To increase adoption of energy efficient products and systems we need to understand if and how these products will impact the occupants of a building. While many building owners want to save energy, energy is still very cheap – by an order of magnitude - compared to the salaries of people who work in buildings. Therefore owners are unlikely to invest in energy efficiency if they are not confident that new products will not have negative impact on occupants. In addition, owners and design teams are very interested in understanding how building characteristics impact occupants in terms of satisfaction, productivity, and well-being.
Conducting online surveys of occupants is a fast and cost-effective way of getting feedback on new technologies, and is valuable for getting feedback on building performance across a wide range of building and workspace characteristics. However, previous research shows us that occupant satisfaction varies greatly between buildings, and also between various characteristics of an individual building. For example, a review of occupant surveys in hundreds of buildings shows that people are generally satisfied with office lighting, furnishings and the buildings overall. However they are not happy with acoustics and thermal comfort, and the latter has important implications for the design and operation of both new and existing buildings.
To understand how an innovation might impact occupants, the question that arises is, “compared to what?” Before-and-after surveys are one such approach, but in some cases the “before” case does not exist, or an innovation is coupled with other changes that create confounding factors.
What is needed is a robust set of tools that couples occupant surveys with a powerful benchmarking database. The toolkit should be publicly available at low cost and provide powerful filtering capabilities to allow comparison to relevant buildings and within a set of responses. Such a toolkit will greatly assist in the reliable evaluation of new building technologies in beta tests, pilot installations and demonstrations. It will also be a valuable tool for owners and design professionals seeking to understand and to improve the design and operation of buildings and workplaces.