New research out of Washington State University has found a lack of occupant education is undermining the performance of buildings designed to be energy efficient. However, in buildings with a focus on energy conservation, workers are much happier.
The research into occupant behaviour and education, published in Building and Environment, was begun by lead researcher Julia Day after she walked into an office designed for energy efficiency through daylighting, though which had the blinds shut and all the lights on.
She learned that cabinetry and systems furniture blocked nearly half of the occupants from access to the controls.
“People couldn’t turn off their lights, and that was the whole point of implementing daylighting in the first place,” she said. “The whole experience started me on my path.”
Working with WSU School of Design and Construction Professor David Gunderson, Dr Day looked at more than 50 high-performance buildings across the US.
She examined if and how people were being trained, and the training’s level of effectiveness. In many cases, building features were simply mentioned in a meeting or email, and people were largely unaware of how their actions could impact building performance.
In one case, a building designed to LEED Gold standard had a user notification system indicating the best time to engage natural ventilation, with a green light meaning windows should be opened.
“I asked 15 people if they knew what the light meant, and they all thought it was part of the fire alarm system,’’ she said. “There’s a gap, and people do not really understand these buildings.’’
Dr Day found that making the best use of a high-performance building meant creating a culture focused on conservation, with the research showing that in buildings with an energy-focused culture, workers were more engaged, participatory and satisfied with their building environment.
“If they received good training, they were more satisfied and happier with their work environment,’’ she said.
Dr Day is now working to develop occupant training programs that take advantage of high-performance buildings.
“With stricter energy codes, the expectations are that buildings will be more energy efficient and sustainable,’’ she said. “But we have to get out of the mindset where we are not actively engaged in our environments. That shift takes a lot of education, and there is a huge gap right now.”