When was the last time it was too hot in the bedroom and you couldn’t sleep? Have you ever woken up with a cold in the summer because the air conditioner froze you to near death? It’s often only when we experience this type of dissonance between our bodies and our surroundings that we can realize and appreciate the fundamental importance of thermal comfort.
To put it simply, “thermal comfort” is a state of contentment and satisfaction with one’s own thermal environment. It’s the “just right” feeling that comes with not being too hot or too cold. Although the idea of a comfortable temperature varies from person to person, a thermal environment that ventures too far in either direction will undoubtedly have a negative impact on both mood and physical health.
There are four key environmental factors that affect thermal comfort:
- Air temperature. This is the air temperature in the room, often measured in Celsius.
- Air speed. Air movement can cause heat transfer from the surface of the body, lower speed means less heat loss.
- Radiant temperatures. Heat loss can occur through convection (energy that is transferred through air flow) and radiation (energy that is transferred from surrounding surfaces).
- Relative humidity. Humidity within the micro-environment has the ability to significantly affect a person’s living conditions.
It goes without saying that there isn’t much we can do to avoid extreme temperatures when we’re outdoors. Whether there’s a heatwave or snowstorm, we’re advised to stay indoors for our safety. That is, after all, one of architecture’s most pivotal functions. Indoor cooling and heating is designed to keep us feeling comfortable and safe. As we continue to progress into the 21st Century, many people have become accustomed to advancements in technology and a higher quality of life. But what happens when these systems fail to adequately fulfill our basic human requirements? What can building designers do to satisfy our innate need for comfort while also remaining cognizant of energy consumption?
When it comes to air distribution, depending on the time of year, your HVAC system is working hard to either heat up the cold air in the winter, or cool down the hot, humid air during the summer. Year-round, air is continuously passing through your HVAC equipment. If there are any leakages in your building envelope, and air starts to make its way into your building through other means, the indoor air quality will suffer as a result. The air that’s sneaking in will either be below or above your desired temperature and humidity, thus significantly lowering the level of thermal comfort. Over time, the neglected air leakage will overwork your HVAC system as it attempts to regulate the indoor air conditions, thus lowering its efficiency and effectiveness.
In today’s world, the reality is that the average person spends up to 90% of their life indoors. When designing new buildings, it is imperative to pay great care and attention to optimizing indoor thermal comfort. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution for every scenario, it is important for construction designers to be mindful of their strategies and implement custom solutions for each project’s unique needs. Choosing to invest in high-quality building materials will also help prevent potential setbacks in the future. In conclusion, having a solid understanding of thermal comfort is important for the future of architecture as it is an important piece of the puzzle in building design and sustainability.