Seeing is believing: an innovative approach to post-occupancy evaluation


In recent years, human behavior and the impact on energy use have become an important consideration in energy efficiency programs both in the residential and commercial building sectors. Because of this, great advances, in both energy efficient technologies and behavior-based saving approaches, have been made. Designers are discovering innovative ways to balance technology and humans in the built environment as well as associated energy outcomes. However, oftentimes, there is still a disconnection between the occupant and building interface. This paper presents findings from a mixed-method study, which investigated adaptive comfort opportunities in an academic research building in the Northwest U.S. A pilot survey was implemented to understand occupants’ perceptions of thermal, acoustic, air quality and visual comfort, as well as opportunities for adaptive comfort behaviors (e.g., opening/closing windows). The researchers utilized a novel survey method, which included a unique photo upload functionality, as well as open-ended survey questions and follow-up email interviews, to better understand the disconnection between the occupants and the building interface. An overarching hypothesis and two research questions guided the data analysis. Findings suggested that occupants liked daylight and electric lighting (when they had control), and they enjoyed the adjustable desks. However, acoustical and visual privacy issues were frequent complaints, especially in the open-office environment. This study provides insights about the importance of understanding the building context and human-building interface, especially when implementing behavioral approaches. Helpful lessons learned from the survey are also presented.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5


  1. 1.

    This does not include alpha-level inflations or Bonferroni adjustments.


  1. Al-Atrash, F., Hellwig, R. T., & Wagner, A. (2018). Personal control over indoor climate in office buildings in a Mediterranean climate - Amman, Jordan. In L. Brotas (Ed.), 10th Windsor Conference: Rethinking comfort, Windsor, UK (pp. 296–314). London: NCEUB.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Basurto, C., Kämpf, J., Scartezzini, J. (2017). Multi-criteria analysis for the integrated performance assessment of complex fenestration systems. Building Research and Information 1–17.

  3. Cao, B., Yingxin Z., Qin O., Xiang Z., Li H. (2011). Field study of human thermal comfort and thermal adaptability during the summer and winter in Beijing. Energy and Buildings, 43(5), 1051–1056.

  4. Chen, C. F., Xu, X., & Day, J. K. (2017). Thermal comfort or money saving? Exploring intentions to conserve energy among low-income households in the United States. Energy Research & Social Science, 26, 61–71.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Day, J. K., & Gunderson, D. E. (2015). Understanding high performance buildings: the link between occupant knowledge of passive design systems, corresponding behaviors, occupant comfort and environmental satisfaction. Building and Environment, 84, 114–124.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Day, J., & Heschong, L., (2016). Understanding behavior potential: the role of building interfaces. In ACEEE Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Buildings. Pacific Grove, CA.

  7. Day, J. K., & O’Brien, W. (2017). Oh behave! Survey stories and lessons learned from building occupants in high-performance buildings. Energy Research & Social Science, 31, 11–20.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. De Dear, R. J., & Brager, G. S. (2002). Thermal comfort in naturally ventilated buildings: revisions to ASHRAE Standard 55. Energy and Buildings, 34(6), 549–561.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Deuble, M. P., & De Dear, R. J. (2012). Green occupants for green buildings: the missing link? Building and Environment, 56, 21–27.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Dillman, D.A., Smyth, J.D., Christian, L. M. (2009). Internet, mail and mixed-mode surveys: The tailored design method (3rd ed.), Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

  11. Edwards, L., & Torcellini, P. A. (2002). A literature review of the effects of natural light on building occupants. Golden: National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

    Google Scholar 

  12. Evans-Agnew, R. A., & Rosemberg, M. A. S. (2016). Questioning photovoice research. Qualitative Health Research, 26(8), 1019–1030.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Fisk, W. (2000). Health and productivity gains from better indoor environments and their relationship with building energy efficiency. Annual Review of Energy and the Environment, 25, 537–566.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Fisk, W. (2002). How IEQ affects health, productivity. ASHRAE Journal, 44(5), 56.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Galasiu, A. D., & Veitch, J. A. (2006). Occupant preferences and satisfaction with the luminous environment and control systems in daylit offices: a literature review. Energy and Buildings, 38(7), 728–742.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Gauthier, S. (2012). Mapping occupants thermal discomfort responses in households using SenseCam. In N. M’Sirdi, A. Namaane, R. J. Howlett, & L. C. Jain (Eds.), Sustainability in energy and buildings: proceedings of the 3rd International Conference in Sustainability in Energy and Buildings (SEB’11) (pp. 437–445). (Smart Innovation, Systems and Technologies; No. 12)). Heidelberg: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Hansen, A. R., Gram-Hanssen, K., & Knudsen, H. N. (2017). How building design and technologies influence heat-related habits. Building Research & Information, 46(1), 83–98.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Hellwig, R. T. (2015). Perceived control in indoor environments: a conceptual approach. Building Research and Information, 43(3), 302–315.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Hergenrather, K. C., Rhodes, S. D., Bardhoshi, G (2009). Photovoice as community-based. American Journal of Health Behavior, 33(6) 686–698.

  20. Heschong, L. (2002). Daylighting and human performance. ASHRAE, 44(6), 65.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Hoes, P., Hensen, J., Loomans, B., De Vries, B., & Bourgeois, D. (2009). User behavior in whole building simulation. Energy and Buildings, 41(3), 295–302.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Hong, T., & Lin, H-W. (2013). Occupant behavior: impact on energy use of private offices. Report. Environmental Energy Technologies Division and Green Energy and Environment Laboratories, Industrial Technology Research Institute, Taiwan, ROC, Ernest Orlando; Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

  23. Hong, T., Taylor-Lange, S. C., D’Oca, S., Yan, D., & Corgnati, S. P. (2016). Advances in research and applications of energy-related occupant behavior in buildings. Energy and Buildings, 116, 694–702.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Humphreys, M., & Nicol, J. F. (2007). Self-assessed productivity and the office environment: monthly surveys in five European countries. ASHRAE Transactions, 113(1), 606.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Karjalainen, S. (2007). Why it is difficult to use a simple device: an analysis of a room thermostat. In J. Jacko (Ed.), Human-Computer Interaction. Interaction Design and Usability, 4550, 544–548,

  26. Kent, M. G., Altomonte, S., Wilson, R., Tregenza, P. R. (2017). Temporal effects on glare response from daylight. Building and Environment, 113, 49–64.

  27. Kunze, P.A. (2013). Designing high-performance buildings using 189.1. Consulting-Specifying Engineer, 21-24.

  28. Leaman, A., & Bordass, B. (1999). Productivity in buildings: the ‘killer’ variables. Building Research and Information, 27(1), 4–19.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Lee, Y. S., & Guerin, D. A., (2009). Indoor environmental quality related to occupant satisfaction and performance in LEED-certified buildings. Indoor Built Environ, 18(4) 293e300.

  30. Mangone, G., Kurvers, S. R., & Luscuere, P. G. (2014). Constructing thermal comfort: investigating the effect of vegetation on indoor thermal comfort through a four-season thermal comfort quasi-experiment. Building and Environment, 81, 410–426.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Marley, J. (2012). Photovoice for post-occupancy evaluation: students explore health in a sustainable school (Master’s thesis, Colorado State University, 2012). Fort Collins.

  32. Nakagawa, S. (2004). A farewell to Bonferroni: the problems of low statistical power and publication bias. Behavioral Ecology, 15(6), 1044–1045.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Nykiforuk, C., Vallianatos, H., & Nieuwendyk, L. M. (2011). Photovoice as a method for revealing community perceptions of the built and social environment. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 10(2), 103–124.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. O’Brien, W., Fuller, A., Schweiker, M., & Day, J. (2018). A picture is worth a thousand words: smart phone photo-surveys for collecting data on office occupant adaptive opportunities. In 2018 International Building Physics Conference (IBPC), Syracuse, NY.

  35. Roshan, M., Barau, A. (2016) Assessing anidolic daylighting system for efficient daylight in open plan office in the tropics. J Build Eng 8, 58–69.

  36. Schweiker, M., & Wagner, A. (2016). The effect of occupancy on perceived control, neutral temperature, and behavioral patterns. Energy and Buildings, 117, 246–259.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Schweiker, M., Brasche, S., Bischof, W., Hawighorst, M., Voss, K., & Wagner, A. (2012). Development and validation of a methodology to challenge the adaptive comfort model. Building and Environment, 49(1), 336–347.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Schweiker, M., Huebner, G. M., Kingma, B. R. M., Kramer, R., & Pallubinsky, H. (2018). Drivers of diversity in human thermal perception – a review for holistic comfort models. Temperature, 1–35.

  39. Wang, C., & Burris, M. (1997). Photovoice: concept, methodology, and use for participatory needs assessment. Health Education & Behavior, 24(3), 369–387.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


The authors would like to thank the study participants; we very much appreciate your participation! We would also like to thank the research assistants at both Washington State University and Carleton University. This work was inspired by the authors’ participation in IEA EBC Annex 66 and 79.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Julia K. Day.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Additional information

Publisher’s note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Day, J.K., Ruiz, S., O’Brien, W. et al. Seeing is believing: an innovative approach to post-occupancy evaluation. Energy Efficiency 13, 473–486 (2020).

Download citation


  • Human-building interface
  • IEQ, Post-occupancy evaluation
  • Photovoice
  • Thermal comfort
  • Visual comfort