Since we spend an average of 90% of our time indoors, it’s important to look for the best ways to create environments that have a high comfort factor as well as support health, productivity and well-being.
Take the time to measure the comfort factor of the places where you work and live. Close your eyes and become aware of the environment that surrounds you in those spaces. Notice the feelings that are created and really listen to the sounds that are present. What smells are you now aware of that you may have become desensitized to? Is the space comfortable? Is the temperature agreeable or is it uncomfortable because it’s cold or drafty? Is there background noise present from humming lights or a noisy ventilation system that over time you may have stopped noticing?
Now open your eyes and look closely of the level of light and the various colors. Is the lighting good enough for reading or is it too bright or dim. Do windows allow in too much glare or are they creating an uncomfortable greenhouse effect?
“Many factors, including temperature, humidity, light, noise, chemical pollutants, odors, personal health, job or activity requirements, and psychosocial factors, interact to influence the comfort and health of building occupants.” Ted Schettler, the Science and Environmental Health Network
Increased awareness of the comfort factor of the indoor environment has led to interesting “green building” guidelines. Those guidelines seek to improve the experience of being indoors by reducing indoor pollution, increasing comfort, improving productivity and reducing the carbon footprint or energy use of the buildings in which we live and breathe.
“Green building brings together a vast array of practices, techniques, and skills to reduce and ultimately eliminate the impacts of buildings on the environment and human health.” Wikipedia
What is interesting to note is that the guidelines for improving the comfort of a building often result in a corresponding improvement in energy efficiency and a reduction in energy expenses at the same time! It’s difficult to have one without the other.
- Insulation – If a space is too hot or cold, increased insulation may be in order which will improve thermal comfort while reducing the need for heat and air conditioning. It can also reduce the level of noise conduction.
- Lighting – If lighting is old, dim or buzzes and flickers, LED fixtures will eliminate those annoyances while reducing the energy use up to 80% compared to incandescent lighting.
- HVAC – If the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system (HVAC) is noisy, replacement with a highly efficient system can dramatically reduce the level of noise during operation. The higher efficiency also results in far less energy being used.
- Windows – If the space is too hot or bright from a window greenhouse effect, new high tech window films can be applied to the glass that will dramatically reduce sunlight infiltration and any corresponding glare. The film will also reduce greenhouse effect heat and the need for offsetting air conditioning. A significant energy saver!
While comfort tends to rank very high on the list of goals for those people living or working in an indoor environment, energy efficiency is rarely even on the list. The cost of heating, cooling and lighting is often considered a grudgingly acceptable expense.
With the realization that improved comfort can also improve energy efficiency, the two goals will become interchangeable. If the goal is to improve the comfort of an indoor space, where people live and work, it makes sense to look for solutions that improve comfort while also improving the energy efficiency. The two work hand in hand when designed correctly.
“Buildings will also be expected to directly contribute to the health and well-being of the people who live, work and learn inside them. For buildings, healthy will become the new green.” Rick Fedrizzi
An important trend to notice is the growing awareness that the appropriate design of buildings, which are both energy efficient and achieve a high comfort factor, is fast becoming the “green” norm.