Construction Design-Comfort

Comfort is a word that gets used a lot to describe how your body feels. When used in the building industry, I often relate it to temperature and humidity. Lately, I’ve realized it can be much more. Though I’m just discovering this concept, others have known about it for a long time. This week’s blog is all about being comfortable.

A comfortable feeling new home.

A definition for comfort is “a state of physical ease and freedom from pain and constraint.”  My mind has always wrapped around comfort as the “physical ease from pain” part of the definition.  (Being too hot or cold can be considered pain.)  Temperatures of 68°to 72° and humidity levels of around 50%. (When it comes to humidity, most of us can’t tell what the humidity level is unless it is very high or low.  30%to 70% is our sweet spot.)  As I’m writing this, I am not comfortable.  The outside temperature is 25° F and the indoor temp is around 66° F. (It’s colder in my office.) According to my hygrometer, the indoor humidity is under 30%.  The home I am currently renting has a crawl space that is more connected to the outside than inside, and that is where the furnace is located.  Ductwork is not sealed causing air from the crawlspace, which is cool and has less water vapor to mix with air inside the home, which is one of the factors for the low humidity level.  Last winter I saw humidity levels in the teens.  The floors are cold, which further reduces comfort…the “physical ease from pain” of this home is not good.

Let’s move to another concept of comfort-visual.  Your impression of how a space looks can also be comfortable.  I think we have all been in a home that just “feels” right.  The colors, textures, size and proportions all work in such a way to make us feel good.  Instagram has opened my eyes to just how many very talented people work in the construction industry.  From the architects and designers to the floor covering specialists and painters and everyone in between, so many people work hard to make a space look good.  Back to the place I’m renting, someone tried, but between design and execution, didn’t quite get there.  The home has several spaces with no clear use.  My office doubles as the main entry to the home. The only bathroom doubles as a laundry room.  The ceiling height in about a quarter of the home is just a little over 6 foot.  It appears that most of the construction was completed by someone who had some experience, but not quite a professional. So why would I rent such a place that doesn’t make me visually comfortable?  We will get to that later.

How about being safe, I think that has a lot to do with being comfortable.  Your home may be at the right temperature and look great, but if it floods every spring or is frequently broken into, you are probably not comfortable in it.  Freedom from constraint, right?

Location?  Would you be comfortable living next to a busy interstate highway or a noisy gravel pit that operated long hours?  How about under high voltage power lines or next to a railroad track?  Real estate agents know, it’s all about location, location, and location.  Oh, and this is the reason I’m renting a home I don’t particularly care for.  I was willing to give up physical and visual comfort for the comfort of a location. The view out the front window.

For me, location trumped physical and visual comfort.

One major constraint to comfort can be cost.  A budget will often dictate the comfort of a space.  Cost can also be a source of feeling uncomfortable.  Working as an energy auditor, I’m often having conversations with people over the cost of operating their home.  Expectations and realities sometimes don’t align.

Each of these concepts of comfort are unique to the individual. Each of us have our own tolerances that make each of us different.  If you are a homeowner hiring a professional to work on your home, communicate what is important to you.  It’s probably all the items I just discussed.  Is your budget enough to cover all the concerns, or are you willing to sacrifice something?  Usually it ends up being the building science end of comfort that is left out.  The home ends up almost there.  The place I’m renting falls well short.  If you area builder, understand that comfort is expected, but often not expressed, this can be an issue.  The visual aspect of comfort is always discussed, the rest is expected with most homeowners not understanding the building science of comfort. Educate yourself, then educate your customer.  I am a little skewed, I often have these discussions with homeowners after the fact. Continually seeing the homes with problems, I forget there are many that work perfectly.

How do you define comfort?

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