Human Behavior and Energy Performance
I’m a firm believer that we must consider and address the influence of the human factor on energy performance in the built environment. Of course, this notion seems obvious. Closing a door, turning off the lights, adjusting the thermostat are simple examples of how the occupant can affect the energy performance of a building. While the human factor is obvious, it’s not insignificant. In many ways it represents the last mile as we strive for true high performance buildings.
A deeper understanding of this theory points to training, goal setting, and consistent follow-up to ensure building occupants actually understand the impact they can have on building energy performance, and their own comfort.
I recently read with interest an article titled The Hot New Frontier of Energy Research Is Human Behavior by Brandon Keim at Wired. Mr. Keim and I are of like minds. He describes research conducted by social scientists connecting human behavior to energy efficiency. The article suggests that energy consumption could be cut by 25 percent simply through human behavior change. We may need to consider adding a psychologist, sociologist, or anthropologist to our integrated design teams to squeeze the last inefficiencies from building performance.
Similarly, this infographic from Cassidy Turley illustrates that tenants can control up to 70 percent of the energy use within a building.
An interesting example of how human behavior affects energy efficiency and building function can be found in the design of a high performance classroom. Energy codes are requiring more sophisticated lighting control systems and enhanced natural daylighting. We already know that natural light and outside views contribute positively to student to performance. The advancement of codes, in combination with technology that is today commonplace in the classroom, provides us with a great design opportunity.
We are all too familiar with a poor application of glazing and light control equipment in the K-12 environment. The outcome is often cardboard taped over the windows to address glare or lights needing to be turned on continuously and everyone wonders "what was the architect thinking about?" before the end of the first semester.
I believe the design solution is engage the classroom user (student and teacher) in the design solution. It’s time we recognize that the vast majority of building occupants don't think like architects and engineers so assuming we know how they will use the features in a classroom is presumptuous. Lighting control systems are evolving, rapidly, and a single design solution will not work every time. As designers, we have the obligation to bring options and expertise to the design conversation so our clients can make smart, informed decisions. This is process is a foundational component of integrated design.
Another principle in addressing the human factor is user training. It is becoming obvious that design teams ultimately own the responsibility for ensuring optimum building performance. The matrix of building performance and ongoing energy efficiency matter as much, if not more, as aesthetics. A commitment to user training during the early stages of occupancy is the foundation to successful operation of the building as it was modeled during design. It is our responsibility – for the requisite fee – to train users in how to use the systems that we designed with them. Ongoing leadership by the design team to educate users about the operational features of building systems is beneficial to our reputation and the performance of the facility for the owner.
Follow Rod Oathout at Twitter: @rodoathout