Behind closed doors: world-first study about how we use air-conditioners at home

8 December 2011

A world-first research project into people's usage of household air-conditioners is now recruiting participants who live in Sydney's inner west.

The ARC-funded study is to be led by the eminent Professor Richard de Dear from the Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning.

The project aims to determine the threshold living room temperature that triggers people to switch on air-conditioning. It will also attempt to discover whether homes with thermal protection, such as retrofitted ceiling insulation, actually use less energy.

"Heating and cooling of the buildings we inhabit accounts for about 25 percent of Australia's greenhouse gas emissions," Professor de Dear said. "As our comfort expectations go up, so too do our carbon emissions."

Participants in the study will need a split system air-conditioner in their home and they will be asked to complete a 60-second comfort questionnaire on their smart phones every couple of days. Researchers will also note details of daily weather patterns and housing construction details.

This project will be the first large-scale Australian study into residential thermal comfort and air conditioning and will provide a solid basis for further greenhouse mitigation strategies and policies.

Currently no data exists about how we use air-conditioners, and the study's findings will represent a significant contribution to the effective management of the residential sector's greenhouse emissions.

The large-scale and synchronised use of residential air-conditioning can create significant peak demand problems on the electricity grid. In February 2009, for example, widespread blackouts in both Adelaide and Melbourne were the direct result of air-conditioning peak demand during hot weather.

Professor Richard de Dear is an internationally recognised researcher in the area of human thermal comfort. Data gathered from the project will help us better understand the thermal-comfort factors contributing to peak electricity demand from air conditioners and thus to better manage residential greenhouse gas emissions.

"One in two Australian households have got at least one air-conditioner," Professor de Dear said. "We've gone from a country that used to be resilient to our climate, to freaking out when the temperature goes above 25."

To participate in the study contact Tom Parkinson on 0404 359 555.

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