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Measuring indoor air quality

Indoor Environmental Quality

Improving the indoor environmental quality
Through research in both lab and field settings we are defining optimal indoor environmental conditions from the occupants' perspectives, using a suite of architectural scientific methods.

The mission of our research in indoor environmental quality is to improve the quality of internal environments in buildings where we spend more than 90 percent of our day-to-day lives. We aim to define the relationships between building occupants – including their comfort, health, wellbeing and productivity – and the physical characteristics of the indoor environments they occupy.


Our specific focus is on thermal, acoustic and lighting comforts, along with indoor air quality. We produce occupant-centred, evidence-based design guidance that is relevant to both the design-stage and operational-phase of a building’s lifecycle.

We use field and lab research methods, and in both cases we apply objective (instruments and sensors) as well as subjective measures (questionnaires, interviews, focus groups) in a stimulus-response research design.

Using lab methods allows for precise control of experimental subject exposures to indoor environmental qualities such as temperature, humidity, air movement, ventilation rates, and pollution concentrations, daylight, artificial lighting, sound pressure level, and other acoustic qualities. Field methods on the other hand, use actual buildings with ‘real’ occupants (cf experimental subjects). The advantage of field methods is that they produce new knowledge with greater external validity and generalisability than is possible with lab methods. The IEQ Lab often combines both lab and field methods to ensure internal and external validity of the research. 

Our research falls into the broad categories of architecture and engineering. To date, most knowledge in the domain of IEQ has come from engineering, with a focus on the elimination or management of discomforts, health hazards and productivity constraints of buildings. However, we also use an architectural approach to our research by focusing on passive and low-energy design strategies that are more sympathetic to external environmental and climatic contexts.

  • Dr Ji-Hye Ryu 
    Visiting Scholar
    September 2018 – August 2019
    Supervisor: Richard de Dear
  • Wenjie Ji
    Visiting Scholar – Tsinghua University (Beijing, China)
    September 2018 – September 2019
    Supervisor: Richard de Dear
  • A/Prof. Amir Omidvar
    Visiting Scholar – Shiraz university of Technology (Shiraz, Iran)
    May 2019 – November 2019
    Supervisor: Richard de Dear
  • Murat Mustafa
    Visiting Scholar – Loughborough University (Loughborough, England)
    May 2019 – November 2019
    Supervisor: Richard de Dear
  • Yi Ju
    Visiting Scholar – Tsinghua University (Beijing, China)
    August 2019 – September 2019
    Supervisor: Richard de Dear
  • A/Prof. Naoe Nishihara
    Visiting Scholar – University of Sacred Heart (Tokyo, Japan) 
    October 2019 – March 2020
    Supervisor: Richard de Dear
  • Yongxin “Sherry” Xie  
    Visiting Scholar    - Hong Kong Poly U 
    1st March 2018 - 31st December 2018
    Supervisor: Jianlei NIU
  • Dr Yan Xiong
    Visiting Scholar  - Wuhan U (China)
    28th March 2018 - 27th March 2019
    Supervisor: Richard de Dear
  • Dr Lijuan Wang
    Visiting Scholar – Xi’an Polyt U (China)
    1st January 2018 - 31st December 2018
    Supervisor: Richard de Dear
  • Professor Jan Hensen
    Technical University of Eindhoven, Netherlands
    4 October 2018 – 5 January 2019
    Supervisors: Richard de Dear and Jianlei Niu
  • Professor Runa Hellwig (Endeavor Executive Fellow)
    Aalborg University, Denmark
    27 July 2018 – 18 September 2018
    Supervisor: Richard de Dear
  • Jianong Li 
    Visiting Scholar
    20th September 2018 – 20th December 2018
    Supervisor: Jianlei NIU

Recent and ongoing funded research

Funding source: 2016-18, Australian Research Council (ARC) DP DP160103978

Researchers: Professor Richard de Dear, Dr Densil Cabrera, Dr Jungsoo Kim

Without internal walls, open-plan offices are designed to make people interact more frequently and therefore be more collaborative and productive. Yet there is a high level of dissatisfaction with the open-plan layout because of frequent distraction by background speech from co-workers, which has been shown to significantly decrease work performance and productivity. This project aims to better understand how irrelevant speech in open-plan offices affects the occupants’ cognitive performance and creates annoyance. The intended outcomes are the development of powerful new tools to measure, model and predict the degree of speech distraction at work, enabling establishment of new international standards.

Funding Source: 2018-19 Partnership Collaboration Fund – The University of Sydney and Shanghai Jiao Tong University

Researchers: Prof Richard de Dear (University of Sydney), Dr Jing Xiong (University of Sydney), Professor Zhiwei Lian (SJTU) Associate Professor Li Lan (SJTU).

In this proposed collaborative research, University of Sydney and SJTU researchers will conduct comparative studies on sleeping environmental parameters (specifically operative temperature and bedding thermal insulation values) as stipulated in the relevant Chinese and Australian (international) basic standards for thermal environmental conditions for human occupancy.

Funding source: 2012-14, National Research Foundation of Korea; American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers

Researchers: Professor Richard de Dear (University of Sydney), Dr Thomas Parkinson (University of Sydney), Dr Jungsoo Kim (University of Sydney), Professor Chungyoon Chun (Yonsei University), Professor Ed Arens (UC Berkeley)

Researchers: Professor Richard de Dea, Dr Jungsoo Kim

This Annex focuses on the fundamental question of how to describe the mechanisms of occupant adaptive thermal comfort in buildings, as well as the application of the thermal adaptation concept in design, evaluation and control of built environments in order to reduce energy use. This international working group is led by Prof Richard de Dear (University of Sydney) and Prof Yingxin Zhu (Tsinghua University). There are currently 11 IEA-EBC member countries participating in this Annex, along with 1 non-member country. The participants collaborate to establish a worldwide database of building performance, to develop and improve the adaptive method in indoor thermal environment standards, and to propose guidelines for using the adaptive approach in low energy building design, operation, refurbishment, and new personal thermal comfort systems. Researchers, architects, engineers, developers and policy makers in the related fields will benefit from the outcomes of this Annex.

More information available at Annex 69 website.

Funding source: 2011-14, Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage LP110200328

Industry partners: Arup, Brookfield Multiplex, The GPT Group, Investa Property Group, Stockland Property Management.

Researchers: Professor Richard de Dear (University of Sydney), Dr Christhina Candido (University of Sydney), Mr Craig Roussac, Dr Jungsoo Kim (University of Sydney), Dr Thomas Parkinson (University of Sydney), Ms Leena Thomas (UTS)

In-kind support: National Australian Built Environment Rating System (NABERS)

Post Occupancy Evaluation (POE) generates feedback on the performance of buildings from their occupants’ perspectives. As an indoor environmental quality assurance process, POE accelerates diffusion of best design practices and minimises bad design recidivism. The Building Occupants Survey System for Australia - BOSSA - will be a POE system for Australia’s office buildings. As the BOSSA database grows with each additional building surveyed during this project, it will underpin an ongoing program of architectural science research aimed at improving occupant health, comfort and productivity outcomes from sustainable office buildings.

Funding source: 2011-16, Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, Government of India, Climate Works Foundation and Shakti Sustainable Energy Foundation

Researchers: Professor Richard de Dear (University of Sydney), Ms Leena Thomas (UTS), Professor Rajan Rawal (CEPT University)

The project conducted field surveys of a sample of Indian office buildings in 5 distinct climate zones of the Indian subcontinent, with the aim of establishing an adaptive comfort model uniquely tailored to the Indian buildings sector.  The research outcomes have gone on to inform the Indian Building Code.


Researchers: Professor Mathew Aitchison, Professor Richard de Dear, Professor Nicole Gurran, Associate Professor Sandra Loschke, Mr Rizal Muslimin.

Funding Source:
Cooperative Research Centre Projects, Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Industry, Innovation and Science.

The project will develop a range of solutions for the multi-storey housing market that address increasing urban density and residential market demands.

Researchers: Professor Richard de Dear, Dr Christhina Candido, Dr Jungsoo Kim, Dr Max Deuble

Adaptive comfort standards have two broad applications; they are widely used in the design phase to assess feasibility of natural ventilation. This can be done with simplified assessment tools, including software, at the earliest design phase, or later in the design phase with the aid of dynamic thermal simulation software, based on input of TMY weather data. The second major area of application for the adaptive model – compliance checking of extant buildings – is less well documented.

This paper describes a Thermal Comfort Policy being developed for a client who owns a large portfolio of buildings in Australia. To date the client’s decisions about where and when to install HVAC have been based on an isotherm on the climate map of the region in which they operate. Buildings located north (ie, warm-side) of the 33 degrees Celsius mean daily maximum January (Austral summer) isotherm are air-conditioned by default, regardless of how well the building performs in that climate zone. Buildings falling on the south side of the 33 degrees Celsius January mean daily maximum isotherm do not receive air conditioning, even if their thermal performance is demonstrably poor.

The client’s project brief aims to shift those air conditioning decisions onto a more rational footing, based on the climatic context, the building’s thermal performance, and the building occupants’ thermal comfort requirements. The ASHRAE 55-2010R adaptive model is being used as the basis for the human comfort criteria with an exponentially-weighted running mean outdoor temperature for input. Two metrics have been proposed for the diagnosis of overheating;

a) percentage of occupied hours during which indoor operative temperature exceeds the ASHRAE 55 upper limit (80 percent acceptability), and

b) cumulated degree-hours based on an indoor operative temperature baseline of the ASHRAE 55 upper limit (80 percent acceptability).

Our researchers