Craig Roussac

By Donna Kelly

21 August 2013 — Comfort is not delight, rather the absence of discomfort, Buildings Alive chief executive Craig Roussac told last week’s Australian Institute of Refrigeration, Airconditioning and Heating 2013 Conference.

Mr Roussac presented a paper, “Airconditioning and comfort: When is too much of a good thing too much?”, and told The Fifth Estate this week that people were becoming more and more sensitive to smaller variations in their surroundings.

“I’m questioning whether we can achieve a better outcome by putting more and more energy into providing services that we were previously kind of happy with,” he said.

“It’s very hard to imagine that we will be delighted [by more].

“The present is that the expectation is growing all the time. Addressing those expectations doesn’t mean that we will be happier.

“The more you ask for, the more you receive, but it doesn’t mean you are happier.”

In this excerpt – and following excerpts published below – from his paper, to be published in the October edition of Ecolibrium, Mr Roussac said:

“Most of us spend most of our day in one form of thermally controlled environment or another… True, the home HVAC system may not operate all the time, but when conditions diverge from an ‘acceptable’ range most of us will turn it on. No point having a system if we don’t use it!”

Mr Roussac said there were many factors that impacted on indoor work spaces, such as the availability of space given to employees, but thermal conditions were the most easily pointed to and, consequently, treated.

Employees could complain about all sorts of issues but it was often filtered down to “and it’s quite warm in here”, he said.

“And that’s because you can do something about that. The availability of space has the highest impact, and I am not particularly pointing to hot desking or activity based workplaces, but we don’t complain about space while we will complain about the airconditioning.”

Mr Roussac said airconditioning had become commonplace in buildings, in cars and in homes, where it was once, like electric windows, “amazing”.

“Will progressively larger investments of capital and effort coupled with ever-tightening thermal conditions lead to greater satisfaction with HVAC services? A fascinating study by Jungsoo Kim and Richard de Dear of the University of Sydney suggests the answer is: ‘probably not’.

“They sourced data from 43,021 responses to the University of California, Berkeley’s Center for the Built Environment Post Occupancy Evaluation survey and applied it to Kano’s model of customer satisfaction…

“Kano developed the idea that different product ‘qualities’ or ‘factors’ impact overall customer satisfaction in different ways… Furthermore, the value of factors can change over time as people become used to them. Some things give delight, others just cause annoyance when they don’t work – think of how you experience a TV with remote control, or a car with airconditioning. Once upon a time these things were novel and exciting… but now you just expect them to work.”

“Once upon a time we didn’t expect to be able to control the office temperature but now we know it can be controlled instead of relying on the clothing we have chosen,” Mr Roussac told The Fifth Estate.

“We are outsourcing our responsibility for ourselves to the building environment – because we know that someone can do something about it.

“I am just putting it out there that our tolerance is reducing as our control of the environment increases.”

Mr Roussac said that when there was an ever increasing level of control expected it merely became a vicious cycle.

“While we may not be as hairy as we used to be, most humans have highly evolved thermoregulatory mechanisms and possess the means to cope with wide-ranging thermal environments. However, in modern societies such as Australia’s, these mechanisms are rarely on display.

“Instead, we seek to control our environment by feeding vast amounts of energy into HVAC equipment so we can avoid using our own. And yet the more the HVAC industry provides us the less we appreciate it.”

“At home people are controlling their environments even more, with 70 per cent of them having airconditioning,” he said.

“People are relying on more tightly controlled thermal environments [to the point] where if you step outside you fret about the temperature.

“You just need to see the people in Sydney in scarves and gloves and hats in 14 degrees.

“They don’t want to experience any convergence but if you never experience discomfort you can never feel comfort. It’s the same with happiness. There must be a reference point.”

Mr Roussac said there was also an energy cost to controlled thermal environments.

“You can make a building more and more efficient but there is a relationship between input and output.

“And output is okay to a point, but what is that point?”

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  1. I think it’s really sad that weather becomes a source of complaint (it’s too hot, it’s too cold, let’s go back inside) rather than an enjoyable source of variation. I enjoy the occasional 40 degree summer day (albeit not a whole week of them!); just as a frosty morning when the dog’s bowl freezes over is also welcome now and then.

    Weather is part of the environment. By controlling the weather via aircon, it’s possible to ignore the environment – the increase in summer heatwaves, for example. While I don’t think we should go back to living in draughty cottages huddled around a hearth, keeping some connection to (and enjoyment of) our environment could perhaps have further benefits for people’s ecological awareness?

  2. I couldn’t agree more, and defining where the problem begins is difficult to pinpoint.
    So part of the solution for this is about sort of ‘educating’ youngsters- from say 5- ish and upwards to use windows and breezes and clothes to better regulate temperature.
    And of course the same goes for carers for the children at child care centres and schools etc, where children are frequently subjected to the namby pambyism of teachers who may have a 24/7 air con lifestyle.

    And unless the windows and other natural ventilation hardware is designed into a building , AND is maintained properly, then everyone goes back to dependence on air con.

    Perhaps if air con controls had minimum set points for Summer and maximum set points designed or specified into them then there would be less abuse of air conditioning …
    Anyway these are a few of my observations and frustrations

  3. Well said Craig. I wonder if our bodies are also losing some adaptability as they get used to living in a 4 degree range for 24/7/365.
    I like Japan’s initiatives to cut back on the AC in offices during the day and change some accepted norms of dress instead.