Julia Day research: Occupants need training to make energy efficient buildings energy efficient
Tuesday, December 2, 2014
More than one-third of new commercial building space has energy saving features, but without training or an operator's manual, many occupants are in the dark on how to use them.
Julia Day, assistant professor of apparel, textiles and interior design in the College of Human Ecology, recently published a paper in Building and Environment that for the first time shows that occupants who had effective training in using the features of their high performance buildings were more satisfied with their work environment than those who had not.
Day did the work as a doctoral student at Washington State University.
Training and education can impact energy use. Improving the energy performance of buildings is not just an academic exercise. Buildings account for nearly 40 percent of energy use in the United States, with lighting, heating and cooling accounting for most of that energy use. High performance buildings provide good environmental stewardship while also saving their owners money. With increasingly strict energy codes and environmental standards, the buildings also are becoming the standard rather than the exception.
Day was a Washington State University graduate student in interior design when she walked into an office supposedly designed for energy efficiency and noticed that the blinds were all closed and numerous lights were turned on. The building had been designed to use daylighting strategies to save energy from electric lighting.
After inquiring, Day learned that cabinetry and systems furniture throughout the building blocked nearly half of the occupants from access to their blind controls. Only a few determined folks would climb on or under their desks to operate them.
"People couldn't turn off their lights, and that was the whole point of implementing daylighting in the first place," she says. "The whole experience started me on my path."
Working with David Gunderson, professor in Washington State's School of Design and Construction, Day looked at the more than 50 high performance buildings across the U.S. She gathered data, including their architectural and engineering plans, and did interviews and surveys of building occupants. She examined how people were being trained in the buildings and whether their training was effective. Sometimes the features were simply mentioned in a meeting, or a quick email was sent to everyone, and people did not truly understand how their actions could affect the building's overall energy use.
One LEED gold building had lights throughout the building to indicate the best times of day to open and close windows to take advantage of natural ventilation. A green light indicated it was time to open windows.
"I asked 15 people if they knew what the light meant, and they all thought it was part of the fire alarm system," she says. "There's a gap, and people do not really understand these buildings."
Day found that making the best use of a highly efficient building means carefully creating a culture focused on conservation, she said. In buildings with an energy-focused culture, workers were engaged, participated and were satisfied with their building environment.
"If they received good training, they were more satisfied and happier with their work environment," she said.
Now Day is working to develop an energy lab and would like to develop occupant training programs 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."
Written by Tina Hilding, Washington State University