Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


College of Engineering/Construction Management

Document Type



Accurately simulating occupant behavior is essential to improve our understanding about the future energy performance of the buildings. To date, most of the information related to the occupancy behaviors has been gathered through field observations and/or performing experiments within the lab environments. Even though these common data collection methods are effective and reliable for the existing buildings, using such data to project occupant behaviors in other contexts is likely to lead to uncertainties. The most significant theoretical achievement of this dissertation was to provide the future building occupants with thermal experience of non-physically existent environments. In this dissertation occupant behavior data was generated in an innovative experimental platform, the state-of-the-art, multi-sensory IVE within a climate chamber. This novel data collection approach allows designers to incorporate human sensation in design process and provides the possibility of examining the occupants’ thermoceptions and thermally-driven behavioral intentions in pre-occupancy stages of buildings’ life cycle. In specific, this dissertation focused on exploring the effectiveness of this new testbed in producing psychological and physiological responses that are comparable to their in-situ counterparts. Through the observations from the pilot studies, a well-grounded basis for developing a theoretical framework for the dissertation was formed, and results from the empirical evaluations and hypothesis testing of the proposed theoretical framework of the dissertation provided evidence for the ecological validity of the IVE as a scientific research tool. It was revealed that changing the indoor temperature between 65 ºF to 85 ºF has the same impact on participants’ perception of the thermal environment and physiological responses in both IVE and in-situ settings. However, some of the physiological responses at the beginning of the IVE sessions were significantly different from the in-situ sessions that could imply the availability of stress or worry. Also, the analyses of the collected sample of the dissertation showed that the variables age, computer skills and experience with virtual reality, as well as immersive tendency (entertainment) were positively, and the variable cybersickness (nausea) was negatively correlated with the consistency of thermally-driven behavioral intentions across the IVE and in-situ settings. The dissertation improved the IVE-based data collection using modeling techniques which are sensitive to the contextual factors such as the spatial, temporal and outside weather conditions. Another considerable finding of this dissertation was that the thermally-driven behavioral intentions in the IVE showed significant independence from the two periods of data collection (colder vs. warmer outside), which opposes the findings of the in-situ. Overall, this dissertation showed promising potential for utilizing multi-sensory IVE platforms in the area of occupant energy behavior and laid a subtle groundwork for future research.



Committee Chair

Zhu, Yimin