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Comfort levels. They’ve always been a consideration when designing and building both domestic and commercial buildings – and Building Regulations help by mandating certain standards – but one might argue that comfort levels haven’t always been given the consideration that they should be afforded. As a result, a proportion of the UK’s building stock isn’t really very comfortable to live in.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began impacting on our daily lives in mid-March, our homes have become where we work, rest and play – and for some they have been a 24/7 environment. Our homes have become schools, offices, gyms and places of worship, and they have acted as a replacement for social and cultural spaces (with those activities facilitated by digital means). Outside space has never felt more important – indeed, recent research has shown that house-hunters (both renters and buyers) now feel that access to a garden is of utmost importance in their new home.

COVID-19 lockdown living

Lockdown has meant that comfort levels – and how fit for purpose our homes really are – have really been put into sharper focus. For some people their homes have been sanctuaries, but for others they have almost felt like prisons. The latter group will have certainly felt higher levels of stress, and in more extreme cases suffered both mentally and physically.

As yet, we don’t know the continuing impact that Coronavirus is going to have on our lives going forward, but some have considered that the pandemic could be a wake-up call that propels us to improve our lives and those of the people around us. This includes our built environment. The Royal Institute of British Architects launched a competition back in May, to reimagine buildings for a post-pandemic world. But while this sort of thinking might impact big-budget builds within the next year or so, it will most likely take some time to trickle through to the mass-market developments. How can we improve the homes being built for the average family, the average couple, or the average young professional? The answer lies in focusing on comfort levels.

Comfort levels: a primer

Until now, the standard meaning of ‘comfort levels’ included:

  • Thermal comfort – a suitable heating system, and sufficient insulation, to maintain an environment that is not too hot or cold.
  • Air quality – ventilation to ensure that stale air can be replaced by fresh, and to avoid overheating
  • Visual comfort – adequate levels of natural light, suitable lighting systems, external views, and avoidance of glare
  • Noise nuisance – sound proofing to avoid excessive noise or disturbance
  • Ergonomics – a practical layout

It must be said, however, that even this standard understanding of ‘comfort levels’ doesn’t mean that comfort levels have always been given the consideration that they (and a home’s future occupants) deserve. We have all been in buildings where comfort level corners have been cut. Maybe the sound proofing qualities are not sufficient, so you can hear noisy neighbours, maybe the ventilation isn’t up to scratch, so black mould is tricky to avoid in the bathroom, or maybe the windows have been sized with more emphasis on U values than on achieving comfortable natural light levels. So the first challenge is to try to make sure the previous standard of best practice is met, before even considering how COVID-19 has impacted on our understanding of, and requirement for, comfort level solutions.

Comfort levels in the new normal

Our new normal is going to require some fresh thinking when it comes to comfort levels in the home, in addition to the standard definitions we’ve considered before. While acknowledging there’s an element of blue sky thinking in this list, we think that the following need to be given thought:

  • Enough space for every family member to be able to have some privacy.
  • At least one room that is a ‘quiet space’, with good acoustic insulation that limits sound transfer from the rest of the house – and it should go without saying that the acoustic performance of party walls, as well as that of external windows and doors, should be high.
  • Private outdoor space, ideally a garden or maybe a secluded balcony, or at the very least large opening windows or doors (perhaps a Juliette balcony if there is no ground floor access)
  • Immediately outside the entrance, a place where contactless deliveries may be made – and an area inside where parcels may be quarantined if required.
  • An entrance area spacious enough to enable dirty shoes and contaminated clothes to be removed easily and stored until they can be cleaned.
  • Higher levels of natural daylight, to reflect the fact that longer periods are likely to be spend indoors – but with some way of shielding from direct sun when required, to avoid overheating.
  • Comfort cooling provided in at least one room. It may not be possible or necessary to cool the whole dwelling, but providing this in one area means occupants can at least take a break from high temperatures.
  • Increased storage space, so that essentials may be bought in bulk.
  • Reliable, fast broadband, for both homeworking and leisure purposes.

To find out more about how we can help support the design and build of domestic and commercial properties that have an emphasis on occupant comfort, please call us on 01206 266755 or email mail@ajenergy.com.