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Smart people in stupid homes: the skill in creating preferred thermal environments

Tweed, Aidan Christopher and Zapata-Lancaster, Maria Gabriela 2016. Smart people in stupid homes: the skill in creating preferred thermal environments. Presented at: DEMAND 2016, Lancaster, UK, 13-15 April 2016.

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A popular strategy in reducing energy consumption in dwellings has been to remove ‘the user’ from the operation of the building and its systems as far as possible. Occupants and their ‘inconvenient’ behaviour are seen as uncertainties to be set outside the loop. Research conducted by the authors suggests this may not be the most effective strategy for two main reasons. First, many people demonstrate a sensitivity to their thermal environments, a clear understanding of what they want from them, and the ability to operate their homes to achieve those conditions. Second, when users are thwarted in their attempts to create desired thermal experiences there is a risk they will bypass controls and constraints – for example, by using portable electric heaters – resulting in significantly greater energy consumption than expected. This paper suggests that some occupants have a deeper understanding of how their homes work thermally than is usually acknowledged in top-down imposed energy interventions that limit the occupants’ control of their home environment. The authors will argue that users’ intuitive understanding often exceeds the capabilities of automated or ‘black box’ heating control systems by embracing control mechanisms, such as windows and doors, that are not normally considered part of the whole environmental control system. The paper draws on the results of a project jointly funded by the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and Électricité de France under the People Energy and Buildings initiative: Conditioning Demand: Older People, Diversity and Thermal Experience. This project studied householders’ attitudes to the introduction of low carbon technologies for heating. Their responses show a sophisticated understanding of the thermal environment and suggest there is a need to investigate people’s understanding of how buildings work and the skills they acquire in getting the best from their homes to provide the thermal conditions they want. The paper explores the division of agency between people, building designs and systems in creating desired thermal environments. It positions occupants as the primary intelligence in operating homes and their energy systems and calls for greater recognition of the role of end-users in the efficient and effective operation of thermal systems in the home. The paper argues that by exploiting people’s intuitive understanding of how buildings work will inform effective low carbon strategies to reduce household energy consumption.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Date Type: Completion
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Architecture
Subjects: N Fine Arts > NA Architecture
T Technology > TD Environmental technology. Sanitary engineering
Funders: EPSRC
Related URLs:
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 4 November 2016
Date of Acceptance: 10 November 2015
Last Modified: 24 Mar 2020 14:18

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