Many Occupant Issues Stem From Lack Of Individual Control Of Building Systems

By Naomi Millán, Senior Editor  
OTHER PARTS OF THIS ARTICLEPt. 1: As Space Heaters Show, Facility Managers Often Have to Negotiate With Occupants to Avoid Energy WastePt. 2: Occupants Can Be Asset In Energy Efficiency EffortsPt. 3: This PagePt. 4: Motivating Occupants Is Critical To Ensuring Cooperation on Energy SavingsPt. 5: Educate Occupants to Get Them to Save Energy

The two areas where occupants try the most to compensate for lack of individual controllability are lighting and air direction, Mazur-Stommen says. At home, or even in a car, there is a simple louver to help someone control how conditioned air is hitting them. This manual control does not typically exist in commercial spaces. Similarly, in lighting, there is relatively little individual control.

As part of the research Mazur-Stommen is conducting on the interplay between energy use and building occupants, she is studying how addressing elements of the environment that are not directly related to energy consumption, but which do affect occupant comfort, could help improve occupant energy use by decreasing their dissatisfaction with a space. For example, it has been shown that people respond better to white paint with a red undertone instead of a blue undertone. "Rather than treating this as an aesthetic decision, if the function of things like wall color and lighting on people's actual work habits and productivity is understood, then you can make people happier in their environment and mitigate the need for them to feel like they need to do something about that environment," she says. This is the hypothesis of a study she hopes to launch in the field soon, anticipating that such decision-making would drive a drop in plug load and a rise in productivity.

Energy Efficiency Strategies

As such research is still in its nascent stages, it is helpful to consider what is being currently done by facility managers in the field to steer occupant behavior in favor of energy efficiency.

One popular strategy is to incentivize behavior change, often taking the form of a contest. For example, at Bayer Corporation's Pittsburgh site, employees are encouraged to turn off lights, computer monitors and other electrical devices when not at their desks. During a conservation contest, members of the site's sustainable practices and resource conservation team audited the number of office devices turned off and those left on. Employees in these buildings with the most devices turned off received donuts in their lobbies one morning.

Other contests, such as those at colleges and universities, use energy metering to pit dorm against dorm or floor against floor. During these contests, the spirit of competition can be a strong motivator to drive real energy savings. However, not a lot of research has been done to show how or if the savings and energy use modification persist after the contest is over.

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  posted on 10/8/2012   Article Use Policy

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