The challenge of achieving the perfect temperature
A report has revealed that men and women disagree about what is the ideal indoor temperature, with men more likely to get their own way when it comes to setting the thermostat.
The study was launched to investigate households’ energy usage and why even when we have technology helping us to set supposedly the perfect temperature, people may still find themselves in conflict with others when it comes to creating the perceived perfect level of thermal comfort.
Although the latest research and other studies suggest men and women feel temperatures differently, there are other factors to consider when creating homes that are comfortable for everyone.
Why is it so difficult to achieve the perfect temperature?
Human bodies generate and dissipate energy, and we have different ways of balancing this constant heat exchange within the environments we’re in. For example, we might shiver, perspire, or change our blood flow to regulate heat distribution.
However, our mental state is a major influence on our individual perception of thermal comfort. For example, our mood or how tired we are can make us feel hotter or colder, as can our age, general health, where we live, type and level of clothing, levels of activity, and even our social background.
Our bodies instinctively want to minimise the effort it takes to adapt our internal temperature, and we generally feel more comfortable if we’re in an environment that suits our thermal preferences and we’re able to control the temperature.
And on top of that, it’s important to have a consistent air temperature throughout a home. If our feet feel colder than our upper body, or we can sense a cool draught coming from somewhere, then that will lead us to feel uncomfortable.
Therefore, when designing and building homes, we must consider how project-specific variables such as location, orientation and building type can influence factors such as radiant temperature, humidity and air velocity – all things which contribute to our thermal comfort.
If the thermal comfort of a home isn’t right, it can have a detrimental impact on the occupiers’ health, safety, productivity and mental wellbeing, so it’s vital to consider the design, building materials and technology to achieve the right conditions.
Building for thermal comfort
Glazing, for example, has a huge impact on thermal comfort, as radiation from the sun passes through panes to heat inside. Depending on the time of year, climate and the occupiers’ own preferences, this could create a pleasant sensation, or it might get too hot, leading to discomfort. On the other hand, windows and doors are the weakest surfaces of a building when it comes to retaining heat and can create a cold radiant effect (radiant asymmetry), which can discourage you from sitting in certain spaces and creates a feeling of discomfort with one side of the body being colder than another.
Cold windows can also create convection currents in a room, leading to varying temperatures throughout a space.
As such, self-builders should configure the layout and type of windows in line with the position of the room and how much exposure to sunlight is expected, then combine different styles of glass, with varying U-values and solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC), to optimise thermal comfort throughout the seasons. You might also want to consider external shading devices too, which can help to control the level of light and the subsequent impact on temperature.
Any choice in glazing should, in turn, be balanced with effective ventilation systems, shading, and appropriate window opening strategy, which can replace existing internal warm air with fresh air from outside when it gets too warm. Better yet, these systems should be controlled by technology and configured in such a way that individual users of each space within the home can use the ventilation to cater to their own preferences. On top of this, it’s important to understand the relationship between ventilation and insulation – another key building product to help create the optimum level of thermal comfort.
A changing approach to thermal comfort
Providing an acceptable level of thermal comfort at home and in other buildings is important for our wellbeing and health, but as every human is unique, those designing and building homes can’t take a blanket approach to it. As we’ve briefly touched on, there are so many variables – both external, internal and related to the occupier – that can impact thermal comfort.
And needs will change and evolve over time. From climate change raising temperatures, to an ageing population, with predictions that the number of UK households headed by someone over the age of 65 will increase by 54 per cent before 2041, architects and self-builders are going to be challenged more than ever before to consider the design, building materials and other solutions to create the optimum thermal comfort that caters for everyone – now and well into the future.