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“You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”
The poet John Lydgate probably wasn’t referring to workplace temperature control, but there may be no better way of describing the challenge of maintaining a perfect environment in modern buildings.
Everyone experiences thermal conditions differently, and there is no simple definition of what is "too hot" or "too cold." The aim, when taking a holistic approach to building design, is to consider all the factors that affect thermal comfort, and apply that knowledge to make the majority of people comfortable for the majority of the time. In the second of a series of articles exploring the WELL Building standard, we look at how thermal conditions affect performance, and what we can do to find a better balance in every indoor environment.
Buildings in the United Kingdom are designed to retain heat, because we experience cold winters. Many are made of brick, which can store heat and gradually release it over a period of days or weeks. But our summers are getting warmer and our buildings are increasingly failing to keep us comfortable during and after heatwaves.
A study conducted at Shanghai Jiao Tong University found there is a 4 percent drop in staff performance when an office is too cold. The impact is even greater if it is too hot, when there is a 6 percent drop in performance.
But the effects go further, as uncomfortable conditions can lead to health risks. Apart from the risk of sick building syndrome, people might take shortcuts to avoid areas that are too cold. They may not wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) if they are too hot, and the likelihood of mistakes increases when concentration is affected by the environment.