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Automatic Long-Term Thermal Comfort Monitoring in Buildings

By Justin Berquist, P.Eng., Associate Member ASHRAE; William O’Brien, Ph.D., P.Eng., Associate Member ASHRAE; Mohamed Ouf, Ph.D., P.Eng., Associate Member ASHRAE

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©2020 This excerpt taken from the article of the same name which appeared in ASHRAE Journal, vol. 62, no. 1, January 2020.

About the Authors
Justin Berquist, P.Eng., is a research associate at the National Research Council Canada, Ottawa, Ontario. William O'Brien, Ph.D., P.Eng., is an associate professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario. Mohamed Ouf, Ph.D., P.Eng., is an assistant professor in the Department of Building, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec.

Occupant health, productivity and well-being depend on indoor environmental quality (Heinzerling et al., 2013). Continuous monitoring of occupant comfort and the indoor environment can facilitate the control of buildings for improved occupant comfort. However, most survey methods cannot continuously monitor occupant comfort and the indoor environment simultaneously (Peretti & Schiavon, 2011).

Instead, traditional occupant comfort surveys use one-time evaluations to estimate overall occupant satisfaction (Peretti & Schiavon, 2011). Although there are benefits to traditional occupant comfort surveys, precisely determining occupants’ preferences is difficult due to the short length of the typical survey period, relative to the transient characteristic of comfort and the indoor environment. While some occupant survey methods have been developed for simultaneously monitoring occupant comfort and indoor environmental conditions, they were typically short in duration and/or were for a relatively small number of occupants, e.g., Hummelgaard et al. (2007), Lawrence & Keime. (2016) and Martinez-Molina et al. (2018). Therefore, a method is required to conduct long-term, continuous monitoring of indoor environmental conditions and occupant preferences.

Wireless electronic survey devices have recently been deployed in public spaces, enabling long-term, continuous reporting of occupant satisfaction. For example, airports and public washrooms commonly use these devices for occupants to report their overall satisfaction with the facility. In addition to the recent advancement of survey technologies, wireless sensing and data-logging technologies are increasing in availability, enabling long-term monitoring of indoor environmental conditions (Heinzerling et al., 2013). For example, mobile indoor environmental quality measurement carts combine different sensors to measure several parameters simultaneously (Li et al., 2018; Newsham et al., 2013). This allows for multiple sensors to be quickly moved throughout a space while ensuring the sensors are steady during the measurement period (Chiang et al., 2001; Kim & Haberl, 2014). However, the carts can be bulky, making them difficult to move within and between buildings. Moreover, it can be difficult to conduct measurements when occupants are present; this is even more difficult in buildings with transient occupancy and high occupant densities.

The purpose of this article is to demonstrate a low-cost and practical method for estimating ideal comfort parameters in public buildings. The method could be used by building owners, operators, managers and researchers. Moreover, it can serve to inform day-to-day operations, operating standards and policy, retrofit analysis, code and standard compliance and generate new scientific knowledge. This method can also overcome some of the considerations and challenges posed by ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 55-2017, Thermal Environmental Conditions for Human Occupancy, on sample size, frequency and repetition and occupant effort. This article presents: 1) the proposed method and its implementation in a case study, 2) the case study results and 3) a discussion of the proposed method’s findings, limitations and future considerations.


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