Building better is not only about avoiding problems, it should also be about creating positively pleasurable and healthy living places. Comfort is about the physical environment in its totality. The issues which are most obviously associated with comfort are:
Temperature Humidity Noise Light Smell Temperature and Humidity:
Human beings operate and feel better whenthey are at temperatures which arecomfortable. It is now well understood thatin the workplace, accidents increase astemperatures go outside the zone of 16 to24°C. However temperature is also stronglylinked to humidity levels as regards comfortas the chart below indicates.
In the section on health, controlling humidityand temperature was seen as a method ofcontrolling pollutants . Interestingly thelevels of humidity and temperature whichare most healthy are also the mostcomfortable. There is no conflict betweenhealth and comfort.
In addition to temperature and humidity, acoustic isolationis also very important for comfort. There were 313,000complaints in England and Wales to Environmental HealthOfficers about domestic noise disturbance in 2004, up from155,000 in 1999 and from only 31,000 in 1980 . As a resultof the growing number of complaints and the potentiallitigation arising from these, building regulations haveconsiderably improved acoustic insulation requirementssince 2002. Testing is now mandatory if robust details arenot used. However there are still a number of problemareas, and many building systems which have beendesigned for good thermal performance will notnecessarily be good from an acoustic point of view. Thisapplies particularly to lightweight structures. Certain typesof thermal insulation can actually be bad for acousticinsulation, by increasing noise reverberation and flankingsound .
The point to note withregard to acoustics is thatthis is all about getting theshell of the building right inthe first instance. It isextremely difficult, if notimpossible to retrofit properacoustic performance.
Lighting can have either a positiveor negative effect on health andwell being. The effects may be feltimmediately or only in the longterm. There are four types ofeffect: light as radiation, lightacting through the visual system,light acting through the circadiansystem and light as a purifier.
Generally natural daylight is understood tobe beneficial both to health and well being.Maximising good daylight in housing istherefore an important consideration. Gooddaylight means levels of daylight which aresufficient to see properly without glare orexcessive contrast. Too much direct sun canactually cause discomfort and ill health,particularly with highly reflective surfaces.
On the other hand darkness is also animportant source of wellbeing. Our bodiesrequire a regular cycle of light and darknessfor both physical and mental health.Bedrooms need to be dark and quiet for mostpeople to receive proper rest.Psychologically it is also important that theoutside is also dark, wherever possible. Lightpollution is now a commonly acceptedproblem in many built up areas.
Building better means taking the quality oflighting, particularly natural daylighting,seriously. It is not just the conservatory onthe back of the house, but a strategy for thewhole house, to bring in good natural lightwithout glare, too much contrast oroverheating. This also saves energy andmoney.
As regards artificial lighting, issues of radiation,glare, contrast, and flicker are all crucial for healthand comfort. Although lighting is an importantconsideration from an energy point of view, healthand comfort should not be sacrificed for low energystrategies. From both an energy and a financial pointof view this is short sighted, as ill health and lack ofwell being have huge environmental and financialconsequences. However just as with humidity andtemperature, with proper understanding and gooddesign there is no conflict between energy and healthin the area of lighting. A strategy to maximise thebenefits of daylight, along with well designed lowenergy lighting will provide the best solution forhealth and comfort and the lowest impact on theenvironment.
Substances that enter the nasal cavity maybe sensed either by the olfactory senses orby the limbic system. The first is responsiblefor odour detection, the second is sensitiveto irritants. On the whole people adapt toodours relatively quickly, whereas irritantscan get worse the longer exposure continues.Furthermore many of the irritants are atlevels where they are not detectable asodours.
On the whole when building well, theobjective should be to eliminate odours andair borne irritants of all kinds. There aresome “natural” paints and other decoratingmaterials which utilise natural essences suchas citrus oil. The pleasant smell is often seenas a selling point, but it should be noted thatmany people have extreme allergic reactionsto citrus essence, and furthermore that itwill react as a VOC with other chemicals toproduce low level ozone, which is a dangerto asthmatics and those with respiratoryproblems.
The main ways of dealing with odours are outlined in the TM40 document in order of importance as follows: Eliminate contaminants at source Substitute with sources that produce non- toxic or less malodorous contaminants Reduce emission rates of contaminants Segregate occupants from potential sources of toxic or malodorous substances Improve ventilation Provide personal protection
It is obvious from this that the mostimportant strategy is reduction of theproblem at source. From a building point ofview this means the use of non- odoroussubstances wherever possible, ie materialswithout VOCs, which are commonly used inmany paints, glues, composite products,preservatives etc.
It may also be noted that certain types ofmaterial and certain types of constructionare able to absorb odours and neutralisethem. In particular unfired clay products (asused in boards, blocks and plasters) andprotein based products such as sheepswool(as used in carpets, furnishings, andinsulation) have proven absorptive qualities.