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Comfortable buildings are bad for the health

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Many offices are too warm and comfortable for efficient working, and temperatures should be cut back, says one of the country's top building academics. Professor Pat O'Sullivan, head of school and dean at the Bartlett, said to building services engineers last week: 'Is comfort healthy? No. A measure of discomfort is much healthier.'

Most buildings have temperatures in winter of 21 to 22degreesC, O'Sullivan told the aj. He said it would be preferable to reduce this to 19degreesC 'and de-sensitise the skin by wearing a pullover'. Research shows that for every 1degreesC temperature rise, the health risk rises by seven per cent, he said. 'This is based on the temperatures at which bacteria and viruses thrive,' O'Sullivan said. 'If you let the temperature and relative humidity go up, all the bacteria think it is Christmas and breed like mad.'

He compared comfort heating with comfort eating - not necessarily good for you - and said that there is a vicious circle, since people who are unwell or depressed want warmer conditions - which in turn tend to make them ill. 'In organisations where people are stressed or depressed, we find they run the buildings at higher temperatures.'

There is also a correlation, although a less exact one, between keeping temperatures down artificially in summer and increased illness. 'That is more complex,' said O'Sullivan. 'But we do know that you want the body living in the same sort of conditions all the time. If you thermally shock the body, you knock off the immune system.'

Professor O'Sullivan was speaking at the centenary dinner of the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers.

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