Updated: Nov 5, 2020
Improving Thermal Comfort at Home is important because:
Approximately 90% of our time is spent indoors, a number that is expected to rise due to COVID-19 shutdown(s) and work-from-home policies
Thermal Comfort requires the careful balance of six parameters (4 environmental + 2 personal): Air Temperature; Radiant Temperature; Air Velocity; Humidity; Clothing Insulation; and Metabolic Heat (HSE, 2020)
Our work productivity drops on average by about 5% when our space gets too hot or too cold due to poor temperature controls (pg. 133)
(Source: WELL v2, 2018)
A one-size-fits-all HVAC strategy is insufficient in creating a thermally comfortable environment for building occupants. Since thermal comfort is a “condition of [the] mind …[based on] subjective evaluation” (WELL v2, 2018, pg. 133), individual thermal comfort control is also needed to optimize our work productivity within a space.
Furthermore, our bodies need to maintain a temperature balance of 36 to 38 C so that our internal physiological processes can occur. This process is called homeostasis, which keeps our integumentary (hair, skin, nails), endocrine (hormonal glands and its production) and respiratory systems (lungs, airways, blood vessels) in balance (WELL v2, 2018, pg. 133).
With all the additional time we are now spending at home due to COVID-19, we should thus optimize our thermal comfortability for the benefit of our work performance and our physical, emotional and mental well-being as well.
Here are therefore 7 DIY Hacks for Improving Thermal Comfort at Home (from spatial control to the individual’s control) within a reasonable price range:
1) Survey your Occupants for Thermal Comfort and Discomfort issues
The goal of a Survey is to come up with a thermal comfort strategy on how to solve discomfort issues that are occurring at home.
This can be done verbally or through the observation of each occupant’s activity levels in regularly occupied spaces, their satisfaction level, their time of use, and other important parameters deemed worth quantifying.
Determine if these issues can be resolved through an HVAC routine check-up or by individualized thermal comfort solutions. If not, consider something more substantial like an architectural or mechanical intervention (Note: this DIY article focuses on the first two options only).
2) Perform a System Balance on your HVAC System
Cost: $100 / $200 per hour for work done or more
Contact your local and reputable mechanical duct cleaning company to conduct a system balancing, a process which ensures that the air from your HVAC system is distributed properly for each room in the house. Proper air flow ultimately impacts the effectiveness of the heating and cooling of your spaces.
Section 18.104.22.168 of the National Building Code of Canada states that an HVAC system should be able to maintain “an indoor air temperature of not less than 22°C (71.6°F) in all living spaces” (NBC, 2015), and should meet the requirements of ASHRAE Standard 55-2013 Thermal Environmental Conditions for Human Occupancy, which “specifies conditions for acceptable thermal environments and is intended for use in design, operation, and commissioning of buildings and other occupied spaces” (ASHRAE, 2020).
3) Purchase and install Temperature Sensors that monitor the Thermal properties of your spaces
Cost: $20 to $50
Knowing what the thermal properties are in your space in real-time allows you to adjust your thermostat effectively, while also saving you money on your energy bills.
According to WELL v2, install Temperature Sensors using the following guidelines:
Install one per floor OR one every 325 m2 [3,500 SF], whichever is more stringent
Horizontally: “...are positioned at least 1 m [3.3 ft] away from walls, windows, doors, direct sunlight, air supply diffusers, mechanical fans, heaters or any other significant source of heat or cold.” (WELL v2, 2018, pg.139)
Vertically: Sensors should be able to sample the below four parameters at a height of 1.1–1.7 m [3.6–5.6 ft] (WELL v2, 2018, pg.145)
Monitors the following thermal properties of a space:
1 - Dry-bulb temperature*
2 - Relative humidity**
3 - Air speed***
4 - Mean radiant temperature****
Displays the above on a display screen or via an App
4) Purchase and install a SMART Thermostat, one for each Thermal Zone
Cost: $100 to $300
SMART Thermostats are devices which connect to your home’s HVAC system that allows you to control the temperature of your space directly through its interface or via a SMART App.
The advantage they have over analog ones is that they allow you to adjust your HVAC system remotely even when you are not at home, through WIFI via a mobile device, such as your phone. This is the reason why SMART Thermostats, when used properly, can help you save at least 20% on your energy bills (Mr. Electric, 2020).
As recommended by WELL v2, install one Thermostat for every Thermal Zone, an area in the house in which one or more rooms share similar heating and cooling requirements. Refer to WELL v2 Feature T03 Thermal Zoning, Part 1 for more details.
5) Purchase a portable Heater & or Cooler Units
Cost: $50 to $500+ (duo-purpose & bladeless)
Individual thermal control is important because everyone’s temperature tolerance is different. When someone finds a space too warm, another may find it just right.
Purchase a portable heating or cooling unit so that it can be made use of when such scenarios arise at home.
6) Wear well-insulated Clothing materials
Cost: $40 (sweaters) to $150 (jackets)
Choose clothing materials that minimize heat loss that also have the capacity to prevent cold air from coming in. Fabrics such as wool from sheep, down from ducks / geese, or polyester fleece (a synthetic clothing fiber) are all great choices.
Water-resistance, weight of fabric and breathability of clothing are additional factors to consider. For example, down is a good insulation material and is lighter in weight when compared to wool, however it is inefficient in trapping heat when wet and thus requires a weatherproofing shell to make its use substantial.
7) Purchase Blankets
Cost: $30 to $70
Blankets are large woven fabric that allows one to keep warm by wrapping oneself with it to trap heat.
Purchase a standard wool blanket and it will keep you cozy throughout the colder months.
*Dry-bulb temperature - temperature without moisture in the air
**Relative humidity - percentage of moisture to air volume, relative to temperature
***Air speed - air movement at a specific location point and time, or as per ASHRAE 55, relative to the body
****Mean radiant temperature - the average thermal exchange through radiation between bodies in a space