Recent concerns, including the COVID-19 pandemic, have shined light on the health and safety aspects of buildings and interiors, but another important aspect remains: building comfort. When it comes to the modern workplace, optimizing building comfort is crucial for ensuring employees are productive and satisfied, especially considering the increasing opportunities to work from home.
How Do We Measure Building Comfort?
The idea of building comfort is closely tied to indoor environmental quality (IEQ), “a generic term used to describe the physical and perceptual attributes of indoor spaces,” including indoor air quality, thermal comfort, and the visual and acoustic properties of a space. Not surprisingly, a lot goes into measuring building comfort, and air quality is one part of this process.
More specifically, a study on six U.S. federal workplaces reveals 10 aspects of building comfort that, when improved upon and optimized, can markedly increase occupant comfort. The results are summarized below.
|Factor||Percentage of reported improvement|
|Amount of light||17%|
Air quality tops the list alongside other factors like cleanliness and furniture adjustability, and working to improve any of the categories included in the chart can go a long way in improving the overall comfort of building occupants. Among these potential improvements are increasing natural light, installing comfortable, adjustable furniture, optimizing cleaning routines, and, of course, air quality monitoring.
4 IAQ and Environmental Parameters To Monitor To Ensure Building Comfort
When it comes to indoor air quality monitoring, we have many potential parameters we can choose to measure. So, what parameters are top priority for ensuring building comfort?
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) have implications for both physiological impacts and occupant perceptions of comfort. Exposure to VOCs, which can originate from building materials, furniture, flooring, and cleaners, can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat, as well as causing headaches and more serious long-term effects. Some VOCs also carry an odor, which can negatively affect perceived IEQ.
Carbon dioxide (CO2)
Indoor carbon dioxide levels, while certainly not a safety risk, do have consequences for building occupant comfort. Most indoor carbon dioxide comes from people as they exhale, and in smaller and less ventilated spaces, like meeting rooms, carbon dioxide can potentially accumulate. At slightly elevated levels (generally above 1000 ppm), occupants may feel more drowsy and find it more difficult to concentrate. At higher levels (between 2500 ppm and 5000 ppm), occupants may also get a headache and feel fatigued, creating additional discomforts and distractions.
Beyond physical effects, occupants may perceive indoor air to be ‘stuffy’ and ‘stale’ with elevated levels of CO2, which could lead to complaints or dissatisfaction.
Indoor particulate matter, as is the case outdoors, is an extremely important component of IEQ, mostly impacting air quality. Building occupants likely won’t experience direct discomfort from particulate matter like they will with VOCs or even carbon dioxide, unless the building is located in a wildfire-prone or pollution-heavy area, but because of serious impacts on health that can accumulate over short-term and long-term exposure, particulate matter is still a key determinant of building comfort.
Thermal comfort (temperature & relative humidity)
Temperature and humidity are two closely related parameters that, despite not normally relating to air quality, have close ties with building comfort. We’ve included these two parameters side-by-side, as relative humidity levels can affect the perceived temperature of a space.
Humans have specific ranges of temperatures and relative humidity (between 70 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit and between 30% and 50%, respectively) that are the most comfortable for living and working. Temperatures and humidity levels outside of these zones may affect employee performance and workplace satisfaction negatively, as the space feeling too dry, hot, humid, or cold could create distractions.
Building occupant comfort and indoor air quality monitoring are key components of any workplace wellness plan. Find out more with our dedicated article here!