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10 things to eliminate to create comfort in a living space

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Every room in your home was designed and constructed in the same manner with similar effort, time and money being spent. And yet, one room may feel more comfortable than the other. At your office, all cabins may look the same, have the same level of air-conditioning and lighting, but still there are spaces where you enjoy working the most. It may be that one space where you feel a sense of openness or one where you get the right amount of privacy for you to focus.

Clearly, comfort in a living space is not just about the temperature of the air-conditioner or the number of LED lights installed. Comfort is the holistic experience provided by a space that makes you feel productive, happy, healthy and ultimately ensures well-being. Even in a building designed with all modern facilities, there may be simple factors that are the cause of discomfort. What are these factors that make one living space less or more comfortable than the other? 

As we spend almost 90% of our time indoors, it is important for us to understand these factors and remove the causes of discomfort in indoor spaces.

Let us look at 10 factors that you need to eliminate to ensure comfort in your living space:

1. Thermal Discomfort

“Is it just me or the AC seems to be not working today?” “Why is this conference room so cold?” Feeling hot at your workstation in office or freezing in a conference is something most of us are familiar with. The reason behind this may not be a problem with the Air-Conditioning system but rather a gap in the common understanding of Thermal Comfort. According to the ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 55-2010, thermal comfort is defined as “that condition of mind which expresses satisfaction with the thermal environment and is assessed by subjective evaluation.” 

Also known as human comfort, thermal comfort is the occupants’ satisfaction with the surrounding thermal conditions and is essential to consider when designing a structure that will be occupied by people. Thermal Discomfort can be attributed to several factors like direct heat from the sun, air velocity and temperature inside, relative humidity on a day, heat radiation from every object inside a building and the amount of heat transfer due to temperature difference from the exterior to the interior.

Glass can potentially influence the thermal conditions within a building. When designing a building envelope with glass, there are three key performance concepts, namely Solar Factor, U-value and Relative Heat Gain.

The Solar Factor measures the percentage of heat that passes through the glass. Lower the Solar Factor, higher the solar protection and therefore higher the performance of the solar control glass. U-value, a measure of thermal transmittance, is the rate of heat transferred (heat lost or gained) through glass (fenestration/ glazing specifically) by the combined effects of conduction, convection, and radiation when there is a temperature difference between the interior and exterior of a building. Relative Heat Gain describes the amount of heat energy entering through the glass due to the direct solar radiation incident & heat transfer due temperature difference. Lower the Relative Heat Gain, better the energy efficiency. By choosing the right glass type, you can achieve thermal comfort, without compromising on daylight. 

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2. Noise

Acoustic comfort is about having the right level and quality of noise so that the living space can be used as intended. A comfortable environment can thus be created by controlling parameters like Sound Level Reduction, Sound Reflection and Reverberation Time.

The sound reduction index is used to measure the level of sound insulation provided by a structure such as a wall, window, door, or ventilator. Higher the value, better will be the insulation from noise. Sound Reflection is the change in direction of a wavefront at an interface between two media so that it returns to its point of origin. Sound takes time to die off after it is ceased at the source. Reverberation Time is the time taken for sound to decrease by 60dB after it is turned off at the source. 

A prudent selection of the glazing solution, such as Single Glazed Units (SGU), Double Glazed Units (DGU), Laminated Glass with normal PVB interlayer and Laminated Glass with acoustic PVB interlayer, can help give you acoustic comfort. Monolithic glasses can help reduce sound by as much as 37dB. Lacquered glass partitions can also be used for enhanced sound level reduction.

However, for best results, the extent, size and location of glazing needs to be decided in the project concept phase itself. Also, other factors that need to be considered include, building orientation, proximity to intrusive noise sources, vulnerability assessments and risk analysis.

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3. Glare

Glare is a sensation of visual discomfort caused by excessive and uncontrolled brightness, as much as 1000 times more than the average visual field. Inside our buildings, while we do need natural daylight (diffused light), what we do not want is extremely intense, direct light from the Sun, which can be the cause of glare. Glare can be eliminated by good lighting design practices and selecting a glazing solution with optimum light transmission.  

Conducting a daylighting analysis is necessary to design for diverse sky conditions. Sunlight can be bounced off into locations of the building that need to be better lit. Light shelves are devices that can both shade windows from glare and bounce light upward to improve light distribution. When light shelves are oriented vertically, they are known as baffles. When used with skylights or roof monitors, they distribute daylight evenly and help to avoid glare.

New-age glazing solutions are available that can harvest daylight and combat glare, literally at the fingertips. Dynamically tinted glass tints on demand, that allows you complete control over the amount of light transmitted inside. 

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4. Dullness

Bad lighting is known to cause exhaustion, eyestrain, headaches and an overall sense of irritability. In fact, dark, dull spaces are capable of even causing depression. Though the use of artificial lighting cannot be eliminated but it is natural light that can be extremely effective in enhancing surroundings and removing dullness from the interiors.  By balancing out artificial and natural lighting, an environment that is conducive to overall wellbeing can be created.

Vibrant glazing solutions can add a dash of colour as well as light up the spaces around. They can also double up as various innovative applications like wall panels, partitions, writing boards, pillars, furniture and so on. Besides creating a sense of space, glass ensures the optimum light transmission that goes a long way in sprucing up dull spaces. 

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5. Stale Air

A breath of fresh air. Exactly what we need to breeze through our lives effortlessly. Proven studies point to the fact that fresh air indeed helps us stay healthy, happy, alert and productive. Clean air can actually be achieved by filtering it and not allowing it to get contaminated with other impurities like suspended particulates, biological agents, ozone and VOCs from paints or other materials. It can also be kept fresh by using natural ventilators or artificial systems like HVAC fans and ducts.

Everyday, we breathe 12000 litres of air and hence indoor air quality is of paramount importance to our very wellbeing. Glass that is free from lead, copper, arsenic and negligible VOC content can enhance the quality of indoor air. 

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6. Hindered Views

The ability of occupants to see landscapes, objects and people outside the  building, is termed a 'view'. Views of nature as well as social spaces have long been considered to improve productivity of workers, test scores of students, and generally, the health & wellbeing of people. To achieve this, views should be unhindered or unobstructed by other external factors. Hence building orientation and window locations need to be designed to offer maximum views for the occupants. Views are measured by drawing a line of sight from a location in the building to any exterior windows; if the line of sight to an exterior window is unbroken, that location has a view.

Glass makes for an ideal material that provides unhindered views of the outside even while cutting down excess sunlight and glare. Several high-performance solar control glasses in a variety of shades are available, so occupants enjoy visual delight without having to be directly impacted by harsh sunlight streaming inside. 

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7. Cluttered interiors

Be it a temporary clutter on an individual component of the interiors like your workstation or dining table, or a clutter in the overall design of a living space, a clutter is always a cause for consternation and discomfort. 

Often, it is space constraints that give way to clutter and a planned space allocation using the floor plan for visualization can help use the available space efficiently. Using compact furniture and creating adequate storage spaces can help eliminate clutter.

Among various other measures to eliminate space constraints, glass is the go-to material that can instantly change the very structure of a room. Glass has the ability to make it more roomy, spacious and bigger than it actually is. Glass brings a sense of space that no other material can. It can also used in multiple ways, so your wall panel becomes your writing board, your pillar can double up as a partition, and with advanced glass variants, your blinds & curtains can actually be done away with. 

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8. Lack of openness

Our immediate environment has a major impact not just on our physical comfort but also on our mental wellbeing. Uncomfortable surroundings can even lead to stress and anxiety. A sense of openness in a building has a positive influence and creates mental comfort for occupants.  Some elements that help create openness are, access to nature or green spaces, the design of public spaces that facilitate physical activity and encourage social interaction, as well as living and working in spaces that feel safe.Glass, as a material, plays a key role in eliminating the lack of openness in a building. Its  inherent property of transparency ensures openness and this can help alleviate elements of discomfort. Because of its transparent nature, glass also brings a sense of safety & security so one does not feel threatened by external factors. It is also a critical factor that comes in handy in untoward incidents like fire. What's more, with fire-resistant glass types available today, few other materials can boast of the kind of benefits that glass offers.

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9. Lack of privacy

Should a work space be private? Or should it be one that fosters collaboration and employee engagement? Today, employers, architects and designers are fraught with finding the perfect  balance and solution to this moot question. While some people work better by themselves, some find their performance and productivity directly proportional to working in a team. Therefore, the challenge lies in creating workspaces that cater to both personality types.

Today, in keeping with evolving needs, architecture too has evolved by bringing in innovative building materials to the workspace. Glass continues to contribute its might with a range of new-age features and attributes. With revolutionary products that enable transparency or translucency at the touch of a switch, glass is adding new dimensions to privacy at the work place. 

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10. Ergonomic Discomfort

Perhaps one of the most critical aspects of discomfort in a living/working space, is bad ergonomics.Musculoskeletal diseases are among the most reported ailments, more than any other health disorders. Ergonomic discomfort is also the factor most directly and obviously related to productivity.

A lot of conscious effort goes into ensuring ergonomic comfort at the workplace. If people need to be more productive, they need to be comfortable first. Employers, the world over, are waking up to this fact and taking steps to ensure that their employees are better cared for, ergonomically. From adjustable furniture such as adjustable chairs, task lights, sit-to-stand desks and keyboard trays, to putting in place, tools and technologies that encourage mobility in the workplace, employers are rising to the challenge of creating better ergonomic comfort.

Often, we do not know what we want, but are sure of what we do not want. In much the same vein, our notion of what connotes comfort might lack clarity, but our defintion of discomfort warrants no second thoughts. It is when we begin to check off these irritants and make an effort to eliminate the causes of discomfort, that we can truly experience what the joy of comfort in a living place is all about.

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