Online educational resource on achieving indoor environmental quality with radiant based HVAC systems
Not for profit educational resource on indoor environmental quality.
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Your Home - Your Budget

What you are willing to pay for something say's a lot about what you hold dear.

When it comes to your indoor environment quality:

Ask, "are my value systems and lack of knowledge  preventing me from investing in indoor environmental quality?"

Ask, "am I letting someone else's value systems compromise my own values?"

Ask, "am I expecting the minimum requirements established by the building code to meet my needs for indoor environmental quality?"

Ask, "am I expecting a 3% to 5% of construction cost HVAC budget to meet or exceed my expectations for indoor comfort quality and indoor air quality?"

A yes answer to anyone of these questions is your signal to stop and learn more about meeting your needs so you don't end up in a battle with the builder.

Achieving the Desired Indoor Climate

In Achieving the Desired Indoor Climate – Energy Efficiency Aspects of System Design thirteen well-known international researchers present the latest know-how on the compound connections between the indoor climate and energy efficiency.

Indoor Climates


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Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Relationship between Occupant Satisfaction and HVAC budget.

Comfort research shows roughly 50%+ of occupants are dissatisfied with their indoor environments.

"A Brigham Young University study found an 18 percent increase in death from heart disease among people who had long-term exposure to increased levels of small-particle pollution."
American Lung Association


Last Words:
Industry will try to convince you to see the cost of improved IEQ as an upgrade. But for every dollar you do not spend on improving your IEQ, you are paying for the downgrade. 

Change your values,  expectations and budget and you'll change your indoor environmental quality experience.

Build better not bigger.

The Cost of HVAC Systems - Are You Paying Too Much for Downgrades?
Copyright (c) 2007, Robert Bean, All Rights Reserved

People who have read this article have also read: Do-it-yourself HVAC, Built to Code and How does you HVAC system score?

One of the books I read while studying for my R.E.T. exams was Law for Engineers, and the text I remember most from its pages was essentially this, “there is no worse industry for litigation than construction”. At the time, you can image how thrilled I was to read this but within these few words was a big message and since those early years, I have seen the message, participated in it, and heard it a million is all about understanding peoples values and perceptions and meeting or exceeding their expectations to avoid conflicts.

Here's a few things consumers should try to understand; home building is a business first and foremost. It has to be about profit and business sustainability otherwise, there would be no industry. On the flip side,  you as consumers want shelter for safety, health, comfort and then some form of social-psychological stimulus.

Herein lies disconnect #1:
Builders build for bullion but consumers buy for the body. 

Herein lies disconnect #2:
The housing industry is trained and judged on how it uses tools and materials to put parts together not how does the final product influence your health, wellness and comfort. How can we say this? Look at any training curriculum for builders and trades people. Basic human physiology and psychology is not taught in school or in the field.

The system teaches 'how' but not 'why'.

Since the business side of construction is bloodthirsty by nature, there is a constant tearing of the fabric we call budgeting. If you find yourself in with the masses, away from the low cost government funded shelter and the high-end homes affordable to only 5% of the population you have stepped into the brutally competitive mine fields created by the housing industry concerned about how to put parts together.

There will always be someone willing to do something for less and in the contracting game, some operators rely on consumers who believe a business is going to sacrifice profit by giving quality for less than next firm and still meet the client needs and wants. Listen very carefully, if nothing else, the last 20 years has forced every business to operate lean and mean, there is no fat to absorb the wishes of a wishful consumer. People may think they are getting something for nothing, but in the world of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC), you will get exactly what's paid for, regardless of your values, perceptions and expectations.  The only rules which must be followed when it comes to conditioning the body in a building are in the building codes which establish bare minimums based on safety and health. In other words, the building is not supposed to kill or injure you.

The building code does not establish quality nor does it require comfort or efficiency as measurable metrics.

Consumers must consider the building code as the most primitive tiers on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. When the building industry says to allow 3% or 5% of the construction cost for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, they are saying how much it will cost you to meet the most basic and minimum requirements before a building inspector will fail it.

If you value comfort and efficiency this budget will not meet your wants and needs.

Let’s explore what 4% to 7% of a construction budget buys you in a home built to code.

There is a remarkable difference between heating to code and heating for comfort. To meet the bare bones, the space must be capable of being heated to 72 Deg F. Sounds reasonable right? In North America, the prevailing method is to circulate hot air through the building. However as readers have learned from the studying the section on indoor environmental quality, the body is far more sophisticated than the minimum codes and so 4% to 7% may condition the building it does not condition the body, in other words the budget will ensure your body does not go into hypothermia...well ok maybe not that cold but unless it causes an illness it likely meets code.

For further reading on this topic we suggest you visit our section on building codes, inside surface temperatures and thermal comfort.

Like heating, there is also a big difference between cooling to Code (applies to the south) and cooling for comfort. First, consumers believe that cooling is air conditioning when in fact cooling is only one of five metrics in the A/C definition. Secondly, because the masses believe blowing cool air into a space will make one feel comfortable - there has been little regard to its effects on humidity so the more the better and to heck with the moisture (mold and mildew) problems. Again, the body is far more sophisticated in how it interprets comfort. The budget to meet minimum standards will ensure the body does not go into hyperthermia...well ok again...but it may seem that way sometimes.

Here's something for you to consider...many North Americans set their cooling thermostats lower than their heating thermostats...think about that and let us know if that makes sense to you.

Unbeknownst to many American's, the level of air pollution inside a home has been stated to be as much as five times higher than outdoor levels.  The Environmental Protection Agency has even recorded inside pollution as much as 100 times the outdoor levels (that not be good). 

There is also a dangerous assumption that ventilation will improve the indoor air quality of the home...not a wise thing when in some locations the outdoor air quality can be worse than the indoor air quality so bringing air in from outside may meet the volume requirements by Code but not the quality requirements required by the body. If ventilation codes are enforced, the budget will pay for bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans and some outside air ducting to the furnace system and possibly some additional fans but it does not ensure air quality particularly for those sensitive to pollens, dust, mold, smoke, ozone etc.

(De) Humidification
The 4% to 7% budget will not get you into a healthcare standard humidification system, which is steam based. The reason for the steam-based requirement is because of the cleanliness and effectiveness factor. But what you will get for 4% to 7% is an evaporative type style not known for meeting health care standards.

If your HVAC system includes cooling, it is assumed that it also does dehumidification. Herein lays a problem. Since the dehumidification process only occurs when the cooling system is on, it will not be dehumidifying when the cooling system is off. Mother Nature does not have a contract with the HVAC systems circadian cycle…so the humidity is constantly going up and down which the building and body neither want nor appreciate.

Air Filtration
The 4% to 7% budget will get your basic disposable paper/cloth or foam filter. Products, which do not meet healthcare facility standards. These low cost filters will capture your basic dirt and dust but not gases or any nasty microbiological stuff. IAQ specialist, Professor Tang Lee, U of C says it best...these air filters protect the health of the blower not the body.

Heat Recovery
Rarely does 4% to 7% buy you any type of heat recovery on ventilation or grey water systems. This means if you are in fact ventilating, the money you paid to heat the incoming air, leaves when the air is exhausted. With grey water systems, the money you paid to heat the water up literally goes down the drain. When hot air is exhausted or hot water drained – it’s your money being lost. By the way - those are after tax dollars slipping through your fingers!

Domestic Hot Water
The 4% to 7% budget will get you a 30 or 40 US gallon mid efficient stand-alone water heater. It can handle the basic needs. If you plan on going against the environmental movement with a big tub and enjoying long showers (most do) then you will be disappointed with this builder standard product.

The construction minefield has culturally conditioned North American’s to accept the 4% to 7% budget for HVAC as normal. We have been conditioned to think that this value will meet or exceed or bodies expectations when all it does is meet bare minimum codes - i.e. what is allowed before failure.

Research on indoor air quality, indoor comfort quality and overall indoor environmental quality explains why over 50% of building occupants are unsatisfied with their environments and a significant part of it has to do with the budget expectations. If you want great indoor environmental quality you have to place a higher financial priority on the architectural/mechanical systems. 

Recommendations: Budget between 10% to 15% of the construction costs will get you into healthcare standards for indoor environmental quality and energy efficiency. See the benchmark in Total Comfort.

Here are the comfort parameters for summer time occupancy. In addition to these you will need to address similar needs in the winter, plus indoor air quality and domestic water needs. If you want heat recovery on any device this must also be considered.

Learn more about comfort quality factors.
Learn more about air quality factors.

Image Credit: David Scheatzle, Ph.D and the team at the College of Architecture
and Environmental Design, Copyright (c) Arizona Board of Regents 2002, All Rights Reserved

Related reading:

Do I need an engineer? A Guide to HVAC/Indoor Climate Design Service Providers
Where will your indoor climate system score?
How to "ball park" your budget for indoor climate control.
Indoor environments: Self assessment
Built to code: What does it mean for consumer thermal comfort?
The Total Comfort System - The "Un-minimum" System
Thermal Comfort: A 40 grit perspective for consumers
Thermal Comfort: A Condition of Mind

Do-It-Yourself HVAC - Should you do it?
The Cost of HVAC Systems - Are You Paying Too Much for Downgrades?
Radiant Installations - The Good, Bad and Ugly
Thermal Comfort Surveys - Post Occupancy, Part I
Thermal Comfort Surveys - Post Occupancy, Part II

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