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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Occupant thermal feedback for improved efficiency in university buildings


© 2017 Elsevier B.V. Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems are responsible for more than half of the energy consumed in many buildings on university campuses in the US. Despite the significant amount of energy spent on HVAC operations, thermal comfort conditions in campus buildings are frequently poor. Faulty assumptions or a lack of data regarding occupant comfort can lead to energy waste from overheating or overcooling. Additionally, inadequate operational procedures and outdated technology make it difficult for occupant needs to inform temperature management. For example, campuses frequently use “work order” systems to manage temperature issues, but this process is slow and not widely used by students, i.e., the majority of building occupants. Previous research suggests that thermal comfort feedback from occupants can simultaneously drive energy efficiency and improve comfort in university buildings. However, these prior studies were limited to single buildings or zones inside buildings. This paper describes the campus-wide deployment of TherMOOstat, a software tool that solicits thermal feedback from students, and analyzes its impact on energy use and energy management procedures. Thermal feedback can be submitted any time from any building on central campus. Over 10,000 feedback submissions were received across one year, transforming occupants into meaningful sensors. The research team explored manual and automatic methods to link occupant thermal feedback to the energy management system, resulting in improved efficiency and comfort.

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