What is Comfort?
When you think of how you want to feel in your home, you probably think, “I want to be comfortable”. That is how you want to feel when you first enter your home and how you want to feel as you move through the day and evening in your home. But what does being comfortable in your home actually feel like? Let’s take a look at what it means to achieve a home in which you feel comfortable.
The first thing that might come to mind is your thermal comfort; not being too hot or too cold. Thermal comfort is the composite of many factors: How well insulated is your house? Is your house drafty? Do you get a lot of sunlight through your windows? What are the surfaces in your house made of? (They can either retain or reflect heat.) What types of clothes do you like to wear in your house? All of these factors add up to how thermally comfortable you feel in your house.
The next comfort factor is noise. Imagine living next to a busy street where you hear traffic going by day and night. Hearing all that noise will probably make you feel pretty uncomfortable in your home. Noises that make you uncomfortable can come from within your home too. Someone watching TV in one room might make it hard for you to read a book in the next room. Your air ducts might be so loud you can’t concentrate on your work. Or you might be awake all night because of traffic noise outside. Noise can be a nuisance and is a big factor in the comfort level of your house.
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The final comfort factor we will address is smell. It goes without saying that a smelly house is not pleasant. It could be from garbage that needs to be taken out, or the lingering smell of last night’s dinner. Bad smells can come from household chemical cleaners, mold growth, and furniture. These smells can be a distraction in your day and could even cause headaches and other feelings of sickness.
How is our health affected when comfort is not addressed?
- Unwanted noise can cause stress. According to the WELL Building Standard, ‘Studies show that individuals exposed to traffic noise have a higher risk for diabetes, stroke and heart attack, and those exposed to road traffic and aircraft noises have a higher risk for hypertension.’
- Our mood is affected by noise, lack of thermal comfort and smells. If you are cold, hot, listening to unpleasant sounds, or smelling unpleasant smells, you are probably going to be irritable or even angry.
- Unwanted noise, smells, and thermal conditions can be a distraction and lead to being unproductive.
- Being too hot or too cold can lower your motivation level. Who wants to exercise when it’s excessively hot or get out of bed in the morning when the air is freezing?
- Thermal and noise discomfort can lead to lack of sleep.
- Physical conditions such as headaches and damage to ears can be caused by noise and smell issues.
How can we fix it?
Thermal comfort is very individualized since everyone feels comfortable at a different temperature. But there are many things that can be done to keep your house at your desired temperature. These design techniques will also keep your energy bills low. Win Win.
Properly insulating your home will keep cool air in and warm air out (or vice versa in the winter). Insulation is required on the foundation, the walls and the roof of your home. Think of it as wrapping your house in a giant sweater.
After you insulate your home, you want to wrap it in an air barrier. This is like putting a wind jacket over the giant sweater on your house. Your know you stay warmer when it’s cold and windy outside when you have a wind breaker. Your house needs the same thing to control air movement through the exterior walls.
Natural ventilation allows you to control air movement through your house. This means that you are opening windows so that breezes can come in. The best way to design for natural ventilation is to allow cross breezes through the house. Placing operable windows on opposite sides of the home creates a pathway for air to travel through your house, making you feel cooler.
Thermal mass is the approach of using building materials that retain heat to help heat and cool interior spaces. Imagine you have a large stone fireplace in the middle of your living room. Every day, sun comes in through a window and hits the fireplace. The stones soak up all the warmth from the sun’s rays during the day, and then releases the heat at night when the air is cooler. This design technique works well in both the winter and summer.
- An assessment needs to be done of the surrounding properties to understand what the noise levels are and what possible noise issues will be.
- Place quiet rooms away from noise sources. If your home is going to built on a busy street, put bedrooms and home offices on the opposite side of the house, away from the traffic. Sleep disruption and distracted work days have a profound impact on your health and productivity.
- Window selection: Sometimes noisy exterior sites are unavoidable. It might be necessary to specify noise reduction windows for sound control.
- Create Quiet and Noisy Zones: Group rooms together that share similar noise levels. A playroom might be better placed next to a kitchen than a home office, and a TV room shouldn’t be right next door to a bedroom.
- Placement of Mechanical Room: Mechanical systems can make noise. Placing mechanical rooms away from living and sleeping areas will reduce the opportunity for noise to reach living and bedrooms.
- Selection of Mechanical System: Ducted mechanical systems can be noisy. If you want to use a ducted system in your home, be sure to have it properly designed so that noise is minimized.
Separate Garage from House:
There are a few reasons to physically detach your garage from your house, but one important reason is to keep any garage smells, like exhaust and chemical smells, out of your home. Think of all the smelly things that are stored in a garage. The further you can separate your garage from your living spaces, the better. If you can’t have your garage physically detached, create an air tight barrier between the garage and the house to stop any of the smells from entering your home.
Bathroom exhaust fans are in your bathroom to move moisture out of the house, but they also work great at moving smells out of the house. So don’t forget about the bathroom exhaust!
If you have a well-ventilated bathroom, you shouldn’t have to worry too much about bad smells traveling out of the bathroom to other parts of the house, but it is a good thing to consider where you are placing the bathroom. Keeping it away for living spaces and closer to utility spaces like a laundry room provides a nice separation for the bathroom user and the other occupants in the house.
No one likes smelling like last night’s dinner which is why kitchen exhaust fans should be in your home and should be used whenever you cook.
Mold is smelly. Properly building the exterior envelope of your house so that water doesn’t leak in and providing a way for any sneaky, intrusive water to get back out is the first step to keep mold growth out of your home. Proper mechanical ventilation is also necessary for mold prevention in an air tight house.
Don’t Use Chemical Cleaners:
Chemical cleaners like bleach and Lysol release harmful toxins into the air and have a strong, harsh odor. The chemicals cause headaches, chest discomfort and eye, nose and throat irritation. Avoid these chemical cleaners and use natural, eco-friendly alternatives.
If you have to have chemicals on your property, find a place to store them that is not in the conditioned space of your home. If there is no air barrier between you and the chemicals then you and your family are breathing in those harmful chemicals all the time. Store chemicals outside of the home in a storage shed or detached garage.