- Project plans
- Project activities
- Legislation and standards
- Industry context
- Specialist wikis
Last edited 02 Mar 2023
Thermal comfort in buildings
When people are dissatisfied with their thermal environment, not only is it a potential health hazard, it also impacts on their ability to function effectively, their satisfaction at work, the likelihood they will remain a customer, and so on.
BS EN ISO 7730 defines thermal comfort as '…that condition of mind which expresses satisfaction with the thermal environment.', i.e. the condition when someone is not feeling either too hot or too cold.
The human thermal environment is not straight forward and cannot be expressed in degrees. Nor can it be satisfactorily defined by acceptable temperature ranges. It is a personal experience dependent on a great number of criteria and can be different from one person to another within the same space.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) suggest that an environment can be said to achieve 'reasonable comfort' when at least 80% of its occupants are thermally comfortable. This means that thermal comfort can be assessed by surveying occupants to find out whether they are dissatisfied with their thermal environment.
 Factors influencing thermal comfort
The velocity of the air that a person is in contact with (measured in m/s). The faster the air is moving, the greater the exchange of heat between the person and the air (for example, draughts generally make us feel colder).
The temperature of a persons surroundings (including surfaces, heat generating equipment, the sun and the sky). This is generally expressed as mean radiant temperature (MRT, a weighted average of the temperature of the surfaces surrounding a person, which can be approximated by globe thermometer) and any strong mono-directional radiation such as radiation from the sun.
 Relative humidity (RH)
The ratio between the actual amount of water vapour in the air and the maximum amount of water vapour that the air can hold at that air temperature, expressed as a percentage. The higher the relative humidity, the more difficult it is to lose heat through the evaporation of sweat.
Clothes insulate a person from exchanging heat with the surrounding air and surfaces as well as affecting the loss of heat through the evaporation of sweat. Clothing can be directly controlled by a person (i.e. they can take off or put on a jacket) whereas environmental factors may be beyond their control.
In addition, thermal comfort will be affected by whether a thermal environment is uniform or not. For example, draughts and heaters can create a scorched face / frozen back effect and hot feet/cold head and hands effect.
'Thermal alliesthesia' goes beyond this, proposing that the hedonic qualities of the thermal environment (qualities of pleasantness or unpleasantness, or 'the pleasure principle') are determined as much by the general thermal state of the subject as by the environment itself.
In its simplest form, cold stimuli will be perceived as pleasant by someone who is warm, whilst warm stimuli will be experienced as pleasant by someone who is cold. Introducing a spatial component to this, it can for example be pleasurable to wrap cool hands around a warm mug. See Thermal pleasure in the built environment for more information.
Adaptability is a more general factor that might be included as a personal factor as it is related to how specific people adapt to thermal changes in order to feel more comfortable. In many ways it might also be considered as an environmental or better still contextual factor because it also considers historical factors and external factors. The concept is based on adaptive comfort theory, which suggests humans can adapt humans adapt to a wide range of thermal conditions and comfort depends on a wider range of factors, such as historical context (recent temperatures,) current outdoor conditions, as well as what might be described as environmental psychological, cultural or personal preferences which can include the level of personal control and individual feels they have over their immediate environment.
CIBSE define adaptive thermal comfort model being based on "the principle that an individual's thermal expectations and preferences are determined by their experience of recent (outdoor) temperatures and a range of contextual factors, such as their access to environmental controls."
- Furniture: The furniture in a space can affect the thermal comfort by producing air paths that can focus draughts into occupied areas. The seating can also have an effect on the heat losses from the occupants due to the added insulation afforded by the seat and back of the seating installed.
- Age: The age of the occupants has an effect on the activity levels and heat produced and for buildings with children in them, their ages will affect the overall surface area and therefore the total heat into the occupied area.
- Personal preference: People have personal preferences for thermal comfort – not everyone will have the same level of comfort in the same environment, even if personal factors such as activity and clothing levels are the same. Also, when occupants are able to adjust environmental factors such as temperature and air speed, they feel more satisfied with their environment that when these factors are adjusted automatically, even if the effect on actual temperature and air speed is the same. This is an important factor which is often neglected in the design and management of buildings.
It states: 'Where it is not possible to achieve ideal thermal comfort conditions, for example where the process taking place in a space requires a very low or very high temperature, mitigation strategies can be taken such as providing personal protective equipment (PPE), scheduling breaks and providing water.'
 Controlling thermal comfort
- Environmental monitoring and control (automated or user-controlled systems, active systems such as heating and cooling and passive systems such as shading). NB: User-controlled systems require that users are properly trained.
- Adapting or changing clothing. Businesses can allow people to wear different clothing depending on conditions. They can also provide things like cloak rooms or lockers so that people can change clothes or take off and put down coats. The golden rule is layering, generally 3 layers, and use zips and buttons to regulate temperature.
- Allowing flexible working hours or changing start and finish times.
- Adjusting tasks. For example, allowing breaks or reducing the length of time people are exposed to particular conditions.
- Providing information telling people what sort of conditions to expect so that they can dress and behave appropriately.
- Providing or allowing personal equipment such as desk fans.
- Separating people from sources of discomfort. For example, putting heat generating equipment such as ICT equipment in separate rooms, insulating pipes, preventing draughts and so on. NB: Draughts can be caused by high local surface temperature differences even in a space where there is no air infiltration – for example, a cold down-draught near a window.
- Providing protective clothing (PPE Personal Protective Equipment). This should be a last resort option.
 Predicting thermal comfort
There are a great number of techniques for estimating likely thermal comfort, including; effective temperature, equivalent temperature, Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT), resultant temperature and so on, and charts exist showing predicted comfort zones within ranges of conditions.
PMV and PPD were developed by Professor Ole Fanger based on research undertaken at Kansas State University and the Technical University of Denmark. Research was carried out to find out if people felt comfortable in different conditions and this was used to develop equations that would predict comfort. The equations take into account; air temperature, mean radiant temperature, air movement, humidity, clothing and activity level.
Where non-uniform conditions exist, multiple assessments may be necessary, and in complex environments, Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) analysis may be necessary to accurately assess thermal comfort.
NB BREEAM UK New Construction, Non-domestic Buildings (United Kingdom), Technical Manual, SD5078: BREEAM UK New Construction 2018 3.0, published by BRE Global Limited suggests that: 'In BS EN ISO 7730:2005: Ergonomics of the thermal environment. Analytical determination and interpretation of thermal comfort, thermal comfort is defined using the calculation of PMV and PPD indices and local thermal comfort criteria. It is also defined as ‘that condition of mind which expresses satisfaction with the thermal environment.’ The term ‘thermal comfort’ describes a person’s psychological state of mind and is usually referred to in terms of whether someone is feeling too hot or too cold. Thermal comfort is difficult to define because it needs to account for a range of environmental and personal factors in order to establish what makes people feel comfortable. HSE considers 80% of occupants as a reasonable limit for the minimum number of people who should be thermally comfortable in an environment. The purpose of this issue is to encourage appropriate and robust consideration of thermal comfort issues, and specification of appropriate occupant controls to ensure both maximum flexibility of the space and thermal comfort for the majority of building occupants.'
It also suggests that: 'Thermal comfort analysis tools can be subdivided into a number of methods of increasing complexity. The most complex of these and the one that provides greatest confidence in results is the full dynamic model. This type of model enables annual heating or cooling loads, overheating risks and control strategies to be assessed.'
The Approved Code of Practice (Workplace health, safety and welfare. Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992. Approved Code of Practice ) suggests a minimum temperature of 16 degrees Celsius, or 13 degrees Celsius if work involves severe physical effort. However, these are only guidelines.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) previously defined thermal comfort in the workplace, as: '…roughly between 13°C (56°F) and 30°C (86°F), with acceptable temperatures for more strenuous work activities concentrated towards the bottom end of the range, and more sedentary activities towards the higher end.'
- Adaptive thermal comfort.
- BREEAM Thermal comfort.
- Cold stress.
- Comfort in low energy buildings.
- Evolving opportunities for providing thermal comfort.
- Healthy excursions outside the thermal comfort zone.
- Heat stress.
- Heating degree days.
- Indoor air velocity.
- Maximum and minimum workplace temperatures.
- Excess cold.
- Mean radiant temperature.
- Operative temperature.
- Predicted percentage dissatisfied.
- Predicted mean vote.
- Preventing overheating.
- Psychometric charts.
- Retrofit and traditional approaches to comfort.
- Sling psychrometer.
- Tempering heating.
- Thermal comfort and wellbeing.
- Thermal environment.
- Thermal pleasure in the built environment.
- Thermal indices.
 External references
- Adaptive Thermal Comfort: Foundations and Analysis; M.Humphreys, F.Nicol and S.Roaf. Jan 2016 ISBN: 978-0-415-6916-1.
- BS EN ISO 9888:2001 Evaluation of thermal strain by physiological measurements
- BS EN ISO 7730 Ergonomics of the thermal environment. Analytical determination and interpretation of thermal comfort using calculation of the PMV and PPD indices and local thermal comfort criteria)
- BS EN ISO 10551 Ergonomics of the thermal environment. Assessment of the influence of the thermal environment using subjective judgement scales
- Thermal comfort, Andris Auliciems and Steven V. Szokolay, 2007.
- Types of building services.
Featured articles and news
Q and A with self-representing artist, Hannah Shergold.
And publishes three-year strategic plan.
Introducing changes to make it more effective from 2024.
Shortlist announced for 2023 public choice award vote.
The last of the Victorians. Book review.
An exotic name that is shrouded in mystery.
Fropm practice to research and the business of materials.
Terms, histories, theories and practices.
Alteration and everything else before demolition.
And CIOB's response.
Presidential update from CIAT's Eddie Weir PCIAT.
Rates freeze, NI cuts, full expensing; early election?
Could this be a remedy for condensation, damp or mould?
Unlocking a Healthier Tomorrow
Call for ministerial group and National Retrofit Delivery Plan.