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The research discipline of Indoor Environmental Quality links the indoor environment of buildings to people. IEQ involves many aspects such as Air, which is mainly studied in the context of health, and Sound, Light and Temperature, which are mainly studied in the context of comfort. So, when we read or hear about health effects of the indoor environment, chances are high that it relates to ventilation or other aspects of air quality control. However, the research group TherMU of Maastricht University centres its research around the health effects of Temperature on humans’ physiological processes including thermoregulation and energy metabolism.
Main emphasis of the research of TherMU is on individual differences in whole body physiology and the underlying mechanisms on cellular level, and on applying the scientific knowledge into the built environment.
The fundamental aspect of the research line is the effect of environmental temperatures as we encounter in daily life on physiology and (thermal) behaviour. Prof. Wouter van Marken Lichtenbelt was the first to put mild cold exposure and the physiological responses, such as non-shivering thermogenesis, on the international research agenda in the early 2000s.
In follow-up studies his group was among the first that identified functional brown adipose tissue in adult humans. Brown fat is an important tissue to study that links to a healthy metabolic profile. Follow-up studies by TherMU showed that in adult humans brown fat is a flexible tissue that can be activated and recruited by regular mild cold exposure and weight loss. Moreover, the results show that such cold acclimation results in an improved glucose metabolism (increased insulin sensitivity in diabetes patients), a shift in comfort and increased thermal resilience. Interestingly, recent studies on mild heat exposure and acclimation have also shown beneficial effects on metabolic and cardiovascular health.
All in all, these recent studies show that thermal variation can be healthy and that we should change our attitude from a tightly controlled indoor environmental temperature towards a more dynamic profile. Therefore, an important research line of TherMU is on how environmental conditions (indoor climate) relate to thermal comfort, long-term health and prevention of the metabolic syndrome (obesitas, type2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases). This research bridges the gap between basic physiology and health in daily living environment (care centres, dwellings and offices).
UM works together with DTU in Work Package 5 - People planet profit validation: researching the impact of GEOTABS on indoor environmental quality (IEQ) aspects, including comfort, health and productivity, and defining key performance indicators (KPIs) for their valuation. Therefore, demo buildings are used to conduct experiments. Out of an inventory of existing GEOTABS buildings, a selection of demonstration buildings was made: a school building in Libeznice (Czech Republic), ‘Ter Potterie’ elderly home in Brugges (Belgium), ‘Solarwind’ office building in Windhof (Luxembourg), and, recently added, Infrax office building in Dilbeek (Belgium). Currently, indoor climate measurements and questionnaires are conducted in the demo buildings. Ultimately, the demo buildings and their occupants will be monitored while running on conventional control and with MPC, enabling us to compare the KPIs in the MPC scenario to the KPIs using conventional control.