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Occupant Comfort

Buildings are designed for people, and those people are trying to accomplish
a task whether its raising a family, running an office, or manufacturing a
product. The building needs to keep people comfortable, efficient, healthy,
and safe as they set about their task.
Green design seeks to create buildings that keep people comfortable while
minimizing negative environmental impacts.

Thermal Comfort
Maintaining a persons thermal
comfort means ensuring that they
dont feel too hot or too cold. This
means keeping the temperature,
humidity, airflow and radiant sources
within acceptable range.

Why its important


Creating comfortable conditions is one of the biggest uses of energy in buildings and it is also
critical to the happiness and productivity of its users. Often factors such as airflow and radiant
temperature are overlooked in a design, leading to higher energy use and occupancy
dissatisfaction.

Metrics
To keep people comfortable you need to provide the right mixture of temperature, humidity,
radiant temperature and air speed. The right level of these variables depends on what activity is
occurring, how active the people are, and what they are wearing. Everyone has slightly different
criteria for comfort, so comfort is often measured by the percentage of occupants who report
theyre satisfied with the conditions.

Design Strategies
Some ways to keep people comfortable are to use the suns heat to warm them, use the wind or
ceiling fans to move air when its too warm, and keeping surrounding surfaces the correct
temperature with good insulation. HVAC equipment like boilers, fans, and heat exchangers can
temper the air temperature and humidity, but surface temperatures and moving air have to be
considered too.
Learn more about human thermal comfort and passive design strategies to help.

Visual Comfort
Maintaining visual comfort means
ensuring that people have enough light
for their activities, the light has the
right quality and balance, and people
have good views.

Why its important


Good lighting helps create a happy and productive environment. Natural light does this much
better than electric lighting. Having good views and sight-lines gives people a sense of control
of their environment and provides a sense of well-being.

Metrics
Good lighting is well-distributed, is not too dim or too strong, and uses minimal energy. Lighting
is often measured either by the amount of light falling on a surface (illuminance) or the amount
of light reflecting off of a surface (luminance). These are objective measures, but how people
experience this light is often subjective (i.e. are they comfortable?, do they experience

glare?). Good visual comfort also generally means that as much of this light is natural light as
possible. Humans are hard-wired to like the suns light and it saves energy.

Design Strategies
Daylighting design strategies like high or clerestory windows, light shelves, and well-placed
skylights can help distribute sunlight inside a space. When you do need to use artificial lights,
you can reduce energy use by using efficient fluorescents or LEDs, with daylighting dimming
controls, effective fixtures, and good lighting design. Good controls can automatically balance
natural and artificial lighting. Most lights should have occupancy sensors.
Learn more about natural and artificial lighting and how to measure it.

Air Quality
In addition to air thats the right
temperature and humidity for thermal
comfort, its important that air is
clean, fresh, and circulated effectively
in the space.

Why its important


If air is too stale or is polluted, it can make people uncomfortable, unproductive, unhappy, and
sick. Fresh air helps people be alert, productive, healthy, and happy.

Metrics
Fresh air requires a certain percentage of outside air circulating into spaces. Clean air requires
pollutant and pathogen levels to be below certain thresholds.

Design Strategies
Air can be kept fresh with high ventilation rates, either using natural ventilation such as operable
windows and skylights, or active systems such as HVAC fans and ducts. Clean air can be
achieved by filtering air, by flushing spaces with fresh outside air, and by not contaminating the
air with impurities from the building, such as volatile organic compounds from paints or
materials.
Learn more about Indoor Air Quality.

Acoustic Comfort
Acoustic comfort means having the
right level and quality of noise to use
the space as intended.

Why its important


People are more productive and happy when theyre not distracted by noises from outside or
from surrounding spaces and occupants. Acoustic comfort is especially important for schools and
office buildings.

Metrics
How humans perceive sounds and loudness is a subjective measure. However, you can create a
comfortable environment by controlling objective measures like decibel level (sound pressure),
reverberation time, and the sound reflection and damping properties of materials.

Design Strategies

Creating barriers and sound breaks between sources of noise is important. You can optimize
room shape and size to reduce echoes and reverberation. And you can use acoustic tiles on
ceilings and walls to dampen the sound.
Learn more about Acoustic Comfort.