Energy Efficiency in K-12 Public Schools: Investigating Behavioral and Operational Factors

EPA Grant Number: FP917153
Title: Energy Efficiency in K-12 Public Schools: Investigating Behavioral and Operational Factors
Investigators: Baker, Lindsay A
Institution: University of California - Berkeley
EPA Project Officer: Zambrana, Jose
Project Period: September 1, 2010 through August 31, 2013
Project Amount: $111,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2010) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Fellowship - Science & Technology for Sustainability: Green Engineering/Building/Chemistry/Materials


This research project will investigate how occupants interact with buildings in order to inform the building industry on how to better accommodate user’s needs while optimizing energy performance. Specifically, it will address three interrelated questions: First, how does occupant behavior impact energy use in K-12 school buildings? Second, what design features and occupant comfort factors drive these behaviors? And finally, what best practices can be identified and disseminated that will contribute to enhancing building design in ways that will minimize energy consumption in buildings?

In recent years, a major shift has occurred in the American building industry, through the growth of ‘green’ building standards. However, studies in the past 2 years have found that many green buildings use much more energy than expected. This project aims to learn more about this problem, specifically in K-12 school buildings. It will examine occupant influence on energy use, and aims to inform designers on how to build in a way that saves energy over the lifetime of a school building.


Taking a comparative case study approach and looking critically at occupant behavior (such as window opening and thermostat control), this investigation engages a group of representative school buildings across the country to identify triggers that are leading to increased energy use. Current trends in design are leading towards removing user control of building systems like lighting, heating, and cooling. However, this ultimately can lead to increased energy use, as users supplement their environments with personal equipment like space heaters. Through interviews, field measurements of indoor environmental quality, behavior pattern documentation and analysis of energy consumption data, profiles will be constructed that show how occupants affect energy consumption in buildings, and what conditions either enable or restrict occupants from helping to reduce the energy consumption of building systems.

Expected Results:

This research project will ultimately provide documented behavior patterns and feedback from occupants that help to identify design strategies that have achieved high levels of occupant comfort and low energy consumption. Through a better understanding of how occupants use light switches, windows, thermostats, and other energy-related controls, designers will be more equipped to consider these factors in creating more efficient buildings.

Potential to Further Environmental/Human Health Protection
The technology to build highly efficient buildings is available today, and yet buildings continue to contribute significantly to global climate change through excessive electricity use. This project will help identify ways to save electricity in buildings through strengthening the feedback loop between occupant needs and design approaches, to optimize energy consumption and indoor environmental quality in schools. Performing this study in schools yields the added benefit of educating younger generations on the importance of energy conservation and environmental responsibility.

Supplemental Keywords:

Behavior, consumption, buildings, schools, occupant feedback, electricity loads, end-use efficiency, indoor environments, human health,

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2011
  • 2012
  • Final