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Finding the right temperature

University of Michigan faculty receive an NSF grant to investigate automated, data-driven HVAC control.

Temperature control can be a challenge in office buildings and other spaces with multiple occupants, and trying to maintain an ideal temperature requires a lot of energy. In the U.S. and worldwide, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems represent one of the largest energy end uses, accounting for approximately 50 percent of the total energy required to operate residential and commercial buildings.

Most current approaches to regulating temperature require human intervention (for example, by adjusting the thermostat). But relying on intermittent human feedback is inefficient and prevents a thorough evaluation of the comfort level. Three University of Michigan faculty members have a better idea.

With a recent grant from the National Science Foundation for their project, “Non-Intrusive Interpretation and Improvement of Multi-Occupancy Human Thermal Comfort through Analysis of Facial Infrared Thermography,” they will investigate the feasibility of using infrared thermography as a non-intrusive method for predicting human preferences for comfortable temperatures.

Carol Menassa (Associate Professor & John L. Tishman CM Faculty Scholar, Civil and Environmental Engineering) will serve as the Principal Investigator on this project, along with Co-Principal Investigators Vineet Kamat (Professor, Frank and Brooke Transue & John L. Tishman CM Faculty Scholar, Civil and Environmental Engineering) and Eunshin Byon (Associate Professor, Industrial and Operations Engineering).

The project will explore the premise that humans’ level of comfort with the indoor temperature can be measured non-intrusively and reliably. The resulting new knowledge has the potential to transition building HVAC control from a passive and user-empirical process to an automated, user-centric and data-driven mechanism that can both improve human comfort in indoor environments and reduce energy consumption.

Although the focus is on thermal comfort in this project, the developed framework and methodology could be extended in the future to evaluate other indoor environmental quality factors such as lighting and airflow.


Portrait of Mason Hinawi
Mason Hinawi

Marketing Communications Specialist
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering