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Thermal Comfort Surveys - Post Occupancy, Part II
Copyright (c) 2012, Robert Bean, R.E.T., P.L.(Eng.) and content providers, All rights reserved

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I've selected two research reports to illustrate what many building occupants express when it comes to describing comfort and expressing discomfort. These reports are not isolated results but are representative of numerous other research reports conducted by recognized researchers in the field of indoor environmental quality.

In Frontczak 2012 Ph.D. thesis she submits a list of words occupants would use to describe comfort (Figure 1). Not surprisingly the top two aspects are intimately tied to one of only four fundamental forces of nature - that being electromagnetic energy in the form of light and heat; underlying once again that when architecture fails to address this fundamental force it fails most of the occupants. There are many aspect of the paper that I enjoyed but most of all I like how it illustrates that indoor environmental quality and worker performance is a multi faceted goal where indoor air quality does not serve as the sole surrogate for the term comfort as implied incorrectly by many in the building industry.



Figure 1. Ten most frequently used words in descriptions of aspects contributing to comfort.1


The International Facility Management Association (IFMA) has conducted many surveys of its members over the years and consistently thermal comfort comes in as the number one complaint as presented in Figure 2 (below). In an attempt to reduce energy consumption, IFMA discovered building managers have been more frequently adjusting thermostats up in summer and down in winter. Though this might reduce the run time of the heating and cooling system it has the effect of creating more discomfort for the tenants. Incidentally these are similar to many of the same complaints found in housing.


Figure 2. What type of HVAC complaints do you typically receive throughout the year?2


Additionally, occupants will take whatever time is necessary to do what ever is required to improve their thermal comfort with typical responses as shown in Figure 3. Now many might ask, "so what's the big deal?" Well the big deal is outside of supplemental clothing most attempts at resolving discomfort can destroy productivity, cause academic distractions and likely use more energy than intended and certainly some solutions cause over and under heating/cooling in other parts of the building. This compounds the problem in much the same way that an instrument or engine falls out of tune.



Figure 3. What do occupants do to adjust to thermal comfort issues?2


I've provided below just two of many examples from my photo album that illustrate what tenants/occupants will do to establish "thermal comfort". If you were the building manager or responsible for team productivity what would you say about the time wasted in these techniques to improve climate control? How many times do you think the bag of chilled water had to be replaced in an hour (Figure 4.)? What benefit did the wall paint job receive from a never ending dripping of condensate? What happens at a psychological level to the worker who must come in everyday to a makeshift air damper (Figure 5)? What happens to the property value when potential buyers see these solutions?



Figure 4. An occupant has place a bag of chilled water over the room sensor in an attempt to trick the HVAC control system into thinking it is actually cooler in the space than what is being measured...a response to over cooling a space.

Figure 5. An occupant has attempted to control air velocity and/or temperature in a space. Such actions is not uncommon and could cause imbalances in the system, i.e. even greater discomfort for someone else.


Figure 6. In case you haven't seen it all...Direct Energy presents "Energy Zombies: Thermostat Wars". This is one way to make light of the discomfort in peoples homes...evidently it's a big enough deal that it was worthy of a video from a distributor of energy services with over 6,000,000 customers. For me it reaffirms just how barbaric some consumers must become as a result of the building industry ignoring the fundamentals of IEQ and standing upon built to code buildings and programmable thermostats as an acceptable benchmark in construction and energy efficiency.



There can be no denying the results from poor architecture and HVAC systems. It matters not that the results of surveys come from commercial tenants or occupants of residential dwellings the impact is the same. As noted by
Frontczak, "there is a need to increase people’s awareness regarding the consequences of poor indoor environment on their health and for improving people’s knowledge on how to ensure a good indoor climate." This is in fact the essence of and the Journal of Indoor Environmental Quality.Where will your indoor climate system score?

My advice to consumers renovating or buying a new home and for those shopping for office space - do not rely on building codes for assurance that the indoor environment you are buying is suitable for your needs. The majority of inquiries we receive through our website are from people trying to resolve thermal comfort and energy complaints as described by the surveys shown above. Next in line are people building retirement homes that don't want a repeat of the last home they occupied (See: Where will your indoor climate system score?)

I know many of the position statements we make here at the site are lengthy but they are free and for a good reason. It behoves you to read them in detail and hopefully you'll understand why you should not be sticking your head in the sand when it comes to the indoor climate in your new building.

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  1. Frontczak, Monika: Human comfort and self-estimated performance in relation to indoor environmental parameters and building features, 2012.

  2. Temperature Wars: Savings vs. Comfort, International Facility Management Association (IFMA), 2009

Figure 1 notes

  1. a. e.g. headache, dry throat, dry or runny eyes, allergies

  2. b. smells detected, lack of air circulation

Related quotes

  1. "Marriage and family therapist Dr. Jane Greer says it’s (thermostat wars) as common as the fight over the remote control, but just as destructive as any big relationship issue." CBS New York, ‘Thermostat Wars’ Can Turn Up Heat On Relationships Doc: Find Middle Ground Or Risk Alienating A Significant Other

  2. "Knowing that they're saving money gives Paola Sandoval-Moshenberg, 32, some comfort as she shivers in her 65-degree home." Chicago Tribune, January 2011


  1. ASHRAE Standard 55, Thermal Environmental Conditions for Human Occupancy

  2. ISO 7730:2005, 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.

  3. ISO Standard 7933: Ergonomics of the thermal environment - Analytical determination and interpretation of heat stress using calculation of the predicted heat strain.

  4. ISO Standard 7726: Ergonomics of the thermal environment - Instruments for measuring physical quantities.

  5. Peffer, T., Thermostat Wars and other Tales from the Field, BECC 2102

Related reading:

Do I need an engineer? A Guide to HVAC/Indoor Climate Design Service Providers
Where will your indoor climate system score?
How to "ball park" your budget for indoor climate control.
Indoor environments: Self assessment
Built to code: What does it mean for consumer thermal comfort?
The Total Comfort System - The "Un-minimum" System
Thermal Comfort: A 40 grit perspective for consumers
Thermal Comfort: A Condition of Mind

Do-It-Yourself HVAC - Should you do it?
The Cost of HVAC Systems - Are You Paying Too Much for Downgrades?
Radiant Installations - The Good, Bad and Ugly
Thermal Comfort Surveys - Post Occupancy, Part I
Thermal Comfort Surveys - Post Occupancy, Part II

For additional support on this topic visit our visitor services page.

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