Office Occupancy & Air Conditioning Problems

Following the pandemic, office occupancy in Northern Virginia has changed dramatically. Did you know that the number of people working in the office can impact your AC performance? If you have reduced or fluctuating occupancy in your office, that can lead to air conditioning problems. Here’s what you need to know about how occupancy impacts your air conditioning, and what you can do to ensure comfortable conditions for worker productivity.

How Office Occupancy Impacts AC Performance

In some offices, many employees are working remotely, and their offices are sitting empty. Others have fluctuating occupancy levels on a daily basis. Facilities managers may not realize how much of an impact occupancy changes can have on the HVAC systems.

Occupancy impacts the load on your air conditioning. People generate heat. The more people in your space, the higher the load on your air conditioning system. With fewer people in the office, at first that may seem like a good thing for your air conditioning. The load is lower, so it runs less. That reduces your energy consumption. So far so good.

However, air conditioning systems are designed to handle specific load conditions. And chances are, your system was designed and installed pre-pandemic when your office occupancy was higher and more consistent.

If your office capacity is much lower now, your cooling load is significantly lower as well. That can mean you now have equipment that’s too powerful for your needs, which can lead to comfort problems. (More on that in a minute).

Let’s take a look at the specific scenarios caused by office occupancy changes and the air conditioning problems you might be experiencing.

4 Air Conditioning Problems Caused by Occupancy Changes

  1. Cooling load/capacity mismatch & high humidity As we mentioned above, the capacity of your AC equipment was carefully calculated based on your cooling load. The load is based on the design of your space as well as the occupancy levels. With a lower occupancy and lower cooling load, your equipment’s cooling capacity might now be too high for your needs. Have you noticed that your AC is turning on and off every few minutes? That’s what happens with a system that’s oversized. And you’ll often notice that the air feels sticky and uncomfortable. That’s because the system never runs long enough to reduce humidity. It’s also possible that you have the opposite problem. If you merged offices to reduce costs, you might now have more capacity in an office space than the system was designed to handle. In that case, it might run constantly trying in vain to reach the set temperature. If you’re seeing these symptoms, it’s time to get an evaluation of your system capacity and design.

  1. Design changes & inconsistent temperatures Air conditioning problems can also happen when you change your office layout without updating your HVAC system. With fewer people in the office, you might have changed your space to accommodate new occupancy patterns. However, your air distribution system (ducts) was carefully designed based on the old layout. Now your ducts might be sending too much cooled air to one area, and too little to another. Your office workers end up too hot or too cold. In this case, you might just need to reroute some ducts to see a big improvement in comfort conditions.

  1. Thermostat wars & system performance With the two scenarios described above, your workers in the office are uncomfortable, and it’s distracting them. Some are hot and sticky, others feel like they’re working in a meat locker. This causes people to try to fix the problem themselves. People may be turning thermostats up and down, opening windows, using space heaters, blocking AC registers, and otherwise interfering with the operation of the system. That makes it harder for the system to cool effectively, and makes conditions even more erratic.
  1. Neglected maintenance & increased repair issues With fewer people in the office following the pandemic, you might have skipped your regular system maintenance. We understand the temptation: when the office was closed for months, you might have assumed you didn’t need maintenance for a system that was shut down for a while. And, like all of us, you were facing pressure to cut costs.

That may not have been the best choice. Systems that sit idle can develop issues when they are started up again. And if you have continued to run the system without getting it inspected and maintained, you’re much more likely to experience breakdowns. During regular maintenance visits, your technician can identify impending air conditioning problems and prevent them by replacing failing parts and cleaning components.

Banish Air Conditioning Problems in Your NYC Office: Contact Express Tech Air Now

Need a new maintenance agreement that’s customized to your needs? Or an inspection of your system design? Express Tech Air can help: we’re experts in commercial AC for NYC offices. And we’re in your neighborhood. Contact us today to get started.


1. How does office occupancy affect air conditioning performance? Office occupancy affects air conditioning performance by impacting the load on the system. More people in the office generate more heat, increasing the cooling load on the AC. Fluctuating or reduced occupancy can lead to mismatched cooling capacity, high humidity, inconsistent temperatures, and uncomfortable conditions.

2. What are the signs of a cooling load/capacity mismatch in an office? Signs of a cooling load/capacity mismatch include frequent on-off cycling of the AC system, sticky and uncomfortable air, and high humidity levels. If you notice these symptoms, it's advisable to get an evaluation of your system capacity and design.

3. How can design changes in an office affect air conditioning performance? Design changes in an office, such as altering the layout without updating the HVAC system, can lead to inconsistent temperatures. The air distribution system (ducts) may send too much cooled air to one area and too little to another, causing discomfort for office workers.

4. What are the consequences of thermostat wars in an office? Thermostat wars, where individuals adjust the temperature settings to their liking, can negatively impact the performance of the air conditioning system. It makes it harder for the system to cool effectively, and conditions become more erratic, leading to discomfort and distraction.

5. Why is regular maintenance important for office air conditioning systems? Regular maintenance is crucial for office air conditioning systems, especially after periods of reduced occupancy. Systems that sit idle can develop issues when started up again. Skipping maintenance increases the likelihood of breakdowns. Regular maintenance visits help identify and prevent potential air conditioning problems, ensuring optimal system performance.

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