Why is thermal comfort important?

Thermal comfort is important for health and well-being as well as productivity. Thermal comfort is critical inside office spaces, restaurants, public buildings including airports, rail stations, movie halls, libraries, classrooms, and other conditioned occupied spaces.

Together residential and commercial buildings make up 40% of the US energy usage via heating, water heating, cooling and ventilation, lighting and electronic equipment, and refrigeration. A big part of the heating and cooling energy goes to maintaining Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) for occupants in buildings. Building energy management must balance IEQ (thermal comfort, acoustics, lighting, and air quality) with energy usage. The challenge is maintaining this balance while trying to reduce energy usage and costs.

In mechanically conditioned spaces, air temperature and humidity are controlled by set points within the space. Airspeed can be controlled by the mechanical system operation as well as the placement and design of diffusers. Radiant temperature can be somewhat controlled by shading windows, and window and surface treatments. All these controls use energy and cost money. And in many cases, the drive to reduce energy is at odds with the need to maintain thermal comfort. 

Effects on Cal Poly and Students

Cal Poly has a goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, with an action plan to design new buildings to exceed CA Title 24 by 20%. However, constructing new buildings alone will not be enough to meet our goal. If we are able to understand how energy is used in all buildings, track it over time, and institute controls in older buildings, we can make additional progress toward our energy goals. While ASHRAE Standards and Title 24 have guidelines that aid in design and system control, we all know of buildings and spaces that are not comfortable and people are either too cold or too hot. When people are not comfortable and if they have access to a thermostat, most will adjust it without thought for the overall building energy usage.

When there is little control over room condition, which is usually the case in educational settings, student focus can suffer and affect their academic success. Specifically, we need to understand how students perceive thermal comfort in different situations so that we can use this information to predict thermal comfort, improve student success, and save energy.

This research proposes to investigate occupant satisfaction and what influences their perception of thermal comfort, specifically the psychological effects on thermal comfort, and asks the question of whether we can influence people to believe that the room conditions are acceptable.

We want to further the understanding of how students perceive thermal comfort with respect to the following:

  • Which situations are people willing to sacrifice comfort for a bigger purpose, e.g., save energy
  • Knowing/not knowing how flexible or inflexible a system is to changes in temperature/humidity control
  • During a regular class time vs. exams
  • Lower or higher quality of other aspects of the IEQ: humidity, airflow, acoustics, lighting, air quality
  • Physical aspects of the room, e.g., windows, view, shading/glare, size of desks/space for each student, occupant density


Research Objectives

Specifically, this research has the following objectives:

  1. Further the understanding of occupant satisfaction in educational settings, and what influences their perception of thermal comfort.
  2. Establish a link between thermal comfort in classrooms and student success.
  3. Understand the psychological effects of thermal comfort, such as knowing the actual temperature of the room or hearing the fan/AC on or off.
  4. Predict thermally comfortable ranges that will save energy.





Measure personal thermal comfort

Use the mobile/web-based app we created to record student thermal comfort level, acceptability of conditions, clothing and activity level, air velocity sensation, humidity sensation, and preferences.

Determine historical trends of thermal comfort vs grades

Data mine archived course grade data for Calculus 1-3 over the past 10 years and compare to historical weather data. 

Determine current trends of thermal comfort vs grades

Measure indoor conditions for ongoing courses, use weather data, and grade data to compare to historical trends. Use the occupant collected data to validate trends and predictions.

Introduce different situations in classrooms

Use the app we created to now also give information to occupants to and ask the same thermal comfort questions


Short Term:

Create a model of how to influence thermal comfort and energy usage.

Increased thermal comfort satisfaction in more spaces across campus as measured by the crowdsourced data.

Have developed mobile and web-based tools to track campus thermal comfort.

Long Term:

Improve student success by providing comfortable learning environments.

Reduce building energy usage on Cal Poly campus and save money in the process.

For questions regarding joining the team, please email Dr. Mott at jpeuker@calpoly.edu 

Dr. Jennifer Mott PeukerFaculty Member/Advisor 
Pouria Fariborzi, MEMS Student2021 –
Bora Joo, CSCCPTC Mobile/Web App

SURP 2020 –

Michaella Ochotorena, GENERoom Modeling

SURP 2020-

Khanhthy Le, EECPTC Mobile/Web AppSURP 2020 –
Carly Tudor, MEData Analytics2020 –
Tarnvir Dhaliwal, BMEDData Analytics2020 –
Victoria Vega, MERoom Modeling2020 –
Karina Nguyen, STATData Analytics


Gabe Hyun, CSCCPTC Mobile/Web App2021 –
Carson Hubred, IEData Analytics MentorSummer 2020

coming soon

Informed Consent to Participate in a Research Project: “Thermal Comfort Perception in Higher Education”

Informed Consent to Participate in a Research Project: “Psychological Effects on Thermal Comfort Perception in Higher Education”

CPTC App Consent Form (PDF) 

Thermal Comfort Background Consent Form (PDF)

Take the Thermal Comfort Perception Survey

Download our app (available on iOS and Android) to take the Thermal Comfort Perception survey or access the Survey Web Version.