Markets: Reduced cooling and heating might improve health

Results of a study performed by Berkeley Lab. - a US Department of Energy national laboratory - suggest that operating buildings in ways designed to save energy - with indoor temperatures slightly cooler in winter and warmer in summer - does more than just save energy. It improves the health of the occupants and makes them more comfortable. The study collected standard measurements on factors such as temperature and humidity during one week in either summer or winter in a representative set of 95 air-conditioned office buildings across the US. In winter, the researchers found that the buildings were kept mostly within the recommended temperature range, but in summer, building temperatures were on average below the comfort range. Surprisingly, buildings were on average kept even cooler in summer than in winter, by almost 0.5°C. In summer, symptoms such as headache, fatigue and difficulty concentrating were increased by over 50% for the occupants of the buildings kept below 23°C (almost half the buildings measured in summer). In winter, buildings with indoor temperatures above 23°C were associated with 30 to 80% increases in building-related nose, eye and skin symptoms and headache. "As we look for ways to save energy, these results suggest a potential win-win situation," said Mendell, co-author of this study. "Our findings suggest that energy efficiency and keeping buildings healthy and comfortable for the occupants are not necessarily in conflict. Less summer cooling in air-conditioned buildings and less winter heating in heated buildings might reduce energy use in buildings substantially, yet have health benefits for the occupants that we did not expect, and still keep occupants as comfortable as before, or even more comfortable."