This paper deals critically with the way people’s “comfort zone” is conceptualized within the indoor climate context. It draws attention to the emergence of international building guidelines and standards which engineers and architects use when designing a building, that describe the “comfort zone” as a narrow, optimal, steady state of “neutrality” of the human body with its immediate, physical environment. Scientists from different fields have been recently suggesting that this conceptualization is unsustainable and based on false assumptions about the relationship and interaction between people and their environment. In order to reconcile sustainability with the built environment’s demand for comfort, the practitioners of sustainable architecture and design as well as policy-makers may greatly benefit from understanding people’s current social practices, values and visions with regard to comfort; to enable people’s acknowledgement and ability to adapt to sustainable, new ways of operating and managing one’s indoor environment, it may be of advantage to be able to account for the socially accepted, everyday (non-) sustainable actions relating to one’s comfort which can be, in some cases, rigorous and resistant to change.
This paper outlines a case where researchers have empirically studied the building inhabitant’s own judgments and values and his actual experience with regard to comfort in everyday life. In parallel qualitative and quantitative data within the user’s context, in this case the building inhabitant’s context, were collected while researchers took the role of the observer-as-participant and followed Danish families how they practice “comfort” during an ordinary day at home, work and school. From the data, an interpretation about the above phenomenon is illustrated in detail showing how situational, temporal and idiosyncratic “ordinary” people’s values and decision making relating to their personal management of the indoor environment are, and the relevance for sustainable building design is demonstrated. The results presented underline the significance of looking beyond e.g. measuring physical parameters and following international building guidelines, when being on the search for comfort “ factors” and adaptive opportunities in future sustainable building design.