Does ‘green’ behavior occur in a green building?

Posted on 06. Oct, 2011 by in Academic Departments, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Environment and Sustainability, Issues, Research, Summer: Annual Report

Carol Menassa

Carol Menassa in the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery atrium. Photo: David Nevala.

Completed in December 2010, the UW-Madison Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery Building marries majestic light-filled public spaces with state-of-the-art scientific facilities. But while a hallmark of the building is its visual appeal, equally important to its users are the mechanical, electrical and other systems that operate behind the scenes.

In each of these systems, building designers included sensors that record data about everything from lighting and electricity use to occupancy and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning operations.

Using intelligent building automation software, Civil and Environmental Engineering Assistant Professor Carol Menassa, Adjunct Professor John Nelson and graduate students Elie Azar and Nathan Taylor are collecting this data to learn more about occupants’ energy use. They will use the information to verify and validate the designers’ assumptions about how the building and its systems should work. More importantly, they hope to understand how building occupants and their behavior will affect building performance.

Based on past research of buildings in other parts of the country, the researchers expect to find differences between predicted and actual energy use. “If we see these discrepancies, the next step is to understand why they are occurring,” says Menassa. “Is it the systems in the building, or is it the occupants?”

Occupants could affect energy use based on the length of time they spend in the building, and whether they leave equipment or lights on when they are not in use, among other factors.

Once the researchers gather data from the building systems, they will develop an agent-based model to simulate the ways in which people use the building. That simulation could lead to better building designs that more thoroughly consider occupant behavior. Additionally, it could help building owners enable users to understand and reduce their energy consumption. In fact, Menassa will assemble a “Green Team” of graduate students to discuss personal energy use with Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery occupants and assess the efficacy of this peer-to-peer approach to change.

Menassa recently received $282,576 from the National Science Foundation to fund this research.

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