Thermal comfort in a warming climate: Low energy buildings and hospital wards

Professor Kevin J Lomas email

Department of Civil and Building Engineering, Loughborough University


Climate change, caused by carbon (CO2) emissions, poses the single greatest threat to humanity in the 21st century and the UK, in keeping with other developed countries has set ambitious CO2 reduction targets. In the UK, buildings and the activities in them are responsible for around 50% of the nations CO2 emissions; they account for a similar proportion of national emissions in other EU countries. In the UK, as in other temperate climates natural ventilation, rather than air-conditioning, is seen as a low-energy approach to maintaining comfortable conditions in buildings.

Some climate is inevitable, but beyond about 2040 the temperature rise will depend on the future global social and economic development and the use that is made of low carbon sources of energy etc. Assuming development and population growth continues as at present, the daily average temperature rise in the UK will rise by 3 and 4 oC by 2080. There will also be more frequent and more intense heat waves: these will be dangerously warmer - between 4 and 7oC hotter in the SE of England. Such conditions can have serious health consequences, particularly for the elderly, the very young, and the ill. More generally, high night-time temperatures can reduce the quality of sleep, affecting general well-being, productivity and public safety.

Naturally ventilated buildings are particularly susceptible to climatic warming, and adapting them could easily lead to an increase in the use of air-conditioning thereby exacerbating, rather than mitigate, the causes of climate change. Robust methods of predicting the likely future thermal comfort conditions in naturally ventilated buildings are needed to avert such a trend.

This talk will outline one route by which predictions might be made and, more importantly, suggest a route by which standards and guidelines, which define the acceptability, or otherwise, of predicted future indoor temperatures, might be devised.

These matters will be discussed in the context of health care buildings and in particular the design and refurbishment of hospital wards in the UK. The UK National Health Service is committed to naturally ventilating wards as an aid to meeting its stringent energy use and CO2 reduction targets. Yet the internal temperatures in such spaces are critical: because the performance of staff can have life or death consequences, because patients may be very sensitive to high temperatures, and because hospitals are expected to provide a safe haven during heat waves.

The research underpinning the talk could have widespread implications: the NHS is Europe’s largest employer with 1.3 million people (5% of the UK workforce), it currently occupies and manages around 14,000 premises (about 1% of the UK’s non-domestic stock), and is responsible for 30% of all public sector CO2 emissions (nearly 3% of the UK’s total emissions).

* The lecture is related to the paper to appear in Energy and Buildings. Follow this link for the full paper.


Slides of the lecture can be downloaded here: PDF (3.71 MiB, 2 downloads)

(If Flash is installed, you can watch a video inside this web page.)

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