A sociological perspective on human-home interaction

On 10 October 2019, Petrus Te Braak, senior Researcher of the TOR research group, was invited to speak at the Healthy Buildings Day 2019. This event is organised annually by VELUX to gather together key players involved in the construction industry on topics such as healthy buildings, design, user trends and resident behaviour. In 2013, a social rental home was selected in the quartier Bon Air in Anderlecht, Brussels, which was subsequently renovated. This renovation should lead to an optimal use of daylight and natural ventilation.

For this, the house was provided with larger windows, that were equipped with dynamic external sun blinds, with an open stairwell that ensured a better distribution of daylight, a hybrid ventilation system consisting of automatically opening windows in combination with a mechanical ventilation system, a new floor heating on the ground floor, a new façade insulation and an extra extension of 15m2.

In May 2017 a family moved into the house. The house and the family were monitored by both sociologists and technical engineers. While the engineers undertook the task of checking all the physical/sensor data and the performance of the house, research group TOR focused on the occupants’ perspective, their personal experiences, and assessments with the house. With this crossbedding, VELUX wanted to evaluate whether the conceptual design of the house lives up to its promises.

The sociological monitoring attempted to find answers on the following questions:

  • How is the perception of the living comfort and the satisfaction of the occupants?
  • How do they deal with the technical infrastructure and adopt the operating system?
  • Is there a noticeable change in the health and the sleep quality?
  • How does the house affect the family’s behaviour?

The sociological monitoring took place between April 2017 and June 2019. During seven different measurement points, the various family members were asked to complete both an online diary and a questionnaire, as well as to participate in an in-depth interview. The first measurement took place in the family’s former home. The remaining 6 measurement points took place in respectively Autumn 2017, Winter 2018, Summer 2018, Autumn 2018, Winter 2019 and Spring 2019. This approach attempted to gain an insight into the evaluation of the house by the family over the different seasons and did also allow for a differing evaluation immediately after moving, and at later moments when the family had adapted to the new living environment.  The results show that the family is very satisfied with their new living environment. The indoor comfort is assessed as very good. The family indicates that they are very satisfied with the indoor temperature, the indoor air quality, and the availability throughout their home.

Regarding the behaviour of the dwellers, the technical monitoring soon showed that the dwellers did not always use the available equipment in a rational way to further increase the indoor comfort. An example of this behaviour is that the family always closes the sun blinds in the dining room. This prevents optimal use of natural light, but for the family this was of less importance than protecting their privacy.

During the monitoring there were many actions that, according to the engineers, were not always as rational. These were extensively discussed with the family and as the project progressed, it became very clear that the engineers often expect a rational behaviour that is dependent on increasing the indoor well-being, while other priorities were important for the family. They sometimes acted rationally based on priorities other than indoor thermal comfort (closing windows in the summer to keep insects out), but also exhibited behaviours related to habits (opening windows that were not always as rational and for which they were not had an explanation) or emotionally (closing blinds to keep thieves away from ideas).

Based on these findings, Petrus spoke about the importance of a user-driven system, where the user sees his or her priorities translated into the indoor comfort controlled by the system. In addition, it is important to provide automated systems such as the VELUX active smart home control with an option to temporarily deactivate them. This mainly serves to give residents the possibility to meet their preferences when this cannot be done automatically. In addition, this should be reactivated after a certain time frame, because the monitoring showed that people opt for the convenience solution and do not reactivate the system independently, with negative consequences for the indoor climate as a result.

Watch the entire presentation (or just the slides) about the interaction between dwellers and their renovated home here or on www.velux.com. The presentation and the slides can be found under the title “Break-out Session: Catalyzing Scale”.