Analysis of Thermal Comfort in Buildings and Other Spaces

Objective

Explore the relation between comfort parameters/factors and the overuse of HVAC systems in buildings and other target spaces (to be determined). Based upon research, testing, and elaboration of specific criteria, develop guidelines to establish an optimal range of thermal conditions in these spaces, thereby achieving both occupant comfort and energy efficiency. 

Background

Why are we still inhabiting overheated or overcooled spaces? This project will attempt to respond to this question, and investigate why many of the institutional buildings we occupy are often experienced as too hot or too cold.

ASHRAE—the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers—has developed Standard 55: Thermal Environmental Conditions for Human Occupancy. According to Standard 55, thermal comfort is defined as “that condition of mind which expresses satisfaction with the thermal environment and is assessed by subjective evaluation.”  Given the large variations from person to person, both physiological and psychological, it is difficult to regulate temperature in a given space so as to satisfy everyone. The Passive House approach holds that optimal thermal comfort is reached when the heat released by the human body is in equilibrium with its heat production. Ole Fanger developed a comfort equation that creates a relationship between an occupant activity (e.g. sleeping, running), clothing worn, and other comfort-determining factors. Fanger’s equation was later adopted as ISO (International Organization for Standards) standard 7730.

Standards and codes continue to focus on defining the range of indoor thermal environmental conditions acceptable to a majority of occupants. This accommodates an ever-increasing variety of design solutions intended to provide thermal comfort and at the same time respect today’s imperative for energy-efficient buildings. This project, among other things, will investigate the relationship between unsatisfactory indoor thermal quality conditions and building energy efficiency, assessing the role of mismanaged HVAC systems, inadequate use of new sensor technology, and inefficient operation of buildings, among other causes.

Suggested Approaches

(i)  Research. Conduct a thorough literature review of the history of thermal comfort standards, with emphasis on the differing approaches of the US and Europe.

(ii)  Surveys. Conduct qualitative surveys of occupants in the buildings/spaces, taking into account secondary factors that affect comfort, and relate the survey findings to thermal comfort as measured in the seven-point ASHRAE scale.

(iii)  Simulations. Following the initial surveys, conduct Building Performance Simulations (BPS), using DesignBuilder software (https://www.designbuilder.com),  Energy Plus, and/or other Graphical User Interface (GUI) tools with which supervisor has direct expertise.

(iv)  Report: Write up the project results, with recommendations. Explore possibilities of publication in academic journal(s).