Being Comfortable HVAC

Humans can adapt to many different climates but when you are at home or at the office do you want to wear a parka or drip sweat?

The answer to that question depends on many factors including what temperature the people around you are most comfortable at or what the boss thinks is the right temperature if you are at work. Some things are beyond our control. If you are out of your temperature range for comfort (and everyone is different) it can lead to extra stress. Of course, that is something we want to avoid. We want to remain comfortable and focused mentally. Here are some tips to help you stay comfortable temperature-wise at home and at work.

At Work

For those of you working in modern office buildings, the temperatures in those buildings are likely controlled by a building automation system. A building automation system (BAS) or building monitoring system (BMS) allows for precise control as determined by the building management or building engineer. If properly installed, setup, and programmed it is the most efficient system on the market today. It allows for precise control of the buildings mechanical and electrical systems. Put simply, HVAC, lighting and security systems are integrated together and can be monitored and controlled via the internet or local server.

You can recognize a BAS system in your building when you those generic looking thermostats on the wall. Some of them have a way to adjust the temperature up and down but many do not have an adjustment mechanism. The ones that do have adjustment mechanisms only allow a very limited range of temperature (maybe 4 to 6° Fahrenheit).

building automation system thermostat
Typical of a non-adjustable building automation system thermostat.

Since you are stuck in an office where you can neither open the windows or change the thermostat what do you do? I’ve seen people where extra clothes in the winter or bring in their own personal fans in the summer because these temperatures are uncomfortable. In a few cases, it turned out the system was inadequate to provide the proper heating or cooling for the office space. That goes back to the design engineer and should be rectified. However, in many cases, it is not and the people who work in the space have to live with being uncomfortable. In other cases, a server rack was added to the office space. Servers put off a lot of heat and this overloaded the system beyond its original design.

So, if you have this type of system in your office building and you are uncomfortable with the temperature what do you do? The answer to this question can be complex depending on where and who you work. The bottom line is that the building engineer usually sets all the set points for the temperatures in the offices. They make the set points based on comfort ranges and the budgets for utility bills. If the entire office is too hot or too cold then someone needs to talk to the building management company and have them adjust the set points to a more comfortable range for everyone. I’ve been in this position before and I can tell you firsthand that is nearly impossible to make everyone as comfortable as possible, so it is usually better to find a happy medium somewhere.

At Home

There are many things you can do to make your home comfortable temperature-wise and save energy. One is insulating your home better. Insulation in the attic, as well as the walls, will help you save a lot of energy. Good energy efficient doors and windows is another way to save energy and make your home more sustainable. When your home is sized for an HVAC system, the insulation values are a big factor in determining the size of the heating and cooling system needed for your home. Among other factors, heat gain (summer) and heat loss (winter) is a huge determining factor in the size needed. So insulate that house and you will help in many ways. Replace old energy inefficient doors and windows will also be a big help.

For wintertime operation, get a whole house humidifier. Furnaces can dry the air out in the house. When the air is dry, we will feel colder. Think about the summer in the desert or summer on the coast. The higher the humidity the warmer you will feel. It works the same way in the winter. A whole house humidifier allows you to adjust the thermostat down a few degrees and still feel warm. That keeps the furnace from running and the saves energy.

Now on to the thermostat settings and temperature. On my website,, I often get emails about what the right temperature should be. I try to give the best advice possible. For instance, the insulation advice above. However, when two or more people occupy the same space and have control of the thermostat there will a time when one or the other is uncomfortable. They will adjust the thermostat. The other person becomes uncomfortable because of it and they adjust the thermostat back to where it was originally set. This can lead to big relationship problems and I get emails with the likes of, “Can you tell my husband what the best setting for the thermostat is”? Fact is everyone is different and there is no perfect temperature for human comfort from one person to the next. Please find a happy medium that will be satisfactory to both of you.

I am sure this problem has led to a divorce somewhere at some time. Now, for another issue. A house guest who changes the thermostat to uncomfortable levels. What can you do about this except to have a word with them not to touch your thermostat? Sounds selfish but they are guest and it is your house. There are thermostats you can purchase that will allow you to set a pin to access the settings. I know Honeywell has them along with a few other thermostat manufacturers so check it out if you have this guest problem. If it is your husband or wife making the thermostat setpoint changes please don’t do this as it may lead to a divorce and I don’t want to be responsible for contributing to divorce. Good Luck! I hope this helps you stay comfortable.