Occupant Behaviour in Low Carbon Housing

Interviewing occupants of low carbon housing to capture their experiences

Occupant behaviour is one of the three fundamentals to low carbon housing, the others being fabric-first and on-site energy generation and recovery. Sometimes it can feel like the occupants of our buildings are the weak link in an otherwise flawless low carbon design. In fact, some low carbon building projects are low carbon on paper but fail to deliver low carbon in practice. Then all eyes turn towards the occupants, and their energy use behaviour. By this point, it could be too late.

BRS have specific experience in the area of human behaviour for low carbon homes dating back to 2009, which was way before smart meters and smart homes were a thing.

 

Case study: Occupant Behaviour in Low Carbon Homes

Description of project’s scope 

Our Occupant Behaviour project spanned 5 years, where we worked with housing associations and their occupants to find and resolve the pinch points in new, low carbon dwellings. We’ve all come to realise that low carbon homes can become technology heavy, with levels of insulation and draughtproofing that require a change to how we operate our homes.  

This project had two parts:  

1. Behaviour Change for Smarter Homes project – we measured the behaviour-change impact of coloured-in home energy displays on reducing occupants’ electricity and gas consumption:

2. Scottish Building Standards Section 7 Aspect 5, optimising performance – we measured the energy consumption difference between the buildings at design stage, and after the occupants had moved in:

Who we worked with

  • Dunedin Canmore, Perthshire Housing (now Caledonian) 
  • Glen Housing (52 households) 
  • Link Housing (32 households) 

Where we worked 

Edinburgh, Perth, Leven, Alva  

Outputs

Using the world’s first real time, coloured energy monitor to show both electricity and gas consumption, we found that, on average, when compared to households with no in-home energy display (n=22), the households with the in-home display (n=30) reduced their gas and electricity consumption by 20% and 7%, respectively. We found that the in-home display was valued by the users for its ability to incite behaviour to reduce gas consumption and reinforce existing electricity saving behaviour. 

For homes built to the Gold Standard of the Scottish Building Standards, we delivered the first ever video version of the Section 7 Sustainability Aspect 5, low carbon home quick start guide. We also defined the link between a person’s previous experience with heating their home, and how that impacts the levels of energy consumption in their new low carbon home. 

Links and Videos

Our work went on to influence the design and development of display technology for non-domestic and employer energy use behaviour:

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