Reducing building energy consumption involves three main areas: equipment selection, building design, and occupant behavior. Equipment selection deals with choosing energy-efficient products, such as HVAC systems and lighting. Building design includes incorporating architectural features, materials, and construction techniques intended to lower energy use. These may include window placement and type, building orientation, and roof assemblies. Becoming more and more recognized as an important aspect of energy conservation is occupant behavior. Even a well-designed building with high-efficiency equipment will not operate as efficiently as possible if occupants waste energy.

There are two parts of the occupant behavior component: knowledge and control. They need to be aware of:

  • What they can do to contribute
  • How their contribution can help
  • The result of their conservation efforts


Additionally, occupants need to know where to locate the following in their area and how they apply to energy savings:

  • Heating/cooling controls
  • Lighting controls
  • Additional plug loads (appliances, office equipment, computers, etc.)


A recent study by Carnegie Mellon University sought to determine the effects of knowledge and control on energy usage in an office setting (although the same principle would apply in others, such as schools). In other words, would giving occupants information regarding their consumption and control over it cause them to conserve. Study results indicated that sharing energy use data and giving control caused occupants to conserve. For the study offices were equipped with Plugwise products[1] – receptacles that can provide real-time usage data and instantaneous control wirelessly via a smartphone application. An in-depth discussion of this product is beyond the scope of this paper. Information can be disseminated via other low cost or no cost methods.


These methods can be used to provide general information about energy usage and energy conservation:

  • Newsletter
  • Staff meetings
  • Posters/signage
  • Social media

The amount of control occupants have can vary from building to building. Lighting control can range from an on/off switch for all lights to bi-level switching to dimming, and even more complex schemes. In older buildings occupants may have great control over room temperature settings, while in new or renovated facilities, it is likely limited to a narrow bandwidth. In any case, occupants need to be educated in selecting lighting and temperature settings that will provide the appropriate room environment while saving energy. The more levels of control that are offered, the more occupants can match their environment to the tasks performed and conserve energy at the same time. In addition to a general environment of energy conservation, more deliberate efforts may be needed at times. On days when there is a power emergency or 4CP alert[2], for example, occupants might be asked to reduce their individual usage. This could be accomplished by turning off unnecessary lights, changing thermostat settings, or turning off unused plug loads. In order to do this, they need to know how all of the controls in their classroom, office, etc. operate. The request to implement immediate energy conservation can be made by email, instant messaging, or audio announcements, for example. Energy conservation requires a multi-faceted approach, including building design, equipment selection, and occupant behavior. Giving occupants information on how and when to conserve, the ability to do it, and data and feedback on how well they are doing all encourage energy savings.

[2] Some retail electric providers notify customers of a potential 4CP event. By curtailing load during this time period, users can lower TDSP charges for transmission and distribution for the next year.

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