Fast Fixes for Thermal Comfort

Workers in office

Lastly, oversized equipment could be at the heart of the issue, Hammer observes. Many systems have been designed to make the building comfortable against the hottest and coldest conditions. But these only represent a handful of days each year, not your average thermal needs.

10 Fixes to Create a Happy Balance
Once you’ve identified how your building systems are falling short of thermal expectations, start with budget-friendly tweaks and work your way up to full replacements or redesigns if necessary. Try one of these 10 areas to secure improved comfort.

1)    Perform Basic Maintenance. Keeping up with preventive maintenance? Don’t let general upkeep fall behind. “You wouldn’t own a Bentley and have the cheapest mechanic work on it,” says Hammer. “If it’s not done correctly, HVAC can cost a lot of money in terms of asset depreciation, equipment degradation and energy inefficiency.”

2)    Install a Programmable Thermostat. Hammer suggests taking away temperature adjustments from occupants, particularly as they aren’t responsible for the energy bills. If a lock seems too dramatic, use a thermostat that can only be changed within a few degrees. This gives workers a reasonable amount of control but prevents the settings from getting out of hand.

3)    Look for Leaks. Are you positive that enough air flow is reaching occupied spaces? “Have a testing and balancing company review your system,” Brown recommends. “They will measure the air flow at the diffusers and compare it to what the fans are generating, looking for leakage between the two.” You might be able to resolve leaks by sealing up gaps in the ducts with a polymer, he adds.

4)    Evaluate Fan Speed. Is too much air coming out of your ductwork? Is it too noisy? If the fan is running too fast or there’s not enough distribution outlets, air velocity may be excessive and noise is distracting to occupants, Hammer explains. To remedy the issue, adjust the fan or add extra outlets.

5)    Use Automation. “A smarter system is a better system,” Brown says. “You’ll gain functionalitysuch as trending, automated scheduling and remote control.” Many dashboards can send alerts when a system’s operation has moved beyond the set points or there’s a failure, adds Hammer. This responsiveness will allow you to quickly resolve systematic issues that might otherwise go unnoticed without monitoring.

6)    Expand Control Points. Speaking of monitoring, how much insight do you have into your equipment performance? “Don’t cut any of your controls budget,” stresses Brown. Additionally, there are a host of data loggers and sensors that will measure temperature and humidity patterns, says Hammer. Compare the data to weather conditions to identify comfort disparities.

7)    Retrofit Windows. Upgrade single pane windows to double pane for added thermal resistance, advises Brown. Otherwise, a solar film can help reflect glare. Be mindful, however, of how much reflection you choose if some of that natural heat is needed in the winter.

8)    Tighten the Envelope. Target air infiltration between exterior walls and the roof. As an added benefit, you’ll reduce mold risk as moisture is using the same path to enter your building, Brown notes.

9)    Add Radiant Floor Heating. If you have a major renovation underfoot, consider a radiant heat system. They come with a higher upfront cost but are more effective at achieving comfort than conventional HVAC, Hammer says. They also afford the opportunity to create zones.

10)    Commission Continuously. Use ongoing commissioning on an annual basis or every 2-3 years, Brown stresses. This is especially important if you’ve added controls –
you want to confirm that measurements are accurate and schedules are followed.

As you make changes to improve thermal comfort, keep occupants in the loop. “HVAC is often a mystery to them as it’s hidden behind walls, above the ceiling, in the basement, or on the roof,” says Hammer. “Help them understand how you are working to make their space comfortable, efficient, and satisfactory.”

Jennie Morton is Senior Editor of BUILDINGS.

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