Energy and Comfort Perceptions in University Housing

Primary author: Shelby Ruiz
Co-author(s): Julia Day

Primary college/unit: Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture
Campus: Pullman


For many universities with quickly aging residential facilities and unpredictable building occupants, making wise infrastructure upgrades can become challenging, and operational costs can increase. Building operations, such as lighting, cooling, and heating, use nearly three quarters of its consumed energy to operate and maintain an indoor environment. The College Board estimates that approximately 40% of full-time public-college students live on campus during their time at university, making residential building occupants a significant variable in this overall energy consumption. If strategic energy-efficiency plans are implemented for these universities, energy cost savings of up to 30% are possible.
This project implemented a mixed methods study to investigate adaptive comfort opportunities in university-owned and managed residential buildings to better understand the human-building interface, resulting energy use implications in buildings, and potential areas for interface and design improvements. An online survey and interviews were implemented to understand occupants’ perceptions of thermal and visual comfort, as well as respective adaptive opportunities and corresponding behaviors (e.g. opening/closing windows). The survey integrates a novel photovoice approach to visually catalog and understand the different types of interfaces available to occupants; this qualitative method is commonly used in community-based participatory research to document the reality of the participants. In addition, individual building utility metrics were analyzed to determine which residences are the most energy consuming and costly to operate; this data may help inform priorities for capital upgrades Next steps of this research include the development of a proposal of an energy-saving campaign for university facilities.