Exploring, modelling, and simulating the Feeling of Comfort in residential settings
The fact that comfort is a subjective state of the mind is widely accepted by engineers, architects and building scientists. Despite this, capturing all the complexity, subjectivity and richness of this construct in models that are useful in building science contexts is far from straightforward. By prioritizing usability, building science has produced models of comfort (e.g., acoustic, visual and thermal) that overly simplify this concept to something nearly objective that can be directly associated with people’s physiology and measurable and quantifiable environmental factors. This is a contradiction because, even if comfort is supposed to be subjective, most of the complexity of “the subject” is avoided by focusing on physiology; and, even if comfort is supposed to reside in the mind, the cognitive processes that characterize the mind are disregarded. This research partially mitigates this contradiction by exploring people’s non-physical personal factors and cognition within the context of their comfort and by proposing a way in which they can be incorporated into building science research and practice. This research refers to these elements together—i.e., people’s non-physical personal factors and cognition—as “the mind”.
This research proposes a new qualitative model of the Feeling of Comfort that embraces “the mind”. This model was developed from the results of a first study in which 18 people—from Chile and New Zealand—were asked to describe “a home with good daylight” and “a warm home” in their own words. These results were then replicated in a second study in which another group of 24 people—also from Chile and New Zealand—described “a home with good acoustic performance”, “a home with good air quality” and “a pleasantly cool home”. The Feeling of Comfort model not only was capable of making sense of the new data (gathered in this second study) but also proved to be simple enough to be useful in the context of comfort research and practice. For instance, it guided the development of a quantitative Feeling of Comfort model and also of a prototype building simulation tool that embraces “the mind” and thus can potentially estimate people’s Feeling of Comfort.
This research concludes that embracing “the mind” is not only possible but necessary. The reason for this is that “the mind” plays a significant role in the development of people’s comfort. Thus, theories and models of comfort that ignore it fail to represent properly the concept of comfort held by the people for whom buildings are designed. However, incorporating “the mind” into building science’s research and practice implies embracing tools, research methods and conceptual frameworks that have historically not been used by such a discipline. Specifically, it concludes that building science should normalize a more holistic view of comfort and perform more exploratory and qualitative research.