The way we sense heat is more complex than we like to admit. Thermal comfort standards define what is acceptable in buildings, and these standards evolve as we learn more about thermal sensation. Most people will agree when it is far too hot or far too cold. But in between, it’s harder to predict how people will react. What will they tolerate? What they will they enjoy? Any number of physiological, psychological, cultural and climatic differences could tip the balance.
At first, the purpose of thermal comfort standards was to define a universal range of temperatures that would apply to all people in all buildings in all climates at all times. These standards developed alongside air-conditioning technology and modernist architecture. Together they gave rise to the International Style. But new thermal comfort standards signal a change in approach. They acknowledge important subtleties in thermal sensation, such our tendency to adapt to seasonal changes, or our tendency to tolerate warmer temperatures if we know we can open a window.
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