Perceived thermal comfort and energy conservation strategies in residential heating

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

The perception of thermal comfort is an important factor influencing the acceptability of residential heating strategies. The perceived thermal comfort may affect a person's inclination to try a strategy or to use it on a long-term basis. In the study, perceived thermal comfort was assessed in relation to room temperature, humidity, clothing worn, preferred room temperatures, personal control over the temperatures, and energy consumption. The relationships among these variables were examined for five families participating in a live-in study comparing five residential heating strategies. The strategies tested included closing off bedroom vents/doors, setting the thermostat at 65°F, and the use of a solar greenhouse and a woodstove as supplemental heat sources. The families lived in a retrofitted solar test house for a period of four to six weeks. The house was equipped with a computer which monitored 37 channels of information at ten-second intervals and recorded the data hourly. The data collected included temperatures in every room, inside and outside humidity, wind velocity, and other variables that interplay in comfort levels and energy use. The ten adult respondents completed daily and weekly questionnaires containing Likert-type scales of thermal comfort and checklists of clothing worn. The results suggest the following conclusions: 1) the use of a residential setting to measure thermal comfort under varying environmental conditions can be successfully accomplished, 2) psychological variables such as personal control should be considered and tested by persons involved in standards development for the thermal environment, 3) the ability and experience of the persons to use a strategy can affect the achieved energy saving benefits of the strategy, 4) personal preference in the amount of personal effort a person is willing or able to give will impact on the decision on whether to use certain strategies, 5) heating strategies that can produce a direct source of heat or at least some warmer areas were rated higher by the project participants, and 6) weather can play an important role in the effectiveness of the solar greenhouse as a heating source.