Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.
My colleague Jenny Edwards often describes the opportunity of human-building interaction (HBI) as, “instead of forcing people to adopt new behaviors, HBI can help leverage existing ones.” If we examine the larger context of people’s activities in their homes and offices, these leverageable behaviors may avail themselves to us.
For example, people purchase programmable thermostats with the intent of saving energy. Is this motivation strong enough to affect their behavior? It would appear not. Nearly 90% of those surveyed for a study on thermostat use “rarely or never adjusted the thermostat to set a weekend or weekday program.” However, consider how they could program the thermostat to save energy - by adjusting its temperature when they’re away from the house or asleep at night. Coincidentally, these are the same times when people want a home security system in place.
Fear is the motivation for having a home security system. There are about 36 million security systems in buildings in the United States. Can we leverage the existing behavior (using a home security system) to save energy? Imagine the potential for conservation if the thermostat setting went down and the lights switched off automatically whenever the occupant turned on the security system.
Clearly this opportunity is not lost on the market. Home security companies like ADT and Vivint now offer smart thermostats with their security systems that allow homeowners to remotely control their thermostats. Leveraging the actions they take to turn on and off their home security systems, these homeowners can now also save energy by simultaneously adjusting their thermostats.
This is just the tip of the iceberg as more and more sectors are moving into the home management arena. Earlier this year AT&T launched the Digital Life system which offers both home management and home security, with options ranging from simple device control to home automation. In early June, the cable company Comcast announced that their Xfinity Home security system has added smart thermostat service called EcoSaver as part of its home management capabilities through a partnership with EcoFactor. They have also added a lighting controls system. Not to be outdone, Schneider Electric, an energy management services company, also announced in early June a partnership with alarm.com and their Wiser home management system. And, of course, Honeywell makes both security systems and smart thermostats.
There is a lot of excitement about the future of home automation and home management. Appliance manufacturers like GE, Samsung, and LG have brought smart appliances to the market. A great example of leveraging is the integration of smart phones and tablets into these systems. In fact, they are on the verge of becoming the remote controls for the entire house as we use them to connect with other devices.
Finding opportunities to leverage energy efficiency actions within this movement towards home management, control, and automation is essential. But it can not solely be about technology. Ultimately, control and management falls into the hands of the user. Without considering usability, even the best technologies will fall prey to the ubiquitous symbol of technology unusability - the blinking clock of the VCR:
HBI has an important role in leveraging the ways we use our buildings and devices to take advantage of opportunities to reduce our energy use. As we gain a greater connection to the buildings in which we live and work, we must take a systems approach through HBI to properly leverage the synergies offered by technology, behavior, and usability to achieve greater energy savings.
The Process Approach of Human-Building Interaction (HBI)
Behavior and Usability: At the Interface of Human-Building Interaction