our climate control sucks

June 13th, 2008

We are so preoccupied with weather in our society. Even though we spend most of the day inside buildings, people will actually say that a day is good or bad just based on weather. "Nice day today, eh?" Apparently those little intervals we spend traveling between the house and the office, the office and the market, the market and home, are disproportionately important to our well being in contrast to all those hours we spend on the inside. And we pay so much attention to weather and climate that it can actually determine how we feel about the day as a whole.

And yet we pay so little attention to the climate on the inside. Isn't that a paradox?

When you go into a factory and look at some of their big machinery, they have these gauges on them that show you all sorts of information about the conditions in various critical parts of the system. It's fairly important to know that the temperature is such, the pressure is in some acceptable range, the concentration of some chemical doesn't exceed this; either because the machinery itself can't handle it (eg. nuclear reactor), or because the product on the inside will get ruined if you don't keep these factors under control.

We do this for our products, but we don't do it for ourselves. It's plain to see that the climate in our rooms is more important to our well being than the weather outside, since that's where we spend most of our time. And yet there's no weather forecast for this. We don't know anything about the climate in our homes. We complain about the climate in certain parts of the world, "oh that place is horrible to live in", and just the same there are buildings with an internal climate that is just as unbearable.

And then we talk about education, and health, and productivity. Does anyone see a problem here? Do you think you can be productive at your job if you're standing in the rain, freezing your ass off? No one would expect that from you. And yet you go into the office, where it's too hot, the air is stale because the ventilation stinks, it's noisy, there's so much ambient light that you have to squint to look at the monitor, the chair doesn't have proper support for your back, and the desk is so small your elbows are hanging off the edge of it (less common now with lcd monitors). And this isn't supposed to affect your productivity at all, right?

I cannot begin to quantify the number of days or half days that were ruined for me because the inside climate was bad. I used to hate summer that brought a large number of sunny days while I was sitting in school. Half the time when the sun was up it was either in my eyes or producing glare on the blackboard, either of which meant I had to sit there squinting. Even if the curtains were drawn the sun obviously moves on an axis, so soon enough they wouldn't be in the right place anymore.

And then people say things like "boy, kids are so frail these days. They don't get enough exercise." Yes, that's part of it, no doubt. The other part is spending their days in rooms with a bad climate and non-existent ergonomics. And I know, because I was getting enough exercise, and that didn't magically eliminate the problems of climate.


So where do we start? We need to figure out what kind of climate we're living in. When someone is getting a headache from spending 2 hours in a room with so much ambient light that they can't comfortably see, we need to go from "there's something wrong with you" to "this climate sucks, let's fix it". The first step towards fixing is knowing what the problem is. Right now we don't know a damn thing. The only thing we have is thermometers. Imagine if the workers at a nuclear power plant only had one of those hand held thermometers and the guy was trying to "hold it close enough" to the opening so he could get a decent reading on it. That's where we are now.

We need to figure out what the relevant environmental factors are and how to measure them. Don't expect to have an ideal climate out of that, it could turn out to be expensive. But how do we know what it's going to cost since we know nothing? Step one is to be able to measure properties of the climate that impact us. Step two is to figure out how various people are affected by these properties, and which. Step three is to connect these two bits of information to the extent we are able and willing to make the effort.

Climate control right now is an art. There are people who have figured out how to tune the climate, "do a little bit of this. Okay, a little more. There, good." But it's an art, inexact and experience based, full of "maybe this will help". We need to make it not a science, but a commodity. Just as you know that the temperature in your refrigerator is supposed to be between 0 and 4 degrees, we should be able to say the same about our home climate. "My ambient light is x on average, y at peak, I need to fix it." And then teach it in schools, right along with "you should eat this, not that". It's just as important.

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1 Responses to "our climate control sucks"

  1. Matt says:

    I can't believe there still exist schools without central A/C -- even in more affluent areas! But they do (exist).