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The Comfort Zone No.

by Maury Tiernan November, 1997
Geary Pacific Corporation Page 1 of 2

The Comfort Zone column appears regularly in the Modular Building Institutes Commercial Modular Construction Magazine


One of the important factors in heat load calculation is the people load. As a rule of thumb, we can use
400 Btuh/person for internal heat gains. A family of three sitting in a living room would then generate
1200 Btuh of heat, and 30 students sitting in a classroom would need one ton of cooling (12,000 Btuh) . . .
or maybe more.

Lets take a look at factors that would affect the people load. While our rule of thumb is a people load of
about 400 Btuh/person, this is only an average value for an adult male sitting at rest. Females average 340
Btuh and children average less (300 Btuh). Further, while an adult male at rest generates 400 Btuh of heat,
a child a play may create as much as a 1500 Btuh load. Note the ballpark figures in the chart below.


Application Sensible Latent Total Btuh
Homes and theaters 195 155 350
Offices and department stores 200 250 450
Classrooms 250 250 500
Restaurants 220 330 550
Light factory work 220 530 750
Moderate factory work 300 700 1000
Heavy factory work 465 985 1450

A person sleeping generates about 260 Btuh, when walking about 800 Btuh, and for heavy activity, such as
swimming, more than 2000 Btuh. Thus, a persons size, weight, age and sex (noun not verb), plus the
degree of physical activity, all affect the heat generation (metabolic) rate. As a result, all these facts
should be considered in order to choose appropriate heat gain values in HVAC design work.

Earlier we stated that 30 people could impose approximately a one ton cooling load. If those same people
were dancing they could generate a two ton load. How do HVAC systems handle that load ? They remove
the heat as people generate it. Lets now take a look at that process to better understand the impact of the
people load on the entire HVAC system and heat load calculations.

Have you ever thought about how heat naturally flows? Heat flows from a higher to a lower temperature.
The normal body temperature is 98.6 degrees F, and our normal inside room temperature is less than that,
(maybe 75 degrees F.) Thus heat flows from the person to the surroundings. A heating system does not
warm a person, but rather, it warms the room and allows the occupant to lose heat at a slower, more
comfortable rate. We feel warmer when our bodies loose heat at a slower rate.

Geary Pacific Corporation, 1908 N. Enterprise Street, Orange, CA 92865-4102. (800) 444-3279, Fax: (714) 279-2940
The Comfort Zone No. 14
by Maury Tiernan November, 1997
Geary Pacific Corporation Page 2 of 2

In air conditioning as well, the environment is maintained so that body heat can be rejected at a
comfortable rate. Have you ever known of two people in the same room, one is hot, one is cold ? Its the
difference in their metabolisms that causes them to feel differently in the same room.

Do you remember when your mother told you to close the door in the summer because you were letting all
the cold air out ? Not so. You were actually letting the heat in. Once the heat (energy) has infiltrated into
the house, how do we get rid of it ? We use the air conditioner (expansion and compression of refrigerant)
to absorb the heat via the indoor coil and reject it to the outside. That is why hot air blows off of the
outdoor coils in the summer.

Comfort really means: letting people lose heat in proportion to the rate at which they are generating it.

The other day I was asked to do a load calculation on a large church. Seating was fixed at 1000 occupants. The
church is located in the Phoenix Arizona desert. Besides collecting all the other load calculation data, I asked
about the religious denomination. Kind of an odd question, huh? Well, not really.

Some denominations are more active than others. Some pray sitting, and some pray at a higher activity level.
You may laugh, but if you do not ask some of these types of questions, it may be your church that gets shorted 17
tons of cooling capacity. Lets look at some further considerations and youll understand what I mean.

In addition to the activity of the occupants, we also need to consider how many times the doors will open. What
if the denomination has 4-5 services on Sunday mornings starting at 7AM, each lasting 1 hour, with a half-hour
between ? Thats 1000 people in and out. The people load in this church differs from the denomination with
only one service in the evening at 7 PM. Both have the same 1000 people in and out. The first example takes 65
tons of cooling, while the second requires 48 tons. The 17-ton difference is all due to the people factor. Heres
how we figure it. The First example has 2000 door openings every hour, 4-5 times, into the hottest part of the day
(120 degrees F) in Phoenix. The second example has 2000 door openings, once, at maybe 95 degrees F outside

The 17-ton difference between these two examples shows how important it is to learn as much as we can about
the occupants and their activity before calculating heat loads. In relocatable classrooms, consider: the age and
size of the students, the number students per class, how much activity they will be involved in while inside the
classroom, what time they go outside for recess and PE (during the hot or cool hours of the day ?), how many
door-openings and closings and the outside temperatures, and how much time the classroom is empty. All of this
and more can impact the Heat Load of the classroom. Plan for the worst case so the system can keep up.

Finally, some of you noticed I had sensible, latent, and total Btuh figures in the chart above. Curious about
why that is? For an explanation, you will have to wait till we meet next time in . . . The Comfort Zone.

Geary Pacific Corporation, 1908 N. Enterprise Street, Orange, CA 92865-4102. (800) 444-3279, Fax: (714) 279-2940