These days, do you keep waking up in the middle of the night shivering?

Photo by Kelcie Papp on Unsplash

As the holiday season draws near, you already know that the weather will only get colder from this point on. For that reason, the members of your household may experience chills and get the sniffles, especially the younger ones.

Sure, you can change the temperature by constantly tweaking your thermostat or by taking frequent hot showers. But those are temporary fixes, and they may trigger issues like equipment malfunction and dry skin respectively. And if you keep that heating on all through winter, Santa might just come by to deliver a sack full of bills to your doorstep.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

So what else can you do to retain warmth in your home? Read on to find out.

What Is Thermal Comfort?

If you live in a place that experiences extreme drops in temperature, then thermal comfort is something you have to ensure in your home. But you already have a thermostat installed, and you might even have a fireplace. Why else would you need thermal comfort when there are existing ways for you to stay warm indoors?

Well, say you’re curled up in a chair, and the air is toasty and comfortable since the radiator is nearby. But when you get up to find something to eat in the kitchen, you nearly jump at how cold the floor is. That phenomenon could be due to air circulation, with warm air rising and going around the room before sinking once it loses energy or heat.

Meanwhile, thermal comfort has to do with all-encompassing warmth. Instead of having warm air settle in certain places only, heat is evenly distributed across the entire house.

Although, other than radiant temperature, other factors are taken into account when you want to achieve thermal comfort, which should be discussed more below.

Design Tips For Thermal Comfort

Now that you know what thermal comfort is, you must be wondering how you can achieve it in your home, especially with the cold weather quickly setting in. Here are some design tips that might just help you:

Photo by Sabri Tuzcu on Unsplash
  1. Improve The Structure Of Your Home

To retain warmth and make sure that it’s evenly distributed throughout your property, you have to take into account the structure and features of your house, especially the following:

  • Building orientation
  • Natural ventilation
  • Construction materials

The building orientation pertains to which direction sunlight can enter the house. With the bit of sunshine present during the cold months, this natural source of warmth is rare and far in between, which makes it more vital to let in as much sunlight as you can to boost thermal comfort.

However, the retention of warmth highly depends on the construction materials used for the house. Sure, dark oak floorboards look aesthetically pleasing, but they don’t preserve heat that well. The same goes for concrete because, although it’s much more compact than wood, it’s natural for stone to have a low temperature. That kind of material would be perfect for the summer heat, but for the cold season? Unless you thrive more when it’s cold, then it might not be good for you.

Photo by mark chaves on Unsplash

For that reason, your house needs to have several layers, similar to how you’d put on multiple layers of clothing before going outside in the cold. But you can’t use just any layer. Various housing materials are manufactured for different purposes, so what you’ll get for thermal comfort must be capable of adapting to any temperature.

By choosing panels with the right R-value or thermal resistance, you can save a decent amount of money with energy efficiency right at your fingertips. Unlike concrete or wood, insulated panels have a layer of high-density foam in between to maintain the temperature you want—be it cold or hot—all while having a radiant barrier reflect the heat indoors that works best during the winter. Manufacturers like Raycore construct panels that promote energy efficiency in a household, ultimately reducing everyday energy consumption.

If insulated building panels aren’t enough for you, then why not try in-floor heating as well? With this option, heat will be retained better at floor level, especially since it prevents any cold air from sinking and chilling your feet. Of course, this would be more advantageous for individuals living in areas with treacherous winters, but investing in this feature may still be beneficial for your budget in the long term.

  1. Seal Your Home To Prevent Air Leakage

Air velocity or air leakage plays a vital role in sustaining thermal comfort. Since you want to retain heat without consuming a lot of energy, it only makes sense to prevent cold air from coming in during winter. Even a door or window hanging slightly ajar can lead to a cold draft, hindering you from your goal of attaining thermal comfort.

With the cold air working against the warmth in your home, it can cause problems such as:

  • Higher energy bills
  • Buildup of dirt
  • Accumulation of moisture

Although no one wants to deal with high utility bills, what’s worse is that too much moisture can easily lead to condensation. Adding condensation to the mix will only lead to structural damage caused by pests that live off of moisture, such as termites or cockroaches.

Considering that engineers took air leakage into account when designing insulated panels, all that’s left for you to do is to seal off parts of your home where air can escape, such as:

  • Outlets or light switches
  • Doors
  • Wall and ceiling joists

There won’t be anything technical involved in sealing off the cracks in those areas since all you need are caulk, weatherstrip, and elbow grease to do the task by hand.

Photo by MINDY JACOBS on Unsplash
  1. Select The Right Windows

The sun is a natural source of heat and light. Therefore, it only makes sense for you to use it to your advantage by having your home absorb as much sunlight as it can, especially with how it contributes to the overall thermal comfort of the building. And the best way to do so is by turning to passive home design.

As the name implies, passive home designs don’t include complicated technicalities like wiring or anything in the same line. This kind of design promotes the idea of ‘going green,’ hence the minimal use of equipment such as electronic control systems for heaters. Since the sun is up there, shining its light freely, passive home designs take full advantage of that.

Choosing the right windows is one practice for passive home design. But what exactly should you look for in windows, and how can you make the most of them for the sake of thermal comfort?

  • Since the sun moves throughout the day, the direction where your windows are facing is paramount to passive heating. Keep in mind that windows facing north usually don’t get much sunlight, which means they’ll provide less thermal comfort. So remember to have yours facing where the sun rises to get the best angle at which sunlight enters your home.
  • As for the design of the windows, this would affect how tightly they can seal off the air coming from outside. Therefore, it’s another factor to be mindful of when it comes to thermal comfort. Due to their locking systems, it’s recommended to use casement and awning windows since they’re much more airtight than sliding ones, which need a small allowance to move without any issue.
  • Along with heat absorption, the material and pane of a window can influence the amount of moisture accumulating on its surface. While high temperatures cause air to expand, low temperatures cause the space in between panes to contract. With this in mind, you should choose a durable material like fiberglass and have it paired with double- or triple-pane glass. The more layers there are, the less condensation there’ll be on the interior surface. 
  • Lastly, the size of the window is crucial to consider. The more surface area there is, the more sunlight will pass through and warm your home.
Photo by Erick Palacio on Unsplash

With the cold creeping in, any amount of sunlight would be tremendous in boosting your home’s thermal comfort. The easiest way to let more sunshine into your house is to place windows in strategic areas.

  1. Change The Wallpaper

Of course, depending on the climate in your location, the cold won’t last forever. If you live somewhere that has a weather system doing a complete 180 every year, then you might wonder if using the previous methods to achieve thermal comfort in the first place would be worth it. Little did you know that those tips are applicable to both cold and warm weather. Since you already know how you can benefit from them when it’s cold, it’s time to discuss how one particular tip can help you during summer.

As mentioned earlier, many manufacturers have designed panels that promise energy efficiency while serving as a solid foundation for thermal comfort to develop. However, since these panels are insulated, they aim to provide comfort regardless if it’s hot or cold. Furthermore, they’re constructed with layers that are divided by high-density foam instead of anything solid, thus enabling them to keep a room cold whenever you use your AC unit.

On the other hand, if you want to be more ‘neutral’ in dealing with the weather, use light colors as wallpaper. According to some studies, different colors absorb varying amounts of sunlight and ultraviolet rays. Lighter shades may only reflect the heat from the sun instead of absorbing it, ergo allowing you to be energy-efficient without feeling like you’re inside a microwave whenever you’re indoors.

Benefits Of Having Thermal Comfort In Your Home

At this point, you’re already aware of how you can achieve thermal comfort, but apart from ensuring don’t feel too cold or too hot in your home, why else should you follow the tips above? Here are a few reasons:

  1. Become More Environment-Friendly

It might seem pricey to change certain parts of your home, especially if you have to renovate most of your property for thermal comfort purposes. But if you think about it, isn’t it better to invest in methods that’ll give you an energy-efficient home and lower your energy bills in the long run? Without the need to crank up your heater or your AC unit every day, you can save money instead of worrying about the cost of your energy consumption.

Not only that, but many paneling manufacturers are going green when developing their products. Because every part of it is used, an insulated panel doesn’t produce a lot of waste. And since you’ll eventually depend on your heating system less, you’ll also reduce your carbon footprint. You’ll simultaneously save money and do your part in helping conserve the planet.

  1. Low Maintenance

When you take measures to pursue thermal comfort, you ultimately improve the condition of your property. For instance, installing insulated panels and windows will allow you to have an airtight home. With a properly sealed house, there’s little chance for mold to grow anywhere on your property, nor is it possible for pests to enter and infest your space.

On another note, some manufacturers integrate a nonflammable material into their panels in case of extreme heat. Therefore, you don’t have to worry about those panels melting when you have them in your roof. Your home may be able to withstand accidents involving fire without quickly succumbing to the flames.

Photo by Jens Behrmann on Unsplash
  1. Alleviates Temperament

Once you experience thermal comfort in your home, you’ll be in a much better mood. Since the temperature’s already optimized for your convenience, that’s one less problem off your hands. You won’t find yourself blowing a fuse over how hot the day is or wake up in the middle of the night because of how badly you’re trembling like a leaf beneath the covers. And it also helps that there won’t be high electric bills for you to deal with.

Conclusion

With the cold season coming in, it’s best to prepare your home so it’ll be easy for you and your family to stay warm all winter. Even if you already have a thermostat, you might end up overusing it, which would only lead to an increase in your energy bills. To give your heating system a break, consider changing some aspects of your home design so you can have thermal comfort. After all, every aspect of your house can affect heat distribution.

Christine Berry

Christine Berry has been an architect for more than seven years, and she often drafts various designs for passive housing to add to her portfolio. In her spare time, she offers helpful advice to architecture students and interns alike by writing blogs.