People Are the Key to Energy Efficiency

December 20, 2014

HIgh Tech Buildings

Click Green reports that research conducted by Washington State University shows people are key to energy efficiency and that educating them about the features of the buildings they work in is needed to maximize those savings.

The research is the result of a meeting WSU graduate Julia Day went to one day in an office designed to be lit by sunlight. But the blinds were closed and the lights turned on. Why? Because furniture in the room was blocking access to the controls for the blinds and the people working there had never received any training about how the energy saving features designed into the building worked.

“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 David Gunderson, professor in the WSU School of Design and Construction, Day looked at more than 50 high-performance buildings across the U.S. She gathered data, looked at architectural and engineering plans, and did interviews with building occupants.

She examined how people working in the buildings were trained and whether that training was effective. She learned that usually the features were simply mentioned in a meeting or in a quick email. Often people did not truly understand how their actions could affect the building’s overall energy use. In one LEED certified building, a green light would come on to indicate that it was time to open the windows for ventilation. The people working there thought the light indicated the fire alarm system was working properly and ignored it.

According to CBRE Research, the amount of commercial space in the US that meets the EPA’s Energy Star or the Green Building Council’s LEED standards has grown from 5.6 per cent in 2005 to 39.3 per cent in 2013. But the people inside those energy efficient building have not been adequately informed about how to take advantage of the energy saving features at their fingertips.

In her study, Julia Day found that educating workers about the those features paid dividends for employers and building owners. “If they received good training, they were more satisfied and happier with their work environment,” she said.

She is working to to develop occupant training programs about how to take advantage of high-performance buildings. “With stricter energy codes, the expectations are that buildings will be more energy efficient and sustainable,” she says. “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.”

The bottom line is that constructing energy efficient buildings doesn’t just mean high tech windows and HVAC systems. It also means including the people who work in those buildings in the conversation to maximize the potential savings.


Source | Images: ClickGreen, others listed throughout Post.



Stephen Hanley

lives in Rhode Island and writes about topics at the convergence of technology and ecology. You can follow him on Google + and Twitter.