Modeling and analysis of heat emissions from buildings to ambient air

Publication Type

Journal Article

Date Published



Heat emissions from buildings is a significant source of anthropogenic heat influencing the urban microclimate; however, they are usually oversimplified in urban climate and microclimate modeling. This study developed a bottom-up physics-based approach to calculate heat emissions from buildings to the ambient air and implemented the approach in EnergyPlus. A simple result verification was conducted by comparing the EnergyPlus simulated results against the spreadsheet calculations. Simulations covering 16 commercial building types, four climates, and two energy efficiency levels were conducted to understand and evaluate the building heat emissions and their temporal patterns as well as three major components: (1) building envelope (convective heat transfer to ambient air), (2) zones (air exfiltration and exhaust air), and (3) HVAC systems (relief air and heat rejection from condensers or cooling towers). The main findings are: (1) heat emissions are usually higher than the site energy use (about 2.5 times), and their dynamics should be considered; (2) building characteristics and their energy systems lead to differences in heat emission contributions from the three components, and their dynamics, for example, in the warehouse models, the envelope component accounts for 90.4%, while it is 12.7% for the large office models; (3) for most building typologies, the climate has a strong impact on heat emissions, for example, buildings with dominant heat emissions from the zone exhaust air and/or the HVAC reject heat, a general decrease in heat emissions in hotter climates is observed, while envelope-dominated buildings show the opposite; and (4) building technologies that reduce energy use in buildings may perform differently in reducing heat emissions. The developed heat emissions calculation method can be adopted in EnergyPlus and most other building energy modeling programs. It can provide dynamic building heat emissions as an input to urban climate computational fluid dynamics (CFD) models at a higher spatial and temporal resolution than is currently available, to improve the simulation accuracy of the urban microclimate and capture the urban heat island effect and urban overheating.


Applied Energy



Year of Publication






Short Title

Applied Energy