10 household living labs study: results summary

21 Feb 2017

Houses designed to be energy and water efficient often do not perform as intended. One of the reasons for this is occupant behaviour. Rebound effects and lack of awareness mean that behaviour and practices need to be addressed as part of the strategies to reduce emissions in the residential sector. While the design is important to minimise resource consumption in the house, the way houses are used can have an equal effect on performance. However, energy and water use in households are still poorly understood and so are the effects of behaviour change strategies.

To address these questions, ten detached suburban family homes located in the City of Fremantle (Western Australia) were monitored (grid energy, water, rainwater, temperature and PV) over a two-year period, subject to an educational intervention strategy at the start of Year Two. While these houses have a mix of occupancies and designs, they all present energy or water efficient features.

As a result of this intervention program, houses managed to save between 4 and 15% of grid electricity, between 11 and 27% of gas and between 11 and 30% of total water use between the two years. However, some houses also increased their energy and water use in the same period. While these households made an effort to modify habits, technical problems occurred, hindering the efforts. Issues were due to poor maintenance of the solar panels and rainwater tanks as well as water leaks and the interruption of solar generation after heavy rainfall events.

This research confirmed that energy efficient or ‘waterwise’ houses do not always perform optimally. Modifying the way houses are operated daily can make a great impact on performance and bills. Real-life monitoring systems can help detect failures and inform households to ensure that resources are not wasted. It is important that real-life monitoring is engaging, user-friendly and meets household needs so they are frequently used.

Six academic journal publications are being prepared as part of this study, in which results will be discussed in further detail.

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