Energy Interactions:

The impacts of social exchanges among household members on thermostat adjustments and energy use behavior
Image result for shaking hands

Typical behavioral studies of household energy use focus on single-informant surveys or interviews, or home-level kWh outcomes. While informative, these approaches miss the fact that in a typical home, several individuals interact with one another to ultimately influence the energy that is consumed as well as how it is consumed. This methodological mismatch is particularly relevant to negotiations of thermal comfort, as individuals may have vastly different preferences, but only one home thermostat to satisfy these heterogeneous needs. One potential reason that people manually deviate from thermostat programs may be interpersonal negotiations over thermal comfort. The objective of this research is to characterize social interactions concerning thermal comfort, energy use, and sustainability-related topics among occupants of shared residential spaces, and to investigate the role of such interactions on thermostat adjustments and energy use behaviors.

Methods: In Study 1, we recruited more than 300 residents of the greater Columbus region to participate in a 2-week diary study in which they provided daily reports of within-household social interactions around energy use as well as actions taken. In Study 2, we will recruit dyads (roommates) residing in university housing, and experimentally test whether dyads who negotiate a “sustainability” agreement subsequently use less energy than those who do not negotiate such an agreement. Using data from suite-level thermostats, smart electric meters, and self-report surveys administered at multiple time points, we will assess the extent to which social interactions influence values, the development of norms, and ultimately energy use behavior.

Significance: Understanding how people within a residence interact around decisions about how to use energy and satisfy thermal comfort needs is critical for more accurately modeling the behavioral contributions to energy use in homes as well refining interventions to reduce energy use.

Project Phase: Study 1 data collection complete with manuscript preparation in progress; Study 2 in development

Collaborators: Grant Donnelly (OSU Fisher), ENGIE, and OSU Res Life.

Funding acknowledgement: National Science Foundation Grant Number 1522054 as part of NSF CompSustNet: Expanding the Horizons of Computational Sustainability provides support for Studies 1 and 2. Additional support for Study 2 provided by ENGIE.

*This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number 1522054. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.