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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Prototyping Solutions to Improve Comfort and Enable HVAC Energy Savings

Creative Commons 'BY-NC-SA' version 4.0 license

Digital and physical prototypes are commonly used across a broad range of industries for product development and user experience testing. Prototyping processes are also used in scientific research to generate ideas and test hypotheses. However, these creative activities receive less attention in research papers than the quantitative methods and findings. This paper describes a resourceful and iterative process of building, refining and testing a variety of ‘personal comfort devices’ that were used in a series of research studies in labs and in occupied non-residential buildings. The studies demonstrated that when building users have the ability to individualize their thermal environments, they can accept wider temperature ranges, potentially leading to reductions in HVAC energy consumption while also improving comfort. The devices tested include office chairs with battery-powered heating and cooling, IoT-connected desk fans and low-energy heating devices. This paper describes the ‘scrappy’ prototyping work that enabled this research, placing it within a context of prototyping theory. Without the highly developed prototypes created by the researchers, it would not have been possible to make the quantitative changes to building standards that are needed to influence practice.

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