, and equipped with white noise machines to mask sound and manage speech intelligibility.

The design included two wall covering products: one with the ability to trap and neutralize 70% of harmful aldehydes, and another designed with an antimicrobial coating that actively repels and kills fungus and black mold. Drywall tape had mold- and mildew-resistant properties. Backerboard was moisture and mold resistant. Wallboard and ceilings absorbed and converted formaldehyde a safe, inert compound.

Overall, employees reported that levels of visual, acoustical and indoor air quality comfort were 26.3% greater on average at the Malvern facility than at Valley Forge. Additionally, occupants’ satisfaction with indoor environmental quality (a measurement composed of employees’ ratings of temperature, lighting quality, acoustics, air quality, smell, ergonomics and space function) improved by 47.9% in the new space.