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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Developing an adaptive model of thermal comfort and preference


The adaptive hypothesis predicts that contextual factors and past thermal history modify building occupants' thermal expectations and preferences. One of the predictions of the adaptive hypothesis is that people in warm climate zones prefer warmer indoor temperatures than people living in cold climate zones. This is contrary to the static assumptions underlying the current ASHRAE comfort standard 55-92. To examine the adaptive hypothesis and its implications for Standard 55-92, the ASHRAE RP-884 project assembled a quality-controlled database from thermal comfort field experiments worldwide (circa 21,000 observations from 160 buildings). Our statistical analysis examined the semantics of thermal comfort in terms of thermal sensation, acceptability, and preference, as a function of both indoor and outdoor temperature. Optimum indoor temperatures tracked both prevailing indoor and outdoor temperatures, as predicted by the adaptive hypothesis. The static predicted means vote (PMV) model was shown to be partially adaptive by accounting for behavioral adjustments, and fully explained adaptation occurring in HVAC buildings. Occupants in naturally ventilated buildings were tolerant of a significantly wider range of temperatures, explained by a combination of both behavioral adjustment and psychological adaptation. These results formed the basis of a proposal for a variable indoor temperature standard.

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