Demonstrating the impact of human behaviour
For a whole year, the Simonsen family – as a test family – moved into the Home for Life north of Aarhus, Denmark, which, as the world's first Active HouseTM, was designed to balance creating a healthy indoor climate with producing an energy surplus. Anthropologists followed the family's everyday life in the house to understand their behaviour. They found that theoretical calculations on paper don’t always match the reality. In this case, the family’s actual behaviour was crucial to how the sustainable architecture would actually perform.
Behaviour is paramount
The building industry accounts for as much as 39 per cent of the world's energy-related CO2 emissions. Of this, 11 per cent stems from the production, demolition and transport of building materials. The remaining 28 per cent is from our use of the buildings, that is, when we heat them up, cool them down, cook dinner, take a shower, switch on the lights and, well, live our lives. Our behaviour is, therefore, the biggest factor in achieving a sustainable transformation, not only of architecture, but also of society. In other words, to create a real sustainable transformation, it is crucial to understand how we live in and with buildings – and then design the architecture accordingly.
Deviating from the theory
The Home for Life was ambitious from the start. For example, the goal of getting the electricity meter to run backwards while maintaining a healthy indoor climate was difficult to realise. On paper, the house was expected to use 15 kWh per m2 of floor space per year, but the Simonsen family actually used double that amount. This was mainly because the family's behaviour deviated from what had been assumed. For example, they often opened windows, despite the automatic ventilation, and then turned the thermostat up by 2-3°C. This behaviour was unexpected and it was decisive for the actual energy consumption of the house.
New needs emerge while others disappear
Our needs are constantly changing. New ones emerge while others disappear. These changes in our behaviour have a major impact on the energy consumption of the buildings we use. For example, the Simonsen family had a baby towards the end of the test period. This meant that the family spent more time at home than an average Danish family, and therefore, they used more heat and water. In addition, because the mother had to get up to breastfeed at night, the family kept the night-time temperature as high as the daytime temperature. These examples demonstrate how fulfilling the changes in our needs requires more flexibility when designing buildings so that they better meet different usage patterns.
From the very beginning, we found that the air inside the house was good. The rooms are comfortable to stay in at all times, because warm air is sucked out and the indoor climate adjusts itself during the day.Sverre Simonsen
Fresh air simply feels good
Danes spend an average of 80-90 per cent of their lives indoors. However, indoor environments are often five times more unhealthy than typical outdoor areas. Moreover, research shows that a poor indoor climate has a huge impact on our well-being and physical health. Something as simple as good ventilation can solve many problems with an indoor climate. Fresh air simply feels good, mentally and physically. That is why Home for Life's integrated sensors measure the heat, humidity and CO2 in all rooms. In addition, the facade automatically adapts to the season and pulls in fresh air, so it is always comfortable inside the house.
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