Many of the strategies that you can use to make your home more energy efficient will also make the spaces in your home more comfortable. Since decreasing energy consumption makes it cheaper to heat and cool your home, it can be easier and more cost effective to maintain thermal comfort in an energy efficient home. But there are several other ways in which your comfort inside your home can be improved while you save energy.

A great way to make your home more comfortable is to give the occupants more control over things like temperature and ventilation. Occupant control is also a good way to save energy. Programmable thermostats allow you to control the temperature in your home at all times, and to make sure it is not unnecessarily heated or cooled while you are away. Operable windows give you more control over both ventilation and temperature. If the outdoor temperature is pleasant, you can open the windows to let air in to reduce heat gain from equipment loads inside your home without turning on the AC. If there is a nice breeze, you can remove odors and indoor air pollutants with natural ventilation, without having to turn on an energy-using mechanical ventilation system.
Your home's mechanical ventilation does, however, also play a critical role in both energy consumption and comfort. If your home is inadequately ventilated, it could develop unpleasant odors. In some cases, odors that build up in poorly ventilated homes are merely unpleasant, but it other cases they can be a sign of harmful gases that also cause health problems. On the other hand, if your home is very leaky and experiences excessive infiltration of unfiltered air, you may develop the problem of uncontrolled outdoor odors entering your home.

Poor ventilation and unwanted infiltration can also be a source of uncomfortable drafts. If you have leaky windows and doors, or cracks in your walls and ceilings, you may experience a breeze inside your home. This can be especially unpleasant during the winter, when you want to keep as much cold air from entering your home as possible. Infiltration and drafts cause unwanted heat loss during the winter and heat gain during the summer. This makes it difficult to maintain comfortable temperatures in your home year round.

The same conditions that make your heating and cooling systems inefficient can also make it more difficult to maintain a comfortable temperature in your home. By thinking about heating and cooling your home as a system of linked components, you can more easily work towards both saving energy and improving comfort. Old, inefficient heating and cooling equipment cost more than to operate ENERGY STAR units. If you are concerned about high utility bills with an inefficient system, you are probably keeping you home at uncomfortable temperatures. In addition, even energy efficient heating and cooling equipment need to be maintained on a regular basis. Improper refrigerant levels, exhausted filters, and deteriorated vents can all decrease your system's efficiency and effectiveness. Further inefficiencies can develop in other parts of your heating and cooling system. For example, poorly sealed and insulated ducts can also decrease your system's effectiveness and the comfort of your home.

Well insulated walls help prevent heat flow between your home and the outside, reducing temperature swings inside your house and making it easier to maintain comfortable temperatures inside. During the winter, when cold outdoor temperatures make their way through an exterior wall, the inside surface of the wall can be much colder than conditioned indoor air. Even if your heating system is maintaining a warm temperature inside the house, warm objects (and people) will radiate heat to the colder surface – your house may be warm enough, but as you pass close to the exterior walls, you will feel even colder than you are, compromising the thermal comfort of your home.

Your windows can be a great source for occupant comfort, but if you have old, single-paned, leaky windows with no shading devices, they can also cause great discomfort. Windows can provide pleasant daylighting and views, and several recent studies have indicated that daylighting can lead to improved performance in schools and increased productivity in the workplace. In the home, natural daylight can create a pleasant, warm atmosphere that increases occupant comfort. Shading devices and selective coatings on your windows are measures that you can take to reduce your energy use that can also improve visual comfort in your home by reducing glare. Shading devices are used to keep hot, direct sunlight out of your home during the summer. The same direct sunlight that causes overheating can also create great contrast between the light that enters your window and the light reflected off of surfaces in your home. This contrast causes uncomfortable glare. In addition to shading devices, the selective coatings that are included in some high performance windows can help to filter out direct sunlight. Like sunshades, selective coatings reduce both heat gain and glare.

Sources:

Heschong, Lisa, Windows and Classrooms: A Study of Student Performance and the Indoor Environment, California Energy Commission Technical Report, October 2003

Heschong, Lisa, Windows and Offices: A Study of Office Worker Performance and the Indoor Environment, California Energy Commission Technical Report, October 2003

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