Thermal performance and occupant comfort in UK Higher Learning Environments

  • Mina Jowkar

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    Higher learning environments accommodate a variety of students in terms of climatic background, thermal expectation, age, gender, academic discipline, dress code and so forth. Such diversity often results in different perceptions of thermal comfort and (heating/cooling) energy waste in an environment. Given that thermal comfort affects academic productivity, understanding the thermal comfort requirements in higher educational buildings cannot only improve the students’ academic performance, but also can reduce energy waste due to overheating or overcooling.

    This study investigates the potential physiological and psychological human characteristics that lead to this diverse thermal perception and evaluates the students’ thermal comfort in UK higher learning environments. A field study was conducted through objective measurement (including environmental monitoring) and subjective evaluation (including paper-based cross-sectional questionnaire surveys and observation) in eight mixed-mode buildings at two university campuses in Edinburgh and Coventry, UK. A total of 4100 students were surveyed between October 2017 and March 2018. The influence of the subjects’ climatic backgrounds (long-term thermal history) and perceptions of control in different classroom types were examined as psychological drivers. The influence of the subjects’ age-and gender-related differences and acclimatisation were also assessed as physiological drivers of thermal comfort.

    The results regarding the psychological human characteristics demonstrated almost similar thermal comfort requirements in the lecture rooms, design studios and computer laboratories. Also, a closer relation between the prevalent operative temperature and a student’s comfort temperature was revealed in the design studios (due to the physiological and psychological thermal adaptation results from the longer occupancy period and the students’ higher perception of control over the space) compared to the other classroom types. In terms of a student’s climatic background (long-term thermal history), thermal comfort votes were shown to vary according to the climatic background. Warmer climatic background groups showed cooler mean thermal sensations (–0.28) and warmer preferences (–0.10) compared to the cooler background group and the UK native residents (mTSV: 0.14, mTP: 0.12). The physiological drivers of thermal comfort showed a similar comfort temperature for both genders (≈23°C) and age groups (23–24°C), but warmer sensation for women than men. Furthermore, a higher comfort temperature, warmer sensation and cooler preferences was revealed for the acclimatised subjects in Coventry (23.5°C, –0.1, 0.04 ASHRAE scale, respectively) compared to Edinburgh (22.1°C, 0.4, –0.3 ASHRAE scale, respectively).

    The overall findings show the complex nature of thermal comfort in higher learning environments through 1) showing that the same thermal environment in a classroom tends to be perceived differently from person to person, therefore, a specific environmental criterion cannot provide comfort for all the occupants; 2) explaining how the subjective factors influence thermal perceptions in higher learning environments and 3) introducing the comfort and acceptable temperature ranges for more than 80% of the students in three different classroom types.

    The output of this study can be used to develop energy efficient and sustainable environmental, architectural or refurbishment design strategies to offer different thermal zones inside classrooms in a way that students can choose the desired zone based on their thermal preferences.
    Date of AwardDec 2020
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Coventry University
    SupervisorJames Brusey (Supervisor) & Azadeh Montazami (Supervisor)

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