Building on Human Behavior - Exel: Drexel University's Research Magazine
 
 

_NATURE ENVIRONMENT Green Architecture

_Building on Human Behavior

“Human factors” — how people individually adapt to office temperatures — play into the design and operation of sustainable architecture.

_Jared Langevin

Jared Langevin is a PhD candidate in the College of Engineering’s Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering.

When your office’s air conditioning or heating becomes uncomfortable, what measures do you take to adjust? Do you play with the thermostat, add or remove layers of clothing, or maybe use a fan or space heater? A Drexel engineer is looking at how these behaviors affect individuals’ thermal comfort and an office’s energy usage with the hope of informing design practices.

Jared Langevin, a doctoral student in the Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering, is developing a computer model for architects, engineers and building managers that accurately reflects how people adjust to their thermal environment at work.

He’s building the model based on findings from a yearlong, National Science Foundation–funded study he conducted at an office building in Center City Philadelphia. The four-story, 58,000-square-foot building was recently renovated to give it the top rating for green design from the U.S. Green Building Council.

For two weeks in each season, Langevin surveyed 24 people who work in the building to learn how they adapted to the thermal environment of their office.

Building on Human Behavior Clothing Study

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Part of Langevin’s survey instructed subjects to explain how they had modified their clothing that day to make themselves more comfortable with the temperature of their office.

He also tracked temperature, humidity and air velocity from multiple sensors installed in each of the offices, as well as the current states of fans or heaters (on or off) and nearby windows (open or closed).

Langevin says architects and building engineers strive to incorporate design tactics (better insulation, natural lighting, etc.) to maintain the “target temperature” of their buildings with minimal additional energy use. But he says that existing modeling software is missing an important element, says Langevin. Human factors.

“If some people are using heaters in the summer because they are so cold from the air-conditioning, might it be more efficient to use less air conditioning and provide desk fans, which use very little energy, for those who tend to be warmer, to ensure they are still comfortable? These are the sorts of basic questions that our model will help building managers and designers answer,” Langevin says.