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The first 'multi-comfort' education

Stacey Temprell explains the importance of adopting a holistic approach to provide building users with a comfortable environment

Posted by Stephanie Broad | August 26, 2015 | Bricks & mortar

According to recent statistics, schools contribute to 47% of all carbon dioxide emissions in council owned buildings. Although it is beneficial to design for energy efficiency, it is important to keep user experience in mind, and optimise user comfort.

The concept of ‘multiple comforts’ and taking a broader, more holistic view of what makes a building ‘work’ is well understood by many architects and developers, but without an agreed approach or standard it can also be very subjective. 

The Multi-Comfort concept defines five primary comforts: thermal comfort, visual comfort, audio comfort, indoor air comfort and economic comfort, with standards in each. 

A new development at The King’s School, Worcester, will be used as a multi-purpose sports hall and drama facility, with each ‘comfort’ as important a design consideration as the next. 

With children often spending more than 30 hours in school a week, it makes sense that students should learn in environments that enhance their comfort, wellbeing and concentration. 

The use of the Multi-Comfort standard ensures that buildings are sustainable, economic to run, and provide a quiet, comfortable and healthy environment for occupants. This is especially important in schools, as recent research has shown that noisy rooms have a negative impact on communication and learning. 

The ear is most sensitive to high frequency noises, yet this is what makes the human voice clear. If the reverberation time in a learning environment is over half a second, children only a few metres away from a teacher will no longer be able to hear clearly and will struggle to learn properly. 

The right building materials can also improve audio comfort, with some materials providing sound insulation by having a low acoustic transmission, such as glass and window façades. Innovative materials may also contribute to more than one comfort. For example, glass in windows can provide sound insulation as well as visual comfort and thermal comfort. 

Thermal comfort and energy efficiency is clearly linked. As the heating demand in a Multi-Comfort building is so low, a conventional heating system comprising of a centralised boiler feeding radiators or an under-floor system is not required. 

However, designing for energy efficiency alone can also have a direct impact on the visual comfort of a building. To maintain good thermal efficiency, some builds reduce window size, reducing access to natural light.  Insulation materials must therefore be as effective as possible to keep buildings at a constant level of thermal comfort, without compromising visual, or indoor air quality. 

The indoor air quality of buildings also impacts on building occupants. Indoor pollution from outside sources, such as traffic and industry can affect our health, as well as finishes of furnishings and floor coverings at certain concentration levels. If managed correctly, innovative technology such as British Gypsum’s ACTIVair can decompose internal pollutants into non-harmful inert compounds, improving air quality. Good, clean air can reduce health problems, as well as enhancing user comfort.

It is therefore important to remember that the ‘five comforts’ of thermal, indoor air, acoustic, visual and economic comfort are all closely interlinked, which is why the Multi-Comfort concept adopts a holistic approach to building design, in order to achieve optimum user comfort. 

During the build of The King’s School, Worcester, Saint-Gobain will implement a series of monitoring systems that will collect data, which will prove useful in demonstrating the differences that both the teachers and children will experience within the Multi-Comfort building. 

Stacey Temprell is Residential Sector Director at Saint-Gobain UK & Ireland    

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