Thermal adaptation in the built environment: A literature review

Gail S. Brager*, Richard J. De Dear

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

949 Citations (Scopus)


This paper presents the results of an extensive literature review on the topic of thermal adaptation in the built environment. The adaptive approach to modeling thermal comfort acknowledges that thermal perception in 'real world' settings is influenced by the complexities of past thermal history and cultural and technical practices. An important premise of the adaptive model is that the person is no longer a passive recipient of the given thermal environment, but instead is an active agent interacting with the person-environment system via multiple feedback loops. Thermal adaptation can be attributed to three different processes - behavioral adjustment, physiological acclimatization and psychological habituation or expectation. Both climate chamber and field evidence indicates that the slower process of acclimatization is not so relevant to thermal adaptation in the relatively moderate conditions found in buildings, whereas behavioral adjustment and expectation have a much greater influence. One of the most important findings from our review of field evidence was the distinction between thermal comfort responses in air-conditioned vs. naturally ventilated buildings, most likely resulting from a combination of past thermal history in the buildings and differences in levels of perceived control.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)83-96
Number of pages14
JournalEnergy and Buildings
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 1998


  • Adaptation
  • Individual control
  • Natural ventilation


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