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Provide Comfortable Environments

by the WBDG Productive Committee

Last updated: 09-30-2015


Physical comfort is critical to work effectiveness, satisfaction, and physical and psychological well-being. During the facility design and development process, to ensure comfortable environments, building projects must have a comprehensive, integrated perspective that seeks to:

  • Provide a superior acoustic environment
  • Maintain optimal thermal comfort
  • Create a high quality visual environment
  • Provide furniture and equipment that will enhance worker comfort and performance
  • Provide user controls.

Implementing holistic design principles will also help achieve these objectives.

Uncomfortable conditions in buildings and spaces-too hot, too cold, too noisy, too dark, too light, too much glare-restrict the ability of workers to function to full capacity and can lead to lowered job satisfaction and increases in illness symptoms.


Provide a Superior Acoustic Environment

  • Reduce sound reverberation time inside the workplace by specifying sound absorbing materials and by configuring spaces to dampen rather than magnify sound reverberation.
  • Provide sound masking if necessary.
  • Limit transmission of noise from outside the workplace by designing high sound transmission class (STC) walls between work areas and high noise areas inside and outside the building.
  • Minimize background noise from the building's HVAC system and other equipment.
  • Provide opportunities for privacy and concentration when needed in open plan offices.
  • Enclose or separate group activity spaces from work areas where concentration is important.

Provide Quality Thermal and Ventilation Comfort

  • At a minimum, comply with American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Standard 55 Thermal Environmental Conditions for Human Occupancy.
  • Incorporate natural ventilation, if appropriate to the location, and consider adjusting the requirements of ASHRAE Standard 55 to account for the impact.
  • Analyze room configurations and HVAC distribution layouts to ensure all parts of a room are receiving adequate ventilation, especially spaces where teams or groups meet. Consider providing individual environmental controls in these rooms.
  • Analyze placement, configuration, and type of windows and skylights and provide adequate, controllable shading to avoid "hot spots" caused by direct sunlight.
  • Consider providing a temperature and humidity monitoring system to ensure optimal thermal comfort performance.
  • Evaluate the use of access floors with displacement ventilation for flexibility, personal comfort control, and energy savings.
  • Provide individual air and temperature controls at each workstation.
  • Utilize CO2 sensors to assess the air quality of spaces to adjust ventilation.
Diagram of personal air-conditioning showing a multi-zone VAV Box with an EMCS Data Communication Network and how its #3 area relates to High Density Workstations #3; #2 area relates to High Density Workstations #2; and #1 area relates to the Intelligent Thermostat.

One solution for providing quality thermal and ventilation comfort is enhanced ventilation terminal control system with multi-zone VAV box terminal controls and individual airflow controls (personal air-conditioning).
(Courtesy of Public Works Government Services Canada, Innovations and Solutions Directorate)

Create a High Quality Visual Environment (Including Lighting, Daylighting, and Visual Interest)

Photo of low-glare retrofit lenses, C. D. Howe Building, Ottawa

Low-glare retrofit lenses, C. D. Howe Building, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
(Courtesy of Public Works Government Services Canada, Innovations and Solutions Directorate)

  • Provide as much natural daylight as possible for occupants while avoiding excessive heat loss, heat gain, and glare.
  • Provide views and access to the outdoor environment for all occupants.
  • Provide connections to indoor and outdoor nature where possible.
  • Integrate natural and electric lighting strategies, and provide controls that optimize daylighting/electric lighting interaction. Light vertical surfaces/walls to increase the perceived brightness of the space.
  • Balance the quantity and quality of light in all work areas and design for "uniformity with flexibility." Consider individually controlled task lighting for each workstation that properly illuminates the task.
  • Control or eliminate glare from ceiling lighting and windows.
  • Provide individual control of task lighting and, where possible, adjustment of ceiling light using advanced lighting systems technologies.
  • Assure a visually appealing environment through the appropriate and well-balanced use of scale, colors, textures, patterns, artwork, and plants.
  • Avoid both uniformity and visual chaos.
  • See also WBDG Psychosocial Value of Space.
Photo of work area at the Herman Miller Front Door in Holland, MichiganPhoto of beige cubicle environment

Left: Workplace environments with well balanced color and patterns are pleasant and appealing. This photo shows an informal work area at the Herman Miller Front Door in Holland, Michigan.
Right: The beige cubicle environment lacking color embellishment or pattern is, unfortunately, a common site in many work environments and not an optimal one. The high partitions block daylight from enlivening the space.

Provide Furniture and Equipment that Will Enhance Worker Comfort and Performance

  • Adapt furnishings to the work to be done, not the other way around.
  • Specify furnishings that support good posture, body mechanics, and work techniques for the tasks to be accomplished (e.g. ergonomically designed chairs and keyboards).
  • Provide workstations that allow users to adjust seating, computer equipment placement, light levels, work surface heights, workspace layout, and ventilation.
  • Install glass panels in workstation walls to provide access to daylight and views.
  • Design furniture configurations that allow workers variable views for visual relief.
  • For telecommuting workers, the sponsoring organization should assure that the home office is comfortable, ergonomic, and has the necessary technological tools.

Relevant Codes and Standards

Major Resources


Building / Space Types

Applicable to all building types and space types, especially those regularly occupied or visited.

Design Objectives

Accessible, Aesthetics, Cost-Effective, Functional / Operational, Historic Preservation, Secure / Safe, Secure / Safe—Ensure Occupant Safety and Health, Secure / Safe—Provide Security for Occupants and Assets, Sustainable, Sustainable—Use Environmental Preferable Products, Sustainable—Enhance Indoor Environmental Quality, Sustainable—Optimize Operational and Maintenance Practices

Project Management

Building Commissioning


Building Life-Cycle Cost (BLCC), LEED®-DoD Antiterrorism Standards Tool

Provide a Superior Acoustic Environment

Maintain Optimal Thermal Comfort

Create a High Quality Visual Environment

Provide Furniture and Equipment that Will Enhance Worker Comfort and Performance