PROFILE: The fabric of thermal comfort


    When we typically spend 90% of our time indoors or in vehicles, it’s fair to say that the buildings we live, work or play in every day, have a significant impact on our comfort, health and wellbeing.

    Saint-Gobain, the world leader in the sustainable habitat and construction markets, has identified five key elements that contribute to our comfort levels indoors; visual, indoor air quality, audio, economic and thermal quality. Through years of research and development of these qualities, Saint-Gobain has created and recently launched My Comfort – the Multi-Comfort building concept which delivers benefits for the environment as well as occupant wellbeing.

    Stacey Temprell, Residential Sector Director at Saint-Gobain, explains how thermal comfort in buildings effects health and wellbeing, the first article in a series examining each element of comfort.

    Buildings should provide us with a comfortable, healthy habitat in which to be successful, efficient and safe as we set about our daily routines. Our newly launched multi-comfort building concept, My Comfort, combines the highest level of thermal performance with excellent acoustics, visual comfort, superb indoor air quality and outstanding energy efficiency.

    My Comfort is designed to deliver comfort for everyone – in any type of building. Reduced energy usage and lower ongoing operational and maintenance costs mean you can actually save money, while enjoying all the additional long-term benefits of a futureproofed, sustainable building that gives you improved comfort, health and wellbeing.

    All-round comfort, at any time

    Within a building, various conditions are required to enable people to be comfortable, and to be able to efficiently and effectively perform tasks relevant to the space.

    The four factors of thermal, audio, visual and indoor air comfort are powerful tools for designing happy, health, energy efficient buildings that deliver considerable economic benefit as well as all-round positive wellbeing effects for occupants.

    According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), health is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing, and recent research has shown that comfort levels in buildings can greatly increase health and productivity.

    When designing and constructing buildings, a holistic approach is the best way to guarantee user comfort. The Multi-Comfort concept and ‘My Comfort’ starts from the central premise that all buildings can be designed to:

    • Provide the highest levels of all-round comfort for their users;
    • Genuinely and positively contribute to our health and wellbeing;
    • Deliver the highest levels of efficiency for their owners – saving home owners and bill payers money on energy;
    • Achieve the Passivhaus standard of energy efficiency.

    We rarely consider whether a building really meets our needs, unless it suddenly isn’t working for us or it makes us feel uncomfortable. How many of us have been in a restaurant where it’s hard to hear our conversation? Or have been disrupted by the noise of neighbours either at home, or work? Or have been in a meeting room at work where the light quality is so poor it’s hard to work? How many of us have been at our children’s schools, and have thought how the rooms echo and the impact this could have on our children’s learning? It’s when we notice these sorts of things that we begin to question just how comfortable our buildings are.

    Thermal Impact

    Thermal comfort is what we experience when the body functions well, with a core temperature of around 37°C and skin temperature of 32–33°C. Thermal comfort achieves the right mixture of temperature, humidity, radiant temperature and ventilation, yet this can alter according to individual needs. Everyone has slightly different criteria for thermal comfort, so a building must allow you to adapt its conditions to your particular requirements and achieve this level in every room.

    Multi-Comfort is based on Passivhaus design principles, with buildings using very little energy for heating and cooling. Like Passivhaus buildings, Multi-Comfort buildings achieve a 75% reduction in space heating requirements in comparison to current standard practice in new-build homes and provide the same level of thermal comfort.

    Good insulation is crucial to maintaining consistent levels of thermal comfort, but ventilation is just as important, so that when any excess warm air leaves the building, it doesn’t disrupt the consistent temperature. For example, glass in windows can either let sun radiation enter the building or block it depending on the season, and can also conserve or evacuate heat according to the kind of coating or film on the glass. Air-tightness membranes and vapour control membranes will allow internal humidity to exit the building while preventing the humidity from the outside entering, preserving the insulation.

    There is overwhelming evidence to support the effects that improved thermal quality has on increasing comfort and wellbeing. Here are just a few of the studies’ findings:

    • Data indicates that around 90% of hospital wards are of a type that is prone to overheating, and the ability to control temperatures is often limited. Seminal research in 2003 identified 15 studies linking improved ventilation with up to 11% gains in productivity, as a result of dedicated delivery of fresh air to the workstation and reduced levels of pollutants.
    • Exposure to extreme heat is already a health issue. Currently, one-fifth of homes in England could experience overheating even in a cool summer3. Flats, which are generally more at risk of overheating than houses, now make up 40% of new dwellings compared to 15% in 1996. Urban greenspace, which helps to mitigate the urban heat island effect, has declined by 7% since 2001. In the UK, excess deaths from high temperatures are projected to triple to 7,000 per year on average by the 2050’s as a result of climate change and a growing and ageing population
    •  A cold home is bad for your health and increases the risks of cardiovascular, respiratory and rheumatoid diseases as well as worsening mental health. Cold homes are a significant contributor to the level of excess winter deaths in the UK every year. In 2009-10, there were an estimated 25,400 excess winter deaths, over 21% are attributable to the coldest quarter of homes.

    There are many elements of comfort that must be considered to boost occupants’ health and wellbeing. It is true that a little more financial investment in infrastructure is needed than current Building Regulation levels to achieve such effective housing, however investment will provide economic efficiencies for the long term. By providing buildings with the lowest primary energy demand, running costs can be greatly reduced, such as heating and water bills, alongside lower maintenance costs for the owner.

    At Saint-Gobain, we believe that sustainable habitat is within our reach, and by providing sustainable products and solutions, this vision can be made a reality.

    Read more about Multi-Comfort here:

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