As part of our social research on the Active Building Centre Research Programme, the Living Well in Low Carbon Homes project team are speaking to both residents and developers of innovative low carbon homes. We have recently published a paper in the journal ‘Energy Research and Social Science’, which highlights how developers’ expectations of Active Home residents can have implications for design decisions. This in turn can influence how residents experience and live within the homes, which is important to consider as resident satisfaction will be crucial to the successful wider rollout of these developments. We reflect on what insights can be drawn from our interviews with developers to inform future Active Home developments.
Our interviews with 29 Active Home experts (such as architects, designers, project managers and housing officers) showed that they held different views of residents. However, a common theme was that resident engagement with technology should be minimised. Reasons for this given within the expert interviews include experts being able to manage technology most efficiently; making things easier for residents by not burdening them with complex technology; and residents being disinterested in or unable to understand technology.
Experts showed mixed views on whether residents would need to change their behaviour for Active Homes to work successfully, or whether “anyone could live in the homes”. This led to wide variation in the level of information that was provided to residents about their new homes and also influenced design decisions about where technology was sited. Whilst locating technology away from the homes was seen as preferable from a security and maintenance perspective, some experts felt that locating technology (such as batteries) centrally in the homes would be beneficial by acting as a “surreptitious reminder” to residents to think about their energy use.
Our interviews with residents have identified a desire for more information from experts about their Active Homes and the technologies they encompass. In particular, residents wanted information about how the different elements of their homes interrelated and how they might adjust their everyday routines to use energy most efficiently (for example, timing appliance use to coincide with peak energy generation times). This appears to contradict the expert perception of residents as uninterested or disengaged.
Assumptions that consumers are passive, indifferent and disengaged may also mask issues with technological functionality and user-friendliness. We know from previous research that domestic technologies are not always understood and used as designed. Therefore, it is important to understand resident experience and identify ways of facilitating active engagement with their homes and technologies. Otherwise these may only be lightly incorporated into everyday life and homes may not perform as expected. Our ongoing research with residents over the first year of Active Home living is shedding light on these important issues, providing practical insights to help inform future Active Home developments.
Link to open access article – https://authors.elsevier.com/sd/article/S2214-6296(22)00247-X
Dr Fiona Shirani is a Research Associate based in the School of Social Sciences at Cardiff University where her research interests include how life events and relationships to others impact everyday energy use, as well as experiences of energy vulnerability.