The Importance of User Behavior in Green Building Efficiency

Suelen Ribeiro

Architect/ LEED GA
Jan 25, 2018
The Importance of User Behavior in Green Building Efficiency

Green building is designed to improve efficiency.  Another way to improve efficiency that has a big influence but we do not pay enough attention is “green behavior” - the way in which the users manage the building.

The way that green buildings are used after construction is very important because it brings to life all of the efficiencies previously planned. If users do not know how to use the green building, it will not achieve 100% of efficiency regardless of how well it was designed.

A 2016 study in the journal Procedia Engineering shows that buildings can lose around half of their efficiency when people do not use them in the right way. Therefore, people need to be conscious about their green behavior.  According to Dong Zhao, Assistant Professor at the School of Planning, Design, and Construction at Michigan State University, “You could buy the greenest house on the market, yet your personal habits could waste more than 50 percent of your energy savings.”  Put more bluntly by Layne Cameron, also of Michigan State, “Bad habits can undo an eco-friendly house.”  Zhao and his team collected data from 320 certified green homes, in multiple seasons and including appliance use, ventilation, HVAC and occupant awareness/knowledge of their building systems. 

An important aspect is to teach the users how to proceed in using their green building. If they understand how the building and its systems work, and the effects of their decisions and behaviors, they are more likely to have a successful building.  To help people understand how the building works is necessary to give them instructions about important management techniques such as saving water and energy. Tips, alerts and advice around the building can help to remind people about simple acts during the day that can make a big difference, and can also create awareness among users. Some smart technologies also can help users’ green behavior, such as sensors on lights, heaters, and on taps to avoid waste of energy and water. Additionally, better planning for how users might naturally use a building, even without training, can also make a difference. 

It is a two-way street, where the user needs help the building for the building help the user. When the users understand that their actions are necessary for the building’s success and they are conscious about their behavior, they can positively affect the efficiency building, contributing to achieve the efficiency goals of build green and benefiting from those efficiencies.


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Much of the available material on this topic seems to predate this 2016 study.  Reply if you’re aware of more recent work on this topic, or resources on occupant behavior and training for builders and residents.

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Suelen Ribeiro // Architect/ LEED GA

I am an Architect and Urban Planner graduated in Brazil and working with architecture since 2013. Nowadays I am living in Boston area. I have Zero Energy Building course completed in Harvard Extension School and this year could get my LEED GA credential. My interest in Sustainability and Green Buildings is growing up every day and becoming my focus, therefore my aspiration is to gain more experience and help people with my expertise.

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