Scheming ways to outwit your smart building? You’re not alone

A new study found that occupants of energy-efficient buildings aren’t above using a Popsicle to raise the heat or a children’s toy to trick motion detection lights into staying on.

Key Points

  • Many high-efficiency buildings don’t see the energy savings the designers anticipated.
  • A study found that many occupants work around inefficient designs.
  • Researchers hope designers can keep people and numbers in mind to maximize energy savings. 

Smart buildings may have artificial intelligence, but they’re no match for a cold woman on a mission to turn up the heat.

A new study found that occupants of energy-efficient buildings aren’t above using a Popsicle to raise the heat or a children’s toy to trick motion detection lights into staying on.

The study in the journal “Energy Research and Social Science” examined how people are living in high-efficiency buildings and why these buildings’ energy savings are often less than anticipated.

The researchers discovered that many energy-efficient designs are circumvented by unhappy inhabitants.

Motion sensor lights were the subject of many complaints, with people confessing to using a toy drinking bird to keep the lights on all the time.

Temperature also caused discomfort.

Occupants fessed up to taping a coin to a windowsill to reflect light and force the A/C on. Others held Popsicles up to the thermostat to trick it into raising the heat.  

The study concluded that designers need to keep people — not just numbers — in mind during the building process. The researchers hope to look into more ways energy=efficient design can better serve energy=savings goals and the people who use the buildings.

In the end, that will hopefully lead to more energy savings and more comfortable people.

What are some ways building designers could make your efficient building more comfortable? Have you ever tried to work around your building’s efficient design? Tell us below.


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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