User control creates the best indoor climate with the least energy consumed.

Jan Vilhelm Bakke, Phd, Consultant to the Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority

 We want to decide for ourselves. Mastery and control of temperature, ventilation and lighting is necessary to create the most satisfactory conditions indoors.

In order to deal with the greenhouse effect, we must in the next few decades reduce greenhouse gas emissions by four fifths.  Buildings account for about two fifths of total emissions. The use of energy in both new and existing buildings, and in the built environment, must therefore be significantly reduced. Most buildings are either living space or work space for humans. Fortunately, there is rapid development within energy efficient and sustainable technology in the form of low-energy, passive-energy and positive-energy houses. Positive-energy houses can in their lifespan produce more resources than they use. The development of modern solid wood technology makes it possible to remove CO2 from the global system of circulation in the course of a construction process, rather than adding more by utilising energy demanding building technology and materials.

Buildings are made for people – not for low energy use. Many efficiency measures are good for your health, while others can be downright harmful. The efficiency measures that are good for your health are also those resulting in the best overall economy (WHO 2011). A healthy indoor climate is a human right, which requires the coordination of public health and energy politics (WHO 2000). Unnecessary and costly mistakes will be made as long as research and development within the building, energy and environmental sectors is conducted without considering the health perspective. A recent and very costly example in Norway is the lack of daylight and view in several new, large schools built using compact building design.

Modern control technologies and standards for indoor climate create good opportunities for the automatic optimisation of indoor climates. But we are all different, both physiologically and psychologically, and we have different needs when it comes to temperature, ventilation, light and sound, in addition to a fundamental wish to be in control of these things. This is also apparent in many of the standards. The mastery and control of our own life is essential in the promotion of health and well-being. This need includes the ability to control the elements composing the climate of the places in which we dwell. If we are too cold, too hot, exposed to uncomfortable draughts or poor air quality we try to correct the conditions.

When about to get in the car on a cold winter morning we begin by dressing appropriately for the outside temperature before leaving the house. We then turn the seat warmer and the heating on full. When we are comfortably warm we suddenly notice that the warm airflow on our faces is unpleasant, immediately turning it down so that it is cooler than that warming our feet. The air quality is immediately improved. Being able to do this quickly and effectively is important to us, and we function better in traffic when it can be regulated efficiently. We also know that this reduces the risk of inattention, mistakes and traffic accidents.

Buildings cannot provide a perfect indoor climate. However, the buildings of the future can provide the user with effective opportunity to create a good indoor climate that promotes health, well-being and productivity with low energy consumption.

The question is how many unnecessary dead-ends we need to explore before reaching that goal. Professor Yi Jiang at the Building Energy Research Centre at Tsinghua University in Beijing has studied cutting edge, advanced, highly insulated buildings with central control and full automation and less sophisticated buildings where the user is in control. The most important feature according to his studies, considering both contentedness and energy efficiency, was the user’s ability to control the indoor climate.

The user wants

  • the opportunity to open and close windows

  • the ability to regulate heating/cooling installations rather than to set a temperature

  • to turn the light off and on himself

  • to regulate the sunshade installations

  • to control ventilation by the available means

 

If this is not facilitated, the user nonetheless employs the required energy and resources to gain control. Buildings and installations therefore need to be made simple, user-friendly and effective enough to satisfy the user.

There are too many examples of temperature, ventilation/windows, lighting, sunshade etc being directed automatically, depriving the users of the control of their environments. This creates alienation, irritation and frustration. It is also an important cause of failure to meet projected energy goals. The responsible “experts” often consider this to be the fault of the users. Common examples are that users “break the rules” by bringing their own heaters when cold and “misuse” the facilities by opening windows and doors in order to get sufficient ventilation.

Listen to the users and implement available knowledge about what creates a good indoor climate, health and well-being. Follow them up over time and learn from their experiences and behaviours.

 

References:

Nicol FJ. Adaptive comfort. Building Research & Information 2011; 39: 105-107

WHO 2000. The right to healthy indoor air. http://www.euro.who.int/document/e69828.pdf

WHO 2011. Health in the green economy: http://www.who.int/hia/green_economy/en/index.html

Xia et al. Front. Energy Power Eng. China 2010, 4: 22–34.

Yi Jiang. Healthy Buildings 2012
 
Zhang et al. Front. Energy Power Eng. China 2010, 4: 2–21.

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