Thermal Comfort: A Battle of the Sexes

Thermal Comfort: A Battle of the Sexes

Is your office too hot? Too cold? Your gender may determine how you answer this question. New research indicates that most commercial HVAC systems were optimized using an outmoded, 1960’s thermal comfort model based on the average 40-year old, 154-lb man. It worked (sort of) because most people in the 1960’s workforce were men. In 2015, however, the average 40-year old man weighs about 180 pounds, and 2 out of 3 women work. Trust me when I tell you that NOBODY is happy with the office temperature anymore!

The search for true thermal comfort

When we are uncomfortable at work, we naturally tend to turn to heating and cooling alternatives – fans, window air conditioners, space heaters, humidifiers, dehumidifiers and similar appliances. These items consume a lot of energy, but don’t get us much closer to “thermal comfort.” Worse, those extra gadgets may cost a lot of extra cash, goof up the overall office climate control, and decrease productivity all at the same time!

Unfortunately, the path to thermal comfort isn’t just adjusting the thermostat. A whole host of factors, like air temperature, relative humidity, radiant temperature and air circulation all factor into thermal comfort. And then there are factors that are completely unique to the individual – like resting metabolic rate, blood flow, variations in body fat and clothing, which no HVAC system can really account for.

So with all of these variables, how can you possibly make everyone in the office happy? Well, mathematically speaking, you can’t. According to standards established by ANSI and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), your HVAC system is doing a fine job if its making only 10% of the people in your office unhappy at any given time.

An HVAC system can’t take into account the variations in radiant temperature, relative humidity and air circulation that may occur around the office during the course of a day. Sun shining on one part of the building may not only raise the air temperature in that section, but also heat up carpets, walls and furniture – which then raises the radiant temperature in that area and changes the magic formula for thermal comfort. Outside air leaks, water leaks, open windows or a large number of people working in one area may raise the relative humidity of just one spot in the office, while other spaces may be bone dry.

Low humidity can be just as much of a problem in the search for thermal comfort! A relative humidity of 30% (which is pretty dry) when combined with the seemingly average temperature of 68° F will feel downright cold to most employees. Inching up the temperature to a generous 70° F will still leave 40% of your employees wearing their jackets. To please 95% of the people in this environment, you’d have to crank up the thermostat to a whopping 77° F, which will certainly cause the CFO to come storming out of his or her office. On the other hand, if you increased the relative humidity of the space to about 50%, you could lower the temperature to 72° F and put yourself into the running for Manager of the Year.

You can find a fun, little graphical tool that illustrates the challenges of balancing the thermal comfort variables here.

So which HVAC solution gets you closest to genuine thermal comfort? A ductless mini-split system can help you control temperature, radiant temperature, air circulation and relative humidity in different zones in your office (or home). Having more control over what goes into making people feel comfortable means that you can create a more comfortable and productive work environment for everyone.

The adjustable nature of ductless systems means that you can counteract the sun on the south side of the office without making the north side of the office too cold. You can also adjust for changes in air circulation and humidity throughout the office. Since each ductless unit has its own controls and serves just one zone, everyone can experience the joy of thermal comfort.

The best news is that the same things that go into making your office feel comfortable or uncomfortable work at home, too. A ductless heating and cooling system can help you feel better and give you exact control of your home environment!

For more information about ductless heating and cooling for businesses or homes, please contact us at New England Ductless at (781) 995-2665.

Photo Credit: Mitsubishi