At the Intersection of Building Efficiency and Occupant Behavior

Energy efficiency in buildings has historically focused on improving the building envelope (e.g. insulation, sealing, windows, etc.) and efficient equipment (e.g. lighting, roof-top units, appliances, etc.). These activities have been the domain of the facility manager and were often largely invisible to the building occupant. As progressive facility managers and utilities target larger reductions in energy consumption they are increasingly seeking the engagement of building occupants. Building energy challenges and products like Opower’s that compare energy use help to ignite our competitive spirits and make reducing energy use engaging.

Though the power of the occupant to influence energy use has long been recognized, human behavior is difficult to influence even with these new efforts and tools. This interaction is further complicated by the complex and sometimes counter-intuitive nature of efficient building operation (e.g. turning the thermostat up higher doesn’t heat up the building faster).

At the intersection between building efficiency and occupant behavior is a space termed the human-building interaction (HBI). In this space exists a family of products that help us interface with our buildings. These include switches, timers, sensors, thermostats, and the like. Despite big advances in building energy efficiency and occupant engagement the HBI space has been, until recently, somewhat neglected in both product advances and implementation.

Now the products in the HBI space are catching up fast. While many of these products are targeted at the consumer market they can be perfectly applicable in small and medium commercial buildings. This begins a series of blogs that will explore these next generation, highly connected, easy-to-use, automated products for building control and their many applications.

Still have one of these on the wall?

dial thermostat

A classic dial thermostat – not very helpful in HBI.

 It’s time to upgrade.


A Nest learning thermostat – making HBI a lot easier and more fun.