A new grant provided by ASHRAE will aim to find out how much energy occupants expend in offices and how that impacts their personal comfort.

Better tools for quantifying the comfort and behavior of building occupants as an integral part of the building design and operation processes will be developed by Jared Langevin of Drexel University through his project, “Human Behavior and Low Energy Architecture: Linking Environmental Adaptation, Personal Comfort, and Energy Use in the Built Environment.”

Langevin is one of 21 students who will receive a grant through the ASHRAE Graduate Student Grant-In-Aid Award Program, which is designed to encourage students to continue their education in preparation for service in the HVACR industry. The grants, totaling $210,000, are awarded to full-time graduate students of ASHRAE-related technologies.

“In recent years, it has been suggested that discrepancies between actual and expected energy use in office buildings can be attributed to a single source of uncertainty: the building occupant,” Langevin said. “While traditional design-stage engineering calculations for office buildings have assumed occupants contribute no more than an added heat gain, in practice real office employees interact with and adapt to their surrounding environments in much more deliberate and meaningful ways. Many studies have demonstrated that this interaction has important effects on energy use.”

He notes there are currently no comprehensive tools that architects and engineers can use early in the design process to weigh various scenarios of occupant behavior against key aspects of office building design and expected comfort, productivity, and energy use outcomes. As a result, building designers are typically left in the dark about how real people might use and perceive their spaces and must achieve energy efficient conditioning strategies in spite of the uncertainties surrounding occupant behavior, he said. Instead they could be embracing these uncertainties themselves as an opportunity for saving energy and improving indoor air quality.

The project will involve constructing a general framework for linking occupant behavior simulation with whole building energy simulation programs, such that behavior, comfort, and productivity outcomes can be directly evaluated alongside possible energy use impacts in building design and operation. Langevin also will develop an office occupant behavior simulation routine that generates individual and group-level behavior patterns and integrate this routine into the general simulation framework. He will package outputs from the integrated behavior-energy simulation tool in a way that can be understood by both architects and engineers.

For the list of other grant recipients, visit www.ashrae.org.