A review of thermal comfort

  • Xiaoyu Du TU Delft, Architecture and the Built Environment


Thermal comfort is defined as “that state of mind which expresses satisfaction with the thermal environment” (ANSI/ASHRAE, 2017). The definition of thermal comfort leaves open as to what is meant by condition of mind or satisfaction, but it correctly emphasizes that the judgment of comfort is a cognitive process involving many inputs related to physical, physiological, psychological, and other factors (Lin & Deng, 2008). People are always in an internal or external thermal environment. The human body produces heat and exchanges heat with the external environment. During normal activities these processes result in an average core body temperature of approximately 37 °C (Prek, 2005). This stable core body temperature is essential for our health and well-being. Our thermal interaction with the environment is directed towards maintaining this stability in a process called “thermoregulation” (Nicol, Humphreys, & Roaf, 2012).

Thermal comfort plays an important role in the energy consumption of buildings. So, researchers spent decades to find the appropriate approaches and models which evaluate and predict thermal comfort. A literature review of the current knowledge on thermal comfort shows two different approaches for thermal comfort, each one with its potentialities and limits: the heat-balance model and the adaptive model (Doherty & Arens, 1988). The heat-balance approach is based on analysis of the heat flows in and around the body and resulted in a model based on physics and physiology. Data from climate chamber studies was used to support this model. The best wellknown heat-balance models are the predicted mean vote (PMV) (Fanger, 1970) and the standard effective temperature (SET) (Gagge, Fobelets, & Berglund, 1986). The PMV model is particularly important because it forms the basis for most national and international comfort standards. The adaptive approach is based on field surveys of people’s response to the environment, using statistical analysis and leads to an “empirical” model (Nicol et al., 2012).


ANSI/ASHRAE. (2017). ASHRAE standard 55 Thermal Environmental Conditions for Human Occupancy

GA, USA: ASHRAE Atlanta.

Attia, S., & Carlucci, S. (2015). Impact of different thermal comfort models on zero energy residential buildings in hot climate. Energy and Buildings, 102, 117-128. doi: 10.1016/j.enbuild.2015.05.017

Auliciems, A. (1981). Towards a psycho-physiological model of thermal perception. Int J Biometeorol, 25(2), 109-122.

Bouyer, J., Vinet, J., Delpech, P., & Carré, S. (2007). Thermal comfort assessment in semi-outdoor environments: Application to comfort study in stadia. Journal of Wind Engineering and Industrial Aerodynamics, 95(9-11), 963-976. doi: 10.1016/j.jweia.2007.01.022

Brager, G. S., & de Dear, R. J. (1998). Thermal adaptation in the built environment: a literature review. Energy and Buildings, 27(1), 83-96. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0378-7788(97)00053-4

Chen, L., & Ng, E. (2012). Outdoor thermal comfort and outdoor activities: A review of research in the past decade. Cities, 29(2), 118-125. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cities.2011.08.006

Chen, Y.-C., & Matzarakis, A. (2014). Modification of physiologically equivalent temperature. Journal of Heat Island Institute International Vol, 9, 2.

Coccolo, S., Kämpf, J., Scartezzini, J.-L., & Pearlmutter, D. (2016). Outdoor human comfort and thermal stress: A comprehensive review on models and standards. Urban Climate, 18, 33-57. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.uclim.2016.08.004

De Dear, R. (1999). Adaptive thermal comfort in natural and hybrid ventilation. Paper presented at the First International One day Forum on Natural and Hybrid Ventilation, HybVent Forum.

De Dear, R. (2004). Thermal comfort in practice. Indoor Air, 14(s7), 32-39.

De Dear, R., & Brager, G. S. (1998). Developing an adaptive model of thermal comfort and preference. ASHRAE Trans, 104, 145-167.

De Dear, R. J., Arens, E., Hui, Z., & Oguro, M. (1997). Convective and radiative heat transfer coefficients for individual human body segments. Int J Biometeorol, 40(3), 141-156.

De Dear, R. J., & Brager, G. S. (2002). Thermal comfort in naturally ventilated buildings: revisions to ASHRAE Standard 55. [Article; Proceedings Paper]. Energy and Buildings, 34(6), 549-561. doi: 10.1016/s0378-7788(02)00005-1

Doherty, T., & Arens, E. A. (1988). Evaluation of the physiological bases of thermal comfort models. ASHRAE Transactions, Vol. 94, Part 1, 15 pp. ttps://escholarship.org/uc/item/6pq3r5pr

EN15251. (2007). Indoor environmental input parameters for design and assessment of energy performance of buildings addressing indoor air quality, thermal environment, lighting and acoustics. Brussels: European committee for standardisation.

Fanger, P. O. (1970). Thermal comfort. Analysis and applications in environmental engineering. Thermal comfort. Analysis and applications in environmental engineering.

Gagge, A. P., Fobelets, A., & Berglund, L. (1986). A standard predictive index of human response to the thermal environment. ASHRAE Trans.;(United States), 92(CONF-8606125-).

GB50178. (1993). Standard of Climate Regionalization for Architecture, National Standard. Beijing, China: Chinese Plan Publication House.

Ghaddar, N., Ghali, K., & Chehaitly, S. (2011). Assessing thermal comfort of active people in transitional spaces in presence of air movement. Energy and Buildings, 43(10), 2832-2842.

Givoni, B. (1976). Man, climate and architecture. London: Applied Science Publisher.

Han, J., Yang, W., Zhou, J., Zhang, G., Zhang, Q., & Moschandreas, D. J. (2009). A comparative analysis of urban and rural residential thermal comfort under natural ventilation environment. Energy and Buildings, 41(2), 139-145. doi: 10.1016/j.enbuild.2008.08.005

Han, J., Zhang, G., Zhang, Q., Zhang, J., Liu, J., Tian, L., . . . Moschandreas, D. J. (2007). Field study on occupants’ thermal comfort and residential thermal environment in a hot-humid climate of China. Building and Environment, 42(12), 4043-4050. doi: 10.1016/j.buildenv.2006.06.028

He, J., & Hoyano, A. (2010). Measurement and evaluation of the summer microclimate in the semi-enclosed space under a membrane structure. [Article]. Building and Environment, 45(1), 230-242. doi: 10.1016/j.buildenv.2009.06.006

Höppe, P. (1999). The physiological equivalent temperature–a universal index for the biometeorological assessment of the thermal environment. Int J Biometeorol, 43(2), 71-75.

Höppe, P. (2002). Different aspects of assessing indoor and outdoor thermal comfort. Energy and Buildings, 34(6), 661-665. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0378-7788(02)00017-8

Howell, W. C., & Kennedy, P. A. (1979). Field validation of the Fanger thermal comfort model. Human Factors, 21(2), 229-239.

Humphreys, M. (1978). Outdoor temperatures and comfort indoors. Batiment International, Building Research and Practice, 6(2), 92-92. doi: 10.1080/09613217808550656

Humphreys, M. (1995). Thermal comfort temperatures and the habits of Hobbits. Standards for Thermal Comfort: Indoor Air Temperature Standards for the 21st Century, 3-13.

Humphreys, M. A. (1976). Field studies of thermal comfort compared and applied. The Building Services Engineer, 44, 27.

Humphreys, M. A., & Fergus Nicol, J. (2002). The validity of ISO-PMV for predicting comfort votes in every-day thermal environments. Energy and Buildings, 34(6), 667-684. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0378-7788(02)00018-X

Hwang, R.-L., & Lin, T.-P. (2007). Thermal comfort requirements for occupants of semi-outdoor and outdoor environments in hot-humid regions. Architectural Science Review, 50(4), 357-364.

Jendritzky, G., de Dear, R., & Havenith, G. (2012). UTCI—Why another thermal index? Int J Biometeorol, 56(3), 421-428.

Kenny, N. A., Warland, J. S., Brown, R. D., & Gillespie, T. G. (2009). Part A: Assessing the performance of the COMFA outdoor thermal comfort model on subjects performing physical activity. Int J Biometeorol, 53(5), 415.

Li, B., Yao, R., Wang, Q., & Pan, Y. (2014). An introduction to the Chinese Evaluation Standard for the indoor thermal environment. Energy and Buildings, 82, 27-36. doi: 10.1016/j.enbuild.2014.06.032

Li, Y. (2008). The study of the ventilation period and the effectiveness of control in residential building of Chongqing. master, Chongqing University, Chongqing.

Lin, Z., & Deng, S. (2008). A study on the thermal comfort in sleeping environments in the subtropics—developing a thermal comfort model for sleeping environments. Building and Environment, 43(1), 70-81.

Liu, J., Yao, R., Wang, J., & Li, B. (2012). Occupants’ behavioural adaptation in workplaces with non-central heating and cooling systems. Applied Thermal Engineering, 35, 40-54. doi: 10.1016/j.applthermaleng.2011.09.037

Liu, W., Zheng, Y., Deng, Q., & Yang, L. (2012). Human thermal adaptive behaviour in naturally ventilated offices for different outdoor air temperatures: A case study in Changsha China. Building and Environment, 50, 76-89. doi: 10.1016/j.buildenv.2011.10.014

Mayer, H., & Höppe, P. (1987). Thermal comfort of man in different urban environments. Theoretical and applied climatology, 38(1), 43-49.

Mishra, A. K., & Ramgopal, M. (2013). Field studies on human thermal comfort — An overview. Building and Environment, 64, 94-106. doi: 10.1016/j.buildenv.2013.02.015

Nagano, K., & Horikoshi, T. (2011). New index indicating the universal and separate effects on human comfort under outdoor and non-uniform thermal conditions. Energy and Buildings, 43(7), 1694-1701. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.enbuild.2011.03.012

Nicol, F. (2004). Adaptive thermal comfort standards in the hot–humid tropics. Energy and Buildings, 36(7), 628-637. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.enbuild.2004.01.016

Nicol, F., Humphreys, M. A., & Roaf, S. (2012). Adaptive thermal comfort: principles and practice London and New York: Routledge.

Nicol, F., & Roaf, S. (2007). Progress on passive cooling: adaptive thermal comfort and passive architecture. Advances in Passive Cooling, Earthscan, London, UK, 1-29.

Nicol, J., & McCartney, K. (2001). Final report of Smart Controls and Thermal Comfort (SCATs) Project. Report to the European Commission of the Smart Controls and Thermal Comfort project: Oxford Brookes University, UK.

Nicol, J. F., & Humphreys, M. A. (2002). Adaptive thermal comfort and sustainable thermal standards for buildings. Energy and Buildings, 34(6), 563-572. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0378-7788(02)00006-3

Nicol, J. F., & Humphreys, M. A. (2004). A Stochastic Approach to Thermal Comfort--Occupant Behavior and Energy Use in Buildings. ASHRAE Transactions, 110(2).

Nikolopoulou, M., Baker, N., & Steemers, K. (2001). Thermal comfort in outdoor urban spaces: understanding the human parameter. Solar Energy, 70(3), 227-235. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0038-092X(00)00093-1

Pfafferott, J. Ü., Herkel, S., Kalz, D. E., & Zeuschner, A. (2007). Comparison of low-energy office buildings in summer using different thermal comfort criteria. Energy and Buildings, 39(7), 750-757. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.enbuild.2007.02.005

Pickup, J., & de Dear, R. (2000). An outdoor thermal comfort index (OUT_SET*)-part I-the model and its assumptions. Paper presented at the Biometeorology and urban climatology at the turn of the millenium. Selected papers from the Conference ICB-ICUC.

Prek, M. (2005). Thermodynamic analysis of human heat and mass transfer and their impact on thermal comfort. International Journal of Heat and Mass Transfer, 48(3), 731-739. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ijheatmasstransfer.2004.09.006

Raja, I. A., & Nicol, F. (1997). A technique for recording and analysis of postural changes associated with thermal comfort. Applied ergonomics, 28(3), 221-225.

Rijal, H., Humphreys, M., & Nicol, J. (2008). How do the occupants control the temperature in mixed-mode buildings? Predicting the use of passive and active controls. Paper presented at the Proceeding of conference: Air Conditioning and the Low Carbon Cooling Challenge, Windsor, UK.

Roaf, S., Nicol, F., Humphreys, M., Tuohy, P., & Boerstra, A. (2010). Twentieth century standards for thermal comfort: promoting high energy buildings. Architectural Science Review, 53(1), 65-77.

Spagnolo, J., & de Dear, R. (2003). A field study of thermal comfort in outdoor and semi-outdoor environments in subtropical Sydney Australia. Building and Environment, 38(5), 721-738. doi: 10.1016/s0360-1323(02)00209-3

Su, X., Zhang, X., & Gao, J. (2009). Evaluation method of natural ventilation system based on thermal comfort in China. Energy and Buildings, 41(1), 67-70. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.enbuild.2008.07.010

Szokolay, S. V. (2000). Dilemmas of warm humid climate house design. Paper presented at the Proceedings of PLEA 2000 Architecture, City, Environment, Cambridge,England.

Van Hoof, J. (2008). Forty years of Fanger’s model of thermal comfort: comfort for all? [Review]. Indoor Air, 18(3), 182-201. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0668.2007.00516.x

Wan, K. K., Li, D. H., Pan, W., & Lam, J. C. (2012). Impact of climate change on building energy use in different climate zones and mitigation and adaptation implications. Applied Energy, 97, 274-282.

Wang, Z., Zhang, L., Zhao, J., & He, Y. (2010). Thermal comfort for naturally ventilated residential buildings in Harbin. Energy and Buildings, 42(12), 2406-2415. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.enbuild.2010.08.010

Yang, L. (2003). Climatic analysis techniques and architectural design strategies for bioclimatic design. Xi’an University of Architecture and Technology, Xi’an.

Yao, R., Li, B., & Liu, J. (2009). A theoretical adaptive model of thermal comfort – Adaptive Predicted Mean Vote (aPMV). Building and Environment, 44(10), 2089-2096. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.buildenv.2009.02.014

Yao, R., Liu, J., & Li, B. (2010). Occupants’ adaptive responses and perception of thermal environment in naturally conditioned university classrooms. Applied Energy, 87(3), 1015-1022. doi: 10.1016/j.apenergy.2009.09.028

Ye, X. J., Zhou, Z. P., Lian, Z. W., Liu, H. M., Li, C. Z., & Liu, Y. M. (2006). Field study of a thermal environment and adaptive model in Shanghai. [Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov’t]. Indoor Air, 16(4), 320-326. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0668.2006.00434.x

Zhang, H., Arens, E., Fard, S. A., Huizenga, C., Paliaga, G., Brager, G., & Zagreus, L. (2007). Air movement preferences observed in office buildings. [Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov’t

Research Support, U.S. Gov’t, Non-P.H.S.]. Int J Biometeorol, 51(5), 349-360. doi: 10.1007/s00484-006-0079-y

Zhang, Y., Wang, J., Chen, H., Zhang, J., & Meng, Q. (2010). Thermal comfort in naturally ventilated buildings in hot-humid area of China. Building and Environment, 45(11), 2562-2570. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.buildenv.2010.05.024

Zhou, Z., Chen, H., Deng, Q., & Mochida, A. (2013). A field study of thermal comfort in outdoor and semi-outdoor environments in a humid subtropical climate city. Journal of Asian Architecture and Building Engineering, 12(1), 73-79.

Author Biography

Xiaoyu Du, TU Delft, Architecture and the Built Environment

Xiaoyu Du obtained his MSc in Building Technology at Chongqing University, China. From 2002 to present, he taught at the department of building technology, Faculty of Architecture and Urban Planning, Chongqing University. He is an associate professor in Chongqing university currently. He has a long experience of teaching in multidisciplines related to architectural design and designing practice. He teaches complex building design, building construction, detailed design and green building innovation related technologies for undergraduate and graduate students. He participated and finished some education and research projects, and published papers and book chapters. He also finished many design projects for residential communities and public buildings in China. He joined the faculty of architecture and the built environment, TU Delft as a guest researcher in 2011.


How to Cite
DU, Xiaoyu. A review of thermal comfort. A+BE | Architecture and the Built Environment, [S.l.], n. 10, p. 49-68, nov. 2019. ISSN 2214-7233. Available at: <https://journals.open.tudelft.nl/abe/article/view/4103>. Date accessed: 07 aug. 2020. doi: https://doi.org/10.7480/abe.19.10.4103.