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By David Walsh, CIM Founder and CEO

Anyone who has stepped inside a large building such as an office, museum, cinema or hospital, would have experienced an environment that is either too hot or too cold. 

An unsatisfactory thermal environment can make for an uncomfortable experience. It can also impact health and wellbeing, work productivity, and even patient recovery rates. 

The crazy thing about thermal comfort issues is that they are all avoidable. Secondly, the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems that create this excessive heating or cooling are also generating significantly higher carbon emissions than necessary. Not only are inefficiencies within our built environment impacting our own health and wellbeing, they are suffocating our planet too.

COVID-19 may have temporarily eased our thermal comfort woes while most of the buildings we use are partially closed, yet, as we plan our return to these spaces, the importance of achieving the right balance is now under a brighter spotlight. 

The complexities around thermal comfort

BS EN ISO 7730 defines thermal comfort as ‘…that condition of mind which expresses satisfaction with the thermal environment.’ It is achieved when a person feels neither too hot, nor too cold. Conditions such as temperature, humidity, air circulation and an individual’s personal factors such as clothing and metabolic rate all contribute to thermal comfort. Zones of what is too hot or too cold can vary between people, and thermal comfort requirements can vary between building types, and even different sections of that building.

Take a hospital for example. An operating theatre, waiting room and recovery ward all have different requirements around temperature, air circulation and ventilation to meet patient needs.

Thermal comfort is a critical element of successful building operations, particularly in health care facilities where it has a direct impact on patient care and in large buildings such as offices where people spend the majority of their day. 

Achieving optimal thermal comfort and operating healthy buildings, however, is not as simple as turning the temperature dial up or down in a panel on the wall. It all depends on HVAC system performance. 

Causes of thermal comfort issues

When a building is either too hot or too cold it is nearly always caused by a fault in the HVAC system for that building, which is designed to control temperature, humidity, air quality and circulation. 

Thermal comfort issues could be caused by any number of scenarios such as a mechanical design flaw in the HVAC system or poorly programmed control logic within a building management system (BMS). 

It could even be as simple as a faulty sensor reading the temperature to be 25 degrees when it is in fact only 21 degrees. Or a sensor being placed too high in the ceiling where hot air rises, rather than around head level, causing it to read a higher temperature than what is actually felt. 

In these scenarios, the sensors or faulty equipment prompt the HVAC system to blast more hot or cold air to the area than is required, resulting in unhappy tenants, time-consuming complaints and excessively high energy bills. 

To resolve thermal comfort complaints, you need to be able to quickly establish the root cause of the issue. Yet this can be as challenging as finding a needle in a haystack. HVAC systems often comprise hundreds if not thousands of pieces of equipment. Without technology that can scan all of this system equipment and pinpoint the issue, a person could take days or weeks to work out what has gone wrong.  

As business resumes, optimising thermal comfort is critical 

The health and safety risks associated with being inside shared spaces is on everybody’s mind as we slowly start returning to the office, eating at restaurants, using the gym and visiting the cinema and museums. 

Now, more than ever, building operators need to be in control of thermal comfort conditions and capable of quickly fixing any system issues before they turn into complaints. The risks are too high to be complacent.

For example, if an indoor environment starts to feel too hot or cold or too stuffy or humid, it won’t be long before people wonder if the building in question is making them sick. Customers might then be reluctant to return to their local shopping centre or food court, paying tenants with expensive office leases will start demanding better from their landlords or go elsewhere, and trust will erode between operators of buildings and those who visit, use or work in them.

To appease concerns and restore building operations, landlords need to be on the front foot to prove they are doing everything possible to protect the wellbeing of their tenants and customers. And the only way they can do that is by having complete visibility and control over their HVAC system. 

How CIM can help

Building analytics platforms such as PEAK monitor thermal comfort conditions across all zones, floors and tenancies of a building in real time. The platform automatically identifies and flags which areas of a building do not fall within a desired thermal comfort range and diagnoses the root cause or piece of equipment causing the issue. 

PEAK notifies the facility manager of the issue and how to resolve it while also alerting the vendor or contractor responsible for fixing it, enabling the resolution of issues before they become tenant complaints or costly energy bills. 

Across Asia Pacific, the UK and Ireland, PEAK reads 100 million thermal data points from customer buildings. We help some of the world’s largest building operators successfully manage thermal comfort across their sites, and we’re already noticing a growing interest in building analytics as more people start to realise the hidden value in properly managing thermal comfort.

Get in touch with our experts if you are looking for tailored advice or support on optimising thermal comfort across your portfolio.