Comfort Conundrum

Our bodies are quite fragile machines. With respect to the many drastically different climate conditions around the earth our body would have a hard time surviving in most of them, let alone being comfortable in them; yet humans inhabit almost every part of the globe. It is from our ingenuity in design that allows us to do so. But this ingenuity has brought us into a new lifestyle that is quite excessively wasteful.


Through both passive and non-passive design, we can create a comfortable living environment in almost any extreme climate condition. Lechner describes how typical comfort levels are measured with a psychrometric chart. By weighing temperature, relative humidity, dew point and humidity ratio, the environment in which our bodies can maintain an optimum heat and moisture exchange with little effort, or comfort zone, is calculated. We can then add design techniques to a building that allow for that comfort zone to be maintained in changing and extreme climates.


The invention of forced air conditioning completely changed the way we live and design our spaces. The AC unit in my room is quite an effective machine. When working properly, it does exactly what I ask it to do. All I have to do is turn it on and my hot, uncomfortable room becomes nice and cool. For me it is the quickest solution with the least amount of effort on my part. Even to a designer it is an effective choice. A designer does not have to worry about how hot an upstairs room in a Virginia house, in the summertime, they merely have to put in an AC unit and the problem is fixed.


But in my case, using the AC unit would be using a dollar when a dime would do. I could simply open both of my windows and get cool air from under the tree outside my room circulating within the space. Though it may take slightly longer, it will still reach a comfortable level without using the large amount of electric energy necessary for the machine.


Kiel Moe explains how most of our techniques when it comes to technologies are overkill. He writes we have a “Machine Mentality,” and that we seek to solve our problems with machines (Moe, 38). Our society has moved into a direction where we look for complicated solutions (that most times have negative side-effects) instead of a simple intervention to a problem. 


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