The Air Under There: Best Practices for Successful Raised Floor Installations

By David Atwood, General Manager at Integrated Interiors

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Raised flooring and underfloor air applications have quickly risen in popularity with the new demands of sustainable construction.  With benefits tied into both its efficiency and reduced materials requirements, modular construction of underfloor air applications will become a key differentiator for any general contractors familiar with the benefits and the challenges of installing raised flooring systems.

 

Start at the Top

 

Perhaps the most unorthodox part of any raised floor system is the sequencing of the various trades.  Contrary to conventional installations where HVAC systems are contained in ductwork above the ceiling, raised floor systems are designed to incorporate most major building systems within the confines of the floor cavity.  Therefore, what remains in the ceiling – sprinklers and lighting systems – needs to be completed first, as well any other overhead work, to ensure floor installation and the sensitive systems within can be installed without any interruption or risk of damage.

 

In addition, when critical building systems are located underfoot, and bringing staging, lifts and other equipment for ceiling installation would only serve to complicate the installation of the floor.  The most effective way to manage floor construction is to phase the various trades effectively, starting with fire protection and lighting systems to ensure all overhead work is completed first.  By educating the subcontractors and providing a clear understanding of what phase each trade will be involved with, general contractors can capitalize on the efficiency of raised floor systems.

 

Keep the Airways Clear

 

One of the biggest advantages to underfloor air applications is a reduction of approximately 80% of the ductwork found in conventional projects with standard flooring.  With the floor containing air distribution chambers, it’s critical to ensure that all subcontractors know to keep the area beneath their feet as clean as possible.  When overhead work is completed, work with the electrical and mechanical trades should begin to configure the building’s power distribution systems and HVAC passageways.

 

It’s important to note, however, that the floor is laid out in a grid formation, utilizing a 10×10 spray-painted dot grid throughout the entire floorplate.  These dots identify locations where the pedestals are located, which are components that support the load of the floor and cannot be altered.  Lack of coordination between trades can lead to installation of piping, electrical systems and cabling in places that conflict with pedestals and can only be rectified by building a structural support to sidestep the interference, leading to delays and additional costs.  Given the relative newness of raised flooring systems, education of the trades is critical to avoid costly missteps.

 

In order to maintain the integrity of the airways, walls surrounding the underfloor chambers need to be sealed as tightly as possible, allowing for zero penetrations in the design.  As the underfloor cavity acts as a delivery plenum, any gaps or openings can lead to expensive and frustrating air loss.  Teams should also understand that any drywall verticals, whether columns or walls that extend down into the floor, are also critical to the air delivery system and should be carefully integrated into the flooring systems and properly sealed at the slab.

 

Following the Order of Operations

 

In one of the most critical phases of any raised floor installations, mechanical, electrical and flooring trades must work together to ensure each system is properly routed up from the slab and through pre-drilled openings in the floor panel.  A few additional steps have to happen first, however, before the raised floor is installed.  Raised flooring uses a modular power system, with zoned distribution boxes and power cabling mounted in the slab and data lines contained in cable trays alongside the utilities.  Once floor installation begins, all remaining materials are staged above the raised flooring to effectively float over the power and data equipment and avoid working directly on top of cabling.

 

Next, mechanical trades must be brought on board to lay out mechanical boxes and diffusers.  Diffusers are brought up and installed within the floor, and power and data cabling are guided through pre-cut openings in the floor panel.  Prior to purchasing materials, teams should outline exactly how the floor panel will accommodate the project’s power and data systems in order to secure a panel design with the proper penetrations already made.  Most raised floor systems use standard 2×2 panels with cutouts according to the specific project needs.

 

Once all systems have been tied in and tested, carpet installation begins.  Installing carpet in individual rooms is incredibly streamlined over conventional approaches, as carpet consists of individual modules matched to an access floor panel.  This means no more tedious cutting and measuring each section as the entire floor is essentially installed in one piece and must be done prior to any walls being constructed within a conventional modular interior.

 

Even in the final phase constant reinforcement of the basic principles of raised flooring must be emphasized among the trades, including that any subsequent penetrations in the drywall should be sealed at the slab level to preserve the integrity of the systems below the surface.  However, with a proactive approach to educating the team and a coordinated approach to installing building systems, general contractors can offer clients increased flexibility and enhanced sustainability for a wide range of applications.

 

About the Author

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David Atwood is the General Manager of Integrated Interiors, New England’s premier commercial architectural/engineering products and construction services company. Integrated Interiors provides architectural interiors products including moveable walls, raised flooring, and modular power, as well as design-build construction services for mission critical or data center environments. The company is the region’s only source for the integrated procurement and installation of modular architectural products through a single manufacturer – Haworth. Combined with Haworth’s Organic Workspace™ products, Integrated Interiors’ modular solutions provide flexible, high performance workspace that adapts to companies’ changing needs while meeting the growing demand for sustainable and LEED-supportive design.  For more information, go to www.iiawne.com.

Photo:              David Atwood, General Manager at Integrated Interiors

Photo credit:    Frank Monkiewicz Photography

Photos:             UFAD

Photo credit: Haworth

Can Less Be More?

By Joe Flynn, CFM, LEED AP, senior associate, workplace strategist, Margulies Perruzzi Architects

Businesses are facing difficult choices to remain competitive, not the least of which include real estate decisions, for both the company and the individual employee. Today, companies are “rightsizing” in a very different manner. The intent is no longer to trim the employee headcount, but rather, to reassess and realign the proportion of space allocated to staff. This exercise often results in a personal space reduction for the employee. It may not trigger employees to update their resumes, but as businesses reinterpret their space allocation culture, a different impact is coming into focus. Two clear drivers underlie these issues, requiring a facility manager’s thoughtful attention: culture and technology.

Culture Counts: Corporations are experiencing the impact of a truly multi-generational workforce. It’s not uncommon to witness millennials working alongside baby boomers in today’s work environments. Age diversity and work-style have been the focus of much study, with great attention paid to flexibility, collaboration, and reliance on technology. Businesses are now realizing that private offices may not be optimal for stimulating a knowledge-sharing environment. Numerous sources, including the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Neilson Newswire, are predicting a labor shortage of five million workers in 2020 when the Baby Boomers retire. Businesses are preparing for that now. Past mandates may have been focused on keeping a company’s leadership rewarded. Today, the mission has shifted. Recruiting a new class of talent is very important for companies who are laser-focused on maintaining a competitive edge once the baby boomers retire. Office design plays a critical role in that mission. The workplace must attract new talent, and also, foster substantial knowledge transfer for this new generation. Companies today face critical challenges: How do they adequately prepare the next generation to lead?

Technology Works Anywhere: Never before in the history of business has technology enabled so many different and efficient ways of working. Thanks to smarter mobile equipment, workers are now able to be productive – wherever they are – at a previously unheard of rate. Millennials entering the workforce have been weaned on these technologies and are very proficient with them. Senior staff is accustomed to working 9-5, but the younger generation sees no issue with being available to work at any time needed, wherever they are, as long as they have advanced technology. Some companies struggle to find a balance between preserving traditional corporate values with the opportunities technology presents.

These two major business drivers point to real estate savings. Businesses are reacting to the demand to update their environmental cultures in a way that best leverages this technology. If the result of that update is significant savings in how much space is required, it is clearly a win-win. Companies are evaluating a variety of rightsizing options in their properties. They are making choices that serve to attract a new generation of workers, better align with emerging technologies, and create a potential real estate savings.

Everyone wins. Or do they?

As is the case in every major office design shift, the results of social engineering cannot always be predicted. The pre-cubicle generation who worked in an open sea of desks had a different work experience than those who spanned their careers in 65” workstations. Each generation adapted to its environment and managed to work efficiently. Office environments are not cookie cutter. Some businesses need more open, collaborative space while others, because of the nature of their work, cannot. Leaders must understand how their business is conducted prior to adopting a new spatial strategy. In the rush to respond to a generational culture shift and technology, don’t forget the nature of your business and how work is accomplished.

Trending today is the re-evaluation of private offices. Many businesses are questioning whether offices are just status symbols of a slowly dying work culture. This triggers the question of who needs to sit in an office and why. Facility managers understand that management offices provide privacy essential to conducting business, but they also realize that if managers are better connected to their staff, a higher degree of collaboration is achieved.

There are pros and cons to the reduction/elimination of offices. The advantages include greater team-building, increased communication/ collaboration, and heightened managerial awareness of staff performance. The most important benefit is access. Employees with proximity to their managers leverage that closeness for professional direction, conflict resolution and guidance. The disadvantages, however, are notable. Either through their education or tenure managers have achieved the status associated with an office with a door. Stripping them of that prize is an emotional blow to their egos. Additionally, some managers sitting in a workstation, regardless of size, feel their authority is compromised. Real or perceived, this notion can have a devastating impact on a manager’s ability to lead effectively. On a productivity level, many managers feel they cannot be as agile in managing affairs requiring confidentiality and lose the spontaneity to immediately address sensitive issues. Planning for privacy, in their perspective, is not efficient.

The reassessment of offices is not the only major change that businesses are exploring however. There is a concerted effort to investigate smaller, leaner and more technology-responsive workstations. Some firms have even begun to explore the elimination of the “cubes” and are piloting open, highly collaborative benching solutions.

Regardless which direction a company chooses, it is important to offset any real or perceived loss in personal space with increased amenities such as more collaboration space, or break areas with games like foosball or billiards.

Rethinking the open plan is widespread in business today. As the panels disappear or drop in height, space becomes more connected. The benefits of this approach are similar to the reduction in private offices: with more visual connection, there is a greater sense of “team”. This leads to a higher degree of knowledge sharing as staff are more inclined to assist one another with tasks when they see the need. Transparency in the work environment can be effective in creating spontaneous partnerships. A documented upside is also the “better manners” phenomenon: employees adjust the volume of their voice and behavior when they are on full display. The downside of an open space plan is environmental: workers report greater visual and audio distractions and note difficulty in concentrating with so much ambient activity surrounding them.

So how does a company facilitate change in a manner that is most optimal for them?

Here are the golden rules:
1. Before embarking on any environmental office change, study the way the company currently conducts business.
2. Secure one hundred percent backing and support from senior management.
3. Proactively engage and educate the company.
4. Address the job functions of employees and consider the ergonomic needs of the space change accordingly.
5. As change is planned, explore and mitigate the potential pitfalls.
6. Proactively address the perception of loss and plan to include perks to offset it.

Work is cultural. It is not simply about offices and workstations. A business today that wants to be successful tomorrow understands and appreciates that its true bottom line investment is its staff. If environmental change is to be considered by any company, it must be responsive to the culture of the firm and the staff who supports it.

*This article is excerpted from an article that appeared in Building Operating Management in July 2013.

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About the author
Joe Flynn, CFM, LEED AP, is a senior associate and workplace strategist at Margulies Perruzzi Architects. Consistently ranked as one of Boston’s top architectural and interior design firms, Margulies Perruzzi Architects services the healthcare, corporate, professional services, research and development, and real estate communities. For more information, please visit http://www.mp-architects.com.