This page contains document links to Construction Criteria Base

Provide Comfortable Environments

by the WBDG Productive Committee

Last updated: 11-03-2011


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. And Right: The beige cubicle environment lacking color embellishment or pattern is, unfortunately, a common site in many work environments. The high partitions also 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® Version 2.1 Credit / WBDG Resource Page Matrix, 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