Improving Energy Efficiency through Human Building Interaction

Today’s green buildings go beyond environmentally friendly products and practices, taking human health into consideration as well. You may start to hear more about the idea of human-building interaction (HBI) as this connection between green buildings and occupant health/wellness continues to grow.

The concept of HBI focuses on the two-way interaction between buildings and occupants – not only the way that buildings impact occupants, but the ways in which occupants impact buildings in terms of energy use and other factors.

Understanding how tenants and occupants interact with buildings and the equipment inside can help facilities managers establish new energy-efficiency strategies, architects design better spaces, and occupants themselves realize how they positively (or negatively) impact their indoor environment. Think about some of the ways tenants and occupants may be influencing energy usage in your building right now:

  • Running space heaters or fans
  • Having more lights on than necessary
  • Forgetting to turn off computer equipment at the end of the day
  • Not reporting a leaky faucet or blocked air return
  • Covering up vents

By looking at why and how people relate to a building and its systems the way they do, we can discover several things: occupant habits that need to change or be accommodated for, potential problems with a building system, or aspects of the building that negatively influence productivity or comfort.

A very simple example to consider: To respond to a tenant/occupant request for more access to natural daylight, they’re moved closer to the windows. A few weeks later, you notice that the shades and blinds are closed each morning. Why is this happening? Are the occupants:

  • Too warm (or too cold, if it’s wintertime)?
  • Distracted by what’s happening outside?
  • Having problems seeing their computer screen due to glare?
  • Getting headaches from direct sunlight?

Until you take time to understand why the blinds are being closed, it will be hard to determine what’s really happening and find a way to fix it.

Human-building interaction may come down to designing a building for usability and sustainability. Instead of a building’s primary goal to be as water- and energy-efficient as possible, for example, incorporating the human-building interaction component would also take into account human needs, capabilities, habits, and behavior – then design a space to accommodate those things in an environmentally friendly, energy-efficient, sustainable way.

Making certain building functions or responses “intuitive” or automatic is another component of HBI. Instead of someone having to remember to shut off the lights, turn on the air-conditioner, or unplug a printer, the building and its systems “read” the surrounding environment and know when to perform certain activities.

To learn more about human-building interaction, and the research being done to support it, read about the Center for Energy and Environment’s HBI initiatives.

Are you focused on how your building impacts occupants, or how occupants impact your building? Or both?

Credit: Vista Blog


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