Jeff Chang ’19 was trying to understand why a thermal image he’d taken of a 1960s office building on campus revealed a strange plaid-like effect: White areas—denoting particularly warm parts of the building—ran like vertical and horizontal stripes between the building’s windows and doors.

“Then I realized that the HVAC system ran through the exterior walls,” he says. “All this heat is coming out and being wasted, rather than making it comfortable for people inside.”

The link between the wellbeing of building occupants and environmental sustainability is at the heart of a research project in the School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation to assess buildings around campus.

“There’s no conflict between healthy and energy efficient—they complement each other, ” says Ming Hu, an assistant professor of architecture who launched the project in early 2017.

Hu and her students are focusing on several environmental factors that studies have shown can affect occupants’ health, wellbeing and job performance. They include thermal comfort, indoor air quality, room acoustics and noise level and indoor lighting quality.

They’ve surveyed users and taken environmental measurements in seven buildings so far: the Architecture, Parren J. Mitchell Art-Sociology, Lee and Patuxent buildings, Health Center, and Talbot and Wicomico halls.

In addition to graduate students in architecture programs, Hu is working with undergraduates in the FIRE (First-year Innovation and Research Experience) program, including Chang, an economics major. He extended his participation in Hu’s project into his junior year to apply his interest in data analysis to this real-world problem.

The next step, Hu says, will be to draw up renovation strategies to create wellness-enhancing spaces filled with light, fresh air and low noise levels, while also turning them into net-zero buildings—ones that use no more energy than is created onsite by renewable power technologies like solar or wind.

Some of the building plans will be done this summer, Hu says. While there is no current schedule for turning them into reality, her plans will be waiting when the time comes for a serious makeover.

“When we finally do that upgrade, we’ll have the best strategy already in place,” she says.