Human Factors in climate controls For small commercial Buildings

Human Factors in climate controls For small commercial Buildings
Human Factors in
Climate Controls for
Small Commercial Buildings
Technology Brief
Marco Pritoni
EEC - UC Davis
Alan Meier
EEC and LBNL
Daniel Perry
UC Berkeley
July 2011
The usability of interfaces on programmable thermostats can have a major impact on how much
energy these devices actually help save.
Introduction
Small commercial buildings (floor area less than 50,000 square feet)
represent about half the total floor space and about 40 percent of total
electricity consumption in the commercial sector (CEUS 2003). While HVAC
and lighting account for 55 percent of the total energy consumption in
these buildings (Figure 1), the systems are controlled mainly by traditional
devices – manual or programmable thermostats for HVAC, and manual
switches for lighting – leading to inefficiency and wasted energy.
Figure 1: Electricity Breakdown in SCB (CBECS 2003)
Space Heating
Cooling
Ventilation
Water Heating
Lighting
Cooking
Refrigeration
Office Equipment
Computers
Other
The small-building sector is difficult to engage for utility energy efficiency programs. Barriers include
different interests between tenants and landlord, disaggregate facility management, and a general lack
of knowledge about the energy systems in place. Rooftop packaged units provide heating and cooling for
about 60 percent of the commercial floor area in the U.S., and with split systems and other equipment
included, it is likely that 90 percent is controlled by conventional wall-mounted thermostats.
This study examined kinds of programmable thermostats used in small commercial buildings, their levels
of usability, and how usability may affect system performance and energy savings.
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Overview of programmable thermostats
Programmable thermostats (Figure 2) save energy by setting back temperatures during unoccupied
periods. Correct operation depends on programming the settings and keeping them updated to maintain
comfort temperatures in concert with the occupancy schedule (Figure 3). Computer simulations have
suggested that on average, a daily 8-hour night setback on a household thermostat could reduce natural
gas consumption by about one percent for each degree Fahrenheit offset (Nelson & MacArthur, 1978).
This remains the rule of thumb that guides much of the discussion on the effectiveness of programmable
thermostats in situations involving gas- and oil-fired heating systems. In small commercial buildings,
energy-saving potential for programmable thermostats strongly depends on the building’s main activity
(office, retail, restaurant, and others). Offices, for instance, have shorter open hours than grocery stores.
Employees are exposed for a longer time to the indoor climate, and it is not acceptable to save energy by
compromising comfort.
Figure 2: Architecture of Programmable Thermostats
HVAC
actuators
10:30
PM
WED
Set
Day/Time
Hold
Temp
Run
Program
FAN
NIGHT
HEAT OFF
Morning
Daytime
Temp
Night
Evening
Time
ON
AUTO
Communication
Interface
62°
Current
Setting
Day
sensors
HEAT OFF COOL
Sensors
Control
Logic
Data and
Settings
Storage
Power
Supply
User
Interface
Figure 3: PT schedule
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Programmable thermostats have been used for more than 20 years, but recent studies showed that they
have largely fallen short of the goal of saving consumers energy (A. Meier, Aragon, Peffer, Perry, & Pritoni,
2011; T. Peffer, Pritoni, Meier, Aragon, & Perry, 2011). Researchers showed that users often fail to use these
devices as they were designed. Indeed, several studies point out that people find the devices difficult to
program and understand (Boait & Rylatt, 2010; Consumer Reports, 2007; Critchleya, Gilbertsona, Grimsleya,
Greena, & Group, 2007; Karjalainen & Koistinen, 2007; Nevius & Pigg, 2000; Rathouse & Young, 2004a).
Therefore, an investigation of human factors and usability can provide insights to the design of future
thermostats to improve energy performance.
Human Factors
Anecdotal evidence suggests that some people find programmable thermostats difficult to use. A review
of literature found several users’ complaints, summarized in Table 1 (A. K. Meier et al., 2010). A publication
by the United Kingdom Building Control Industry Association (Bordass, Leaman, & Bunn, 2007) focused
on user interfaces of control devices for heating, cooling, and ventilation; analyzed the flaws of existing
interfaces; and provided usability guidelines for new products. The report pointed out several design errors
and highlighted problems related to lack of communication between designers and users.
Table 1: User’s Complaints about Programmable Thermostats
Programmable Thermostats Complaints/Issues
4
References
Devices are too complicated to use
(Boait & Rylatt, 2010; Consumer Reports, 2007;
Critchleya, et al., 2007; Diamond, 1984a, 1984b;
Diamond, Remus, & Vincent, 1996; Freudenthal &
Mook, 2003; Fujii & Lutzenhiser, 1992; Karjalainen,
2008; Linden, Carlsson-Kanyama, & Eriksson,
2006; Moore & Dartnall, 1982; Nevius & Pigg,
2000; Rathouse & Young, 2004b; Vastamaki,
Sinkkonen, & Leinonen, 2005)
Buttons/fonts are too small
(Consumer Reports, 2007; Dale & Crawshaw,
1983; Diamond, 1984a, 1984b; Rathouse & Young,
2004b) (Moore & Dartnall, 1982)
Abbreviations and terminology are hard-tounderstand; lights and symbols are confusing
(Dale & Crawshaw, 1983; Diamond, 1984a, 1984b;
Karjalainen, 2008; Lutzenhiser, 1992; Moore &
Dartnall, 1982)
The positioning of interface elements is illogical
(Dale & Crawshaw, 1983; Diamond, 1984a, 1984b;
Moore & Dartnall, 1982)
Devices are positioned in an inaccessible location
(Karjalainen, 2008; Rathouse & Young, 2004b)
Setting the thermostat is troublesome
(Freudenthal & Mook, 2003; Linden, et al., 2006;
Nevius & Pigg, 2000; Rathouse & Young, 2004b)
It is difficult to set time and date
(ConsumerReports 2007)
Devices give poor feedback on programming
(Karjalainen, 2008; Moore & Dartnall, 1982)
Devices are not attractive to use
(Parker, Hoak, & Cummings, 2008)
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A study of products offered in the U.S. market supported those findings, indicating a substantial lack of
standardization in symbols, labels and interaction systems. Further, programmable thermostats are sold in
hundreds of models, offering more than 150 features in total.
The use of programmable thermostats in small commercial buildings can be quite different from their use
in homes. Users have different levels of access (privileges) to the interface:
•Guests or customers might not be able to touch the thermostats
(Figure 4)
Figure 4: Thermostat Box
•Employees may or may not be authorized to change the settings
•Administrators (owners, managers, contractors or others in charge)
are authorized to change the settings.
Thus different user groups have different experiences and different
needs. For instance, occasional building users might need to change the
temperature for only a few hours, without affecting the normal schedule.
On the other hand, service personnel might operate multiple devices only
a few times per year and would like consistency between manufacturers’
interfaces and an easy way to adjust the parameters that cyclically change
every season (time, temperature sets, schedule). The challenge is to create
interfaces that properly serve the different kinds of users.
Study methodology
Since usability seems to be a fundamental issue with programmable thermostats, this study looked at the
usability of five models commonly used in small commercial buildings. A “minimum path” methodology
was used to look at the minimum number of keystrokes (or other actions) required to program and use
each thermostat for specific tasks.
The five thermostats had different interfaces (see table below) and offered different advanced features,
but they all shared the same core programming functions. They could all set different temperatures during
the day for each day of the week, and all allowed temporary temperature changes to add flexibility. The
usability test consisted of a detailed quantitative analysis of the combination of steps and buttons needed
to complete a series of specified tasks.
Name
Interface Type
Characteristics
PT1
Button Interface
Button-based programming; 7-day programming; up to
6 programs/day
PT2
Hybrid Button-Touch
screen Interface
Hybrid of touchscreen for primary programming and buttons for
heating and cooling controls; 7-day programming; ability to view
past energy usage.
PT3
Touch Screen Interface
Touchscreen with black/white display; 7-day programming
PT4
Advanced Touch
Screen Interface
Smart WiFi enabled device; full-color LCD touchscreen; 7-day
programming; quick-save function.
PT5
Web Interface
Web platform; 7-day programming; synched with wall device.
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Six tasks were chosen to characterize human interaction with thermostats in small commercial buildings:
•Task 1: Temporarily change the temperature setting by 4°F. How long does this last?
•Task 2: Is the system on? Turn the thermostat from “off” to “heat”
•Task 3: Identify the temperature the device is set to reach
•Task 4: Identify what temperature the thermostat is set to reach in a specific moment in the future
•Task 5: Set the correct time
•Task 6: Program a schedule and temperature preferences for Monday through Friday.
Results and Discussion
Use of operation manuals and extensive experimenting with the interfaces enabled mapping of the path of
buttons pressed or other actions taken to accomplish the selected tasks. Results for each device are shown
in Figure 5.
Figure 5: Optimal Path to complete tasks
120
100
80
T1
T2
T3
T4
T5
T6
60
40
20
0
PT1
PT2
PT3
PT4
PT5
T1
4
5
4
1
1
T2
4
2
3
4
1
T3
0
1
0
0
0
T4
13
5
3
4
0
T5
19
0
3
11
0
T6
39
101
19
16
16
There was a wide spectrum of path length between different interfaces for the same task and within the
same interface for different tasks.
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Table 2: Quantitative results of the usability assessment
PT
PT1
PT2
PT3
PT4
PT5
Task
N buttons/clicks
Special Actions
Alternative Paths
Modes
T1-Override
4
1
1
T2-Set Heat
4
1
2
T3-Curr Set
0
1
1
T4-Fut Set
13
1
3
T5-Time/day
19
1
4
T6-Program
39
1
3
T1-Override
5
1
2
T2-Set Heat
2
1
2
T3-Curr Set
1
1
1
T4-Fut Set
5
1
2
T5-Time/day
0
1
3
T6-Program
101
1
3
T1-Override
4
1
1
T2-Set Heat
3
1
1
T3-Curr Set
0
1
1
T4-Fut Set
3
1
3
T5-Time/day
3
hold
1
3
T6-Program
19
ord
1
3
T1-Override
1
slide
1
1
T2-Set Heat
4
2
2
T3-Curr Set
0
2
2
T4-Fut Set
4
2
3
T5-Time/day
11
1
4
T6-Program
16
2
3
T1-Override
1
2
1
T2-Set Heat
1
1
1
T3-Curr Set
0
1
1
T4-Fut Set
0
2
1
T5-Time/day
0
1
1
T6-Program
16
1
1
lift
hold
slide
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Task 1: Temporarily change the temperature setting of 4°F.
How long does this last?
PT1, PT2 and PT3 used traditional up/down physical or touchscreen buttons to change the temperature.
On PT4 and PT5, users slide a virtual lever on a screen over a numeric scale. The process seems straight­
forward, but there are important differences. For PT1, PT2 and PT5, when the user overrides the scheduled
temperature, the effect lasts until the next scheduled event. For PT3, the event lasts until a specified time
(default 8 a.m. the next day). However, for PT4, the temporary setting lasts indefinitely if not manually
changed. Therefore, users must be careful when adjusting the temperature, lest they defeat the energysaving features of the thermostat.
Figure 6: Up/Down Buttons and Virtual Lever
Task 2: Is the system on? Turn the thermostat from
“off” to “heat”
Turning the thermostat ON to heat was the easiest task. All the thermostats had a relatively short path,
from one to four button presses.
Task 3: Identify the temperature the device is set to reach
All the devices except one showed the current temperature and the target temperature in the main screen.
The information was presented clearly, with a label indicating “set to,” but the fonts used were sometimes
too small. One thermostat showing only one temperature on the main screen lacked clear labeling and
proved challenging for users to read correctly. These pieces of information are essential for users to make
an informed decision about temperature control.
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Task 4: Identify what temperature the thermostat is set to
reach in a specific moment in the future (Thursday at 11 a.m.)
Users willing to change temperature and schedule settings would like to easily read the previous settings.
Three of the five interfaces tested had no built-in option to allow this – it was necessary to enter the EDIT
PROGRAM mode to check the previous settings. This can lead to errors and is generally inconvenient.
Notably, the web interface (PT5) took advantage of the web features and provided information on single
schedules just by hovering with the cursor over the calendar. PT3 and PT1 had additional confirmation
buttons to prevent mistakes. PT1 had the worst performance in total button presses (13), but actually
provided a clear overview of all settings throughout the day in tabular form (Figure 7).
Figure 7: PT1 program overview
Task 5: Set the correct time
The time and date on the thermostat should be correct to guarantee an accurate schedule. PT4 and PT5
updated the time and date automatically, since they were connected to a network. PT3 did not allow
changing the date after initial installation except with a function code provided only in the manual. PT1 and
PT3 also had an option to switch automatically to daylight saving time.
Task 6: Program a schedule and temperature preferences
for Monday through Friday.
The program schedule is the core feature of a programmable thermostat, and usability for this task could
jeopardize energy savings. This task was longer and more complicated than all the others across all
devices (Figure 5). The goal of the task was to input the information in Table 3 into each thermostat’s
program schedule.
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Table 3: Program Schedule Table
Label
Time Interval
TEMP (°F)
6:00 AM
6–9 AM
70
Day
9:00 AM
9 AM–5 PM
62
Eve
5:00 PM
5–10 PM
70
Night
10:00 PM
10 PM–6 AM
62
Time
Period
}
}
}
Morn
Program
Heating
Monday
Time
Mode Day
Schedule
The five thermostats implemented this action differently.
• PT2 relied on a traditional event-by-event approach (Figure 8). At each step, the user can change
the starting time for the period and the temperature. It was not possible to see the information about
previous and following steps. One button is used to move between time and temperature, one to
go to the next period, and two arrows to increase or decrease the parameter. The parameter under
revision continues to flash until the system exits from the setting mode. There are no “go back” or
“undo” options. To program the schedule from Monday to Friday took 101 button strokes. Further,
it was impossible to check the results without re-entering the edit mode, and no weekly overview
was available.
Figure 8: classical program input
6:00
AM
70°
1
HEAT
8:30
AM
60°
2
HEAT
5:00
PM
68°
3
HEAT
10:00
PM
62°
4
HEAT
• PT3 was a significant improvement over PT2, with a MENU approach, bigger labels, and back/confirm
buttons. It took 19 button strokes to program the entire week, because it was possible to copy
settings from one program to another.
• PT1 had a longer path than PT3, but the weekly overview (Figure 7) and automatic steps from one
period to the next might lead to a shorter interaction time.
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• PT4 had a color interface and the shortest path. It allowed interaction thorough a calendar, a table
or a wizard, but the touchscreen was not sensitive enough, and users could experience lack of
feedback and inconsistent reactions of the interface.
• PT5, with the web interface, was by far the most usable. It offered a calendar (Figure 9), an overview,
and a graphical representation (Figure 3). The question is whether a computer is readily available
and practical to use in a small commercial building setting.
Figure 9: Calendar for Weekly Schedule
Summary and discussion
The tasks selected for this usability assessment are common tasks that different kinds of users would need
to accomplish in a small commercial building. All the interfaces had additional features, requiring more
buttons and filling the menus, thus making the interaction more complicated.
The investigation found that the most important interaction problems might not be apparent by only
consulting the user manual. For instance, the effect of covers, illogical sequences of buttons, and the
presence of touchscreens that do not work properly can affect the usability of the interface. One interface
had the most important buttons hidden behind a hard-to-remove cover, and another had an annoying
button that blocked any interaction with the device for 30 seconds. Terminology, icons and the interaction
paths were not standardized across interfaces, potentially leading to confusion for people who operate
multiple devices during a day.
All these problems are likely to lead to sub-optimal operation of the devices and to reduce the potential
savings they offer. Difficulties in using the devices also lead to frustration and reduced thermal comfort of
building occupants.
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Conclusions
Energy savings from programmable thermostats strongly depend on people’s behavior. In small commercial
buildings, thermostats can be used by different groups with different privileges and different frequencies
of interaction. Users should not have to be experts to operate a thermostat, and they should be able to
accomplish basic tasks easily. Policymakers should promote standardization of interfaces and the adoption
of usable devices. Manufacturers should consider improving the usability of their products by having real
users test them both in labs and in real settings. In particular:
•Every thermostat interface should use appropriate labeling and font sizes to indicate the current and
target temperature on the main screen.
•Information about temperature and schedule settings should be presented clearly in the interface,
especially information about the daily programs, because these settings directly influence potential
energy savings.
•Thermostats should update the time and date automatically to ensure program schedule accuracy.
•Icons and controls on programmable thermostats should be standardized to provide a consistent
process across devices.
•Users, especially in commercial settings, should be given basic training on how to use their climatecontrol devices.
Author Contacts
Marco Pritoni – [email protected]
Alan Meier – [email protected]
Daniel Perry – [email protected]
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