Extra Space to Use: Save on the BTU's

by Dan Schafer

Office Expansion: 1st Time
Our administration office has suffered several shocks. The first was 14 years ago when we blasted out the executive bathroom. It wasn't the worst restroom. It even had a shower. But we needed the space more. So we took a sledge hammer to the walls. We literally levelled that restroom in an evening. That was a first step to fitting another person into that office.

What Went Wrong
Several things left us feeling we had settled for second best. One was that though we had made more space, adding another person and desk still used more space than we had added. Also the room had windows, which seemed nice, but the original architect and contractor had blessed us with opening windows. Now in this part of the world, the distinction between opening windows and open windows was not always well observed — not just by human occupants but also in their innate mechanical capacity to really close. So they tended to let in dirt and heat and some varieties of tropical creatures best left unreported. Another problem was its westward facing wall. The afternoon sun on that wall turned it into a hot radiator for the person next to it. In fact, the high temperature in that wall was promoted even before the afternoon sun by the big enamel room air conditioning compressor next to it spewing out its excess heat to the surrounding air.

Expand Again or Not?
Technically the factory’s original plan left us room to grow. That is, the office, in an architectural nicety, had been made shorter than the normal width of the rest of the factory. So the beams above and below  the floor and ceiling already existed to extend the office by a metre. The problem was that heat-belching AC unit. It was happily sitting on that extra metre. This one was much bigger than the normal sort of AC unit that gets hung on a wall, so hanging it like that didn’t present itself as an immediate option. Just moving it out laterally onto a new pad  wasn’t a good option either because it would be in the way.

The Downturn Turned Us Up
We did have some ideas of how we could deal with that air conditioner. But it was likely the 2009 economic downturn was the main catalyst to push us to come up with a plan. For us the beginning of any year is frequently a slow time for production, and 2009 looked to potentially hold a lot of slow time. So if we were not going to lay off workers, we needed projects to keep some of them usefully employed.

The plan we settled on for that AC unit was indeed to hang it on a wall — not just any wall, but high on our as-yet-unbuilt, new extended office wall that would be strategically reinforced. We would also provide extra support for it from the roof beams.

Double Fixed Windows
Once the AC problem was solved we were ready to tackle the office. New windows were an easy decision. In earlier installations we already had proved a local supplier could create double glazed windows that worked without fogging problems. They would not only not leak, but the R factor (insulating ability) for the windows would be better than the wall.

What a West Wall
The new west wall needed special attention. We needed to block both radiant heat, think afternoon sun, -- as well as conductive heat, think hot air outside next to our wall. Bear in mind the hot air outside our wall would still be affected by an AC unit expelling heat — albeit located in a higher position and thus affecting less of the wall. Originally the wall had been only 10 cm of brick and cement. Now, the new wall began on the outside with the same construction. But the inside first got double reflective aluminium foil sandwiching a thin layer of foam. That would be to bounce that radiant heat back out. Then we added another 4 cm of foam board which gave us considerable protection against the conductive heat. Then we covered it all with gypsum board to finish.

Keep the Top Cool Too
The ceiling, which was already insulated above with fibreglass, remained. But as we mentioned in a recent article, our factory attic area above the ceiling can get much hotter than the outside ambient temperature. Therefore we added, under the original ceiling, another layer of aluminium foil and foam sandwich plus an additional layer of foam board. Then we finished with another layer of gypsum board.

Is Saving Energy also Saving the Bottom Line?
Overkill? Some would think so. But the materials are not expensive, and it is always good to capitalise on the momentum of tackling a job to also get it done right. Touch and see evidence helps confirm that eventually we should get payback. It used to be that putting a hand on the inside of that west wall was hot — an immediate reminder of what the air conditioner was fighting. The single pane window glass was warm as well — putting aside the fact that the windows were also leaking our cooled air like an open refrigerator door. Now that west wall is as cool as anything else in the room, and so is the inside pane of our double glazed windows. Consequently if the air conditioner now runs less, we not only spend less for electricity and potentially save some energy, but also add to the life of the air conditioner unit which will not need to be repaired or replaced as soon. Interestingly, another unintentional benefit of raising that other AC unit up on the wall is that it is kept in the continual shade of our roof which should enable it to run cooler than before as well.

An Upturned Downturn
Was the 2009 economic slow down then a good thing? Life is filled with opportunities for us to move forward. So yes, seemingly difficult times can be turned to good times if we are ready to rise to the challenge.



Big AC High on new wall
Office added one meter outside
Big AC High on new wall
Lamphun-made double glaze
Big AC High on new wall

Big AC high on new wall

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