The 16th Conference of the International Society
of Indoor Air Quality & Climate ONLINE |
From November 1, 2020
Paper ID ABS-1162
Differences In Thermal Comfort State Transitional Time Among Comfort
Pimpatsohn Sae-Zhang, Matias Quintana and Clayton Miller*
School of Design and Environment, National University of Singapore
*Corresponding email: email@example.com
As the individual difference in thermal comfort transition time is yet to be thoroughly explored,
this paper studies time adaptability amongst individuals by collecting high frequency subjective
comfort feedback using micro ecological momentary assessments on a smart-watch. The
individuals were grouped based on their thermal preference responses and had their transition
times analyzed. Each group has various transition time from arriving at and leaving from their
comfort state. On average people who are more sensitive to cold temperatures, Group 1, take
8.9 minutes from being uncomfortably cold and 25.0 minutes from being uncomfortably hot to
reach comfort zones. On the other hand, people who are generally comfortable, Group 2, take
22.4 minutes from uncomfortably cold and 27.1 minutes from uncomfortably hot to be
thermally comfortable. The average transition time within a cluster matches the thermal comfort
trend of said cluster. Ultimately, the transient time of preference groups raises the possibility to
improve individualized thermal comfort models and machine learning in the future.
Thermal adaptation, Adaptability, Transient time, Preference clustering, EMA
For data collection purposes, many fields of study have relied upon Ecological Momentary
Assessment (EMA) to acquire subjective feedback at a higher frequency to adequately analyse
the environment. EMA is the collection of assessments, over time, of the subject’s current or
recent states in their natural environment (Shiffman et al., 2008). A variant known as
microinteraction-based EMA, or micro-EMA, is performed via a smartwatch where all
prompted surveys are reduced to fast and succinct interactions that can be answered within a
few seconds (Intille et al., 2016). As it is less disruptive to a participant’s ongoing activity,
micro-EMA achieves a higher sampling frequency i.e., 8 times more than traditional EMA
(Intille et al., 2016).
On the other hand, temperature change is known to be an important factor that affects human
thermal comfort (Mihara et al., 2019). Plenty of thermal comfort research has primarily focused
on steady-state conditions, yet the actual thermal environment is naturally transient and
dynamic over time. While most of the existing thermal comfort models are only applicable to
steady-state thermal environments, many researchers have acknowledged transient
environments and deviated to anticipate non-uniform human thermal response to better building
design (Zhang & Zhao, 2009; Mihara et al., 2019). However, there is a lack of studies on the
transition rate a person takes to arrive at a stable thermal comfort level. As individual
preferences correlate to thermal comfort and such thermal comfort is hardly stable throughout
the day (Kim et al., 2019), it is questionable whether the average time taken for an individual
also varies according to their differences or whether once a person arrives at their thermal
comfort condition, they will experience a change on their thermal comfort status. If so, how
long does one take to become thermally uncomfortable and how long will it be to arrive at the
thermal comfort condition once again, remain as questions.
This work aims to quantify individual differences and their time taken for the transition between
comfort and uncomfortable state on occupants during their normal day-to-day activities. We
employ a micro-EMA field study strategy to capture in-situ real-world data in a fully operating
building. Then, we classify the subjects into three different groups or clusters,, based on the
ratio of their preference responses to one’s overall votes. The three groups are Group 1 who
prefers a cooler environment, Group 2 who feels comfortable and prefers no change and Group
3 who prefers a warmer environment. We found that subjects based on comfort preferences
experience a similar transition time behaviour amongst respective groups.
A micro-EMA data collection experiment took place in an educational building in Singapore
between October 2019 to September 2019. Subjects who either study or work at the building
were recruited for the experiment with a balanced gender mix and aged ranging from 20 to 30
years old. They were tasked to wear a Fitbit smartwatch with the cozie (Jayathissa et al., 2019)
application to provide feedback on their thermal comfort upon arriving and leaving the building
or whenever they sensed a change in their perceived thermal comfort. Each participant provided
a minimum of 100 data points with at least 50 given in spaces within the building. The thermal
comfort feedback was collected using a 3-point scale where ‘9’ denotes that the subjects prefer
the environment to be warmer, ‘10’ denotes that the subjects are thermally comfortable (no
change is needed) in such surroundings and ‘11’ denotes that the subjects prefer the
environment to be cooler. When the feedback is given, occupants’ location and timestamp are
captured and processed via the subject’s smartphone that is paired with the smartwatch and
Bluetooth beacons for indoor localisation inside the building This resulted in 3,638 data points
from 30 subjects. More details about the data collection experiment can be found in Jayathissa
et al., 2020.
The time difference between two data points for each subject was calculated if the timestamp
of a data point does not exceed 15 minutes with the previous data point and if they were given
in the same location. Figure 1 Left shows an example of a participant’s transition with its data
points that occurred within 15 minutes of each other across three different locations. The
computation of the transient duration was done in reference to the transition of the thermal
comfort vote from one value to another. If there is no change in the subjective vote, the time is
accumulated until a change occurs. Once there is a change, the accumulated time is recorded
for such a transition. The accumulated time then reset to 0 for the calculation of the next
Figure 1 (Left) Comfort transition graph of one participant at different locations. A total of 8
thermal transitions are shown as increasing or decreasing slopes. The yellow nodes represent
the time interval between the two data points which are accumulated for each transition. E.g,,
in Location A, the first transition is from ‘comfortable’ to ‘prefer cooler’ (10-11) and it takes
~16 minutes. Similarly, the second transition of ‘prefer cooler’ to ‘comfortable’ (11-10) takes
21minutes. However, the third transition, from ‘comfortable’ to ‘prefer cooler’ (10 -11),
happened in two different spaces so the time was not recorded. Figure 1 (Right) Percentage
distribution of thermal votes of all 30 subjects. The thermal comfort votes of each subject are
normalized to ratios with respect to each subject's total votes.
Later, participants were grouped based on the percentage of the highest vote they provided. A
participant with 80% of its votes being ‘prefer cooler’ is then treated as part of Group 1 whereas
a participant with 51% of its votes being ‘no change’ will be part of Group 2. Group 3 is then
formed by participants with the majority of their votes being ‘prefer warm’, Figure 1 (Right)
shows the participants, the group they belong to, and their ratio of responses.
Based on the resulting clusters and the values of the subjective thermal comfort and their ratios,
we see that the groups can be interpreted as groups where subjects 1) prefer cooler spaces, 2)
are mostly comfortable (require no change) and 3) prefer warmer spaces. Figure 1 Left shows
the subjects’ responses and despite being in the same tropical climate and the same building
throughout the whole experiment, they vary for each subject. This showcases the potential and
opportunity for personalized thermal comfort. The majority of the subjects, i.e., 28 subjects
(80%) belong to Group 2 (tend to be more comfortable), while the minority would usually seek
a change in their environment. Out of these remaining occupants, 6 subjects (17%) seem to
prefer a cooler environment (Group 1) and only one subject (3%) seem to prefer a warmer
environment (Group 3).
The changes in the subject’s thermal sensation can be broken down into various distinct groups
based on the initial and last self-reported thermal votes. This paper focuses on the changes from
being thermally uncomfortable to being thermally comfortable and vice versa. A breakdown of
the types and number of transitions is shown in Table 1. Based on these thermal behaviour
arrangements, even though it is expected that each preference group would have voted
according to their preference such as Group 1 who has higher ratio on prefer-cooler-option (11)
and Group 2 voted more for comfortable-option (10), the transient behaviour of the subject is
another aspect to remark i.e., how long the subject takes to reach or leave the comfortable state.
Table 1. Transition types and durations across all 30 participants
Number of Transition (No)
Uncomfortable to No Change State
‘Prefer Warmer’ to ‘Comfortable’ (9-10)
‘Prefer Cooler’ to ‘Comfortable’ (11-10)
Comfortable to Uncomfortable State
‘Comfortable’ to ‘Prefer Warmer’ (10-9)
‘Comfortable’ to ‘Prefer Cooler’ (10-11)
Looking further into the transitions times provide intuition about the behaviour of the groups
and allows us to better understand the relationship of thermal preference ratios, i.e., how the
groups were initially formed, and the transient time of their members.
Due to the high-frequency sampling of EMA methods like cozie (Jayathissa et al., 2019),
grouping the subjects according to their thermal comfort preferences provides a better
understanding of individual comfort differences. The discovered characteristics of the clustered
groups, such as statistics of the transient time, could serve as input features to improve a more
detailed individual or group thermal comfort model.
In the transition from uncomfortably cold to comfortable (9-10) state, subjects from Group 1
took less time on average than Group 2, 8.9 minutes and 22.4 minutes respectively: Subjects
who preferred to stay in a cooler environment were able to reach their comfortable state faster.
The absence of Group 3 could imply that the air supplied was not cool enough to be thermally
comfortable for this group. The participant in this group might either genuinely be in a constant
state of uncomfortably cold or possibly take a long time to reach their comfortable state.
Contradicting the ‘prefer warmer’ to ‘comfortable’ (9-10) transition where Group 1 was found
to change faster than Group 2, Group 1 group took lesser time for changing from comfortable
to uncomfortably hot (10-9), 18 minutes and 33.5 minutes respectively. Both Group 1 and 2 do
not have members that have experienced going from uncomfortably hot to comfortable (11-10)
state, but shared similar average transition time, 25 minutes and 27.1 minutes respectively,
shown in Figure 2(b). These results can be understood as the effectiveness of the existing
cooling systems in the buildings; regardless of the predominant preference in Group 1 and 2,
subjects in both groups adapt and reach a comfortable state in roughly the same time on average.
This may imply that, even if Group 1 is formed by users who voted ‘prefer cooler’ the most,
subjects in this group do not really rather a cooler environment but are just more sensitive to
colder environments. The underlying reasons, however, require further investigation.
Nevertheless, it is arguable that this type of transition is not common since there were only 3
data points from Group 1 by only 2 subjects out of 30 subjects. Contrastly, Group 2 has a much
wider range in transition times as high as 100 minutes to feel uncomfortable, highlighting the
characteristics of the group as they stayed in their comfort for a much longer time.
(a) ‘Prefer Warmer’ to ‘Comfortable’ (9-10)
shows the PC takes a shorter time than the
(b) ‘Prefer Cooler’ to ‘Comfortable’ (11-10)
shows that both preference groups have
similar transition times.
(c) ‘Comfortable’ to ‘Prefer Warmer’ (10-9)
shows that two drastic adaptability when
both groups were thermally comfortable.
(d) ‘Comfortable’ to ‘Prefer Cooler’ (10-11)
shows a long tail distribution for the NC and
bimodal distribution for the PC.
Figure 2 Distribution graphs of thermal transition times that each cluster takes for each
transition behaviour. Note that there is insufficient data for Group 3 subjects who generally
prefer a warmer environment, the distribution graphs thus only evaluate transitional behavioural
patterns of only Group 1 who prefer cooler and Group 2 who generally is comfortable with the
Given the definition of Group 1, it is not surprising to find a high frequency of transition from
being ‘comfortable’ to ‘prefer cooler’ (10-11). While some in Group 1 almost immediately felt
hot after reaching the premise, some took a while to feel the same way. The two distinct peaks
in Figure 2(d) show that there are people with different characteristics within the same Group.
In addition, in the same figure, Group 2 who seems to be thermally comfortable most of the
time has a high frequency of this type of transition too.
As for the limitations of this work, an experiment with a bigger cohort across different buildings
with different types of air-conditioning could provide deeper insights on the individual and
group transient time behaviour. While the data collection exercise imposes measures to mitigate
user gaming the voting system, refinements on the smartwatch application like the ability to
redo a feedback vote are still needed for more robust and bigger deployment.
The work sought to analyse transient behaviours of individuals and better comprehend the
correlation of such behaviour with respect to the characteristic of their thermal preference
group. Micro-EMA was used to achieve a high frequency sample of individual thermal
satisfaction over time and across different settings. The results suggest that thermal transient
behaviours are much more dynamic and significantly influenced by its immediate ambient
context but at the same time, the trend of subjective responses is reflected in the transition time.
Overall, Group 1, with the average of 8.9, 18 and 25 minutes, took shorter durations than Group
2 which experienced a change at 22.4, 33.5 and 27.1 minutes, upon reaching and leaving their
Thermal satisfaction is not easy to quantify or sampled as it tends to vary continuously
according to the personal context and surrounding condition. A time-based sampling EMA
where the subjective measurement is done as per schedule i.e., a fixed period duration with
random interval could be a potential methodology to continue this research. Such fixed
frequency could provide a more representative overview of the subject's behaviour. Overall,
the understanding and calculation of transient behaviour, or time taken to adapt to a comfortable
state, yield explanations of groups of occupants formed solely on their ratio of thermal comfort
votes. This serves as a basis for further research into the usability of these features beyond
occupant’s behaviour description, e.g., input features for data-driven thermal comfort models.
The Dept. of Building at the National University of Singapore and the Building and Urban Data
Science (BUDS) Lab provided support for the development and implementation of this work.
The data collection experiment was supported by Dr. Prageeth Jayathissa and Mahmoud M.
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