Skip to content Skip to navigation

Behavioral Determinates of Energy Consumption in a Centrally-Heated Apartment Building

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Energy Systems and Policy, Number 11, p.155-168 (1987)



This paper discusses tenant perceptions and behavior regarding heating and ventilation in multifamily buildings.^ Data were collected at a 60-unit subsidized housing complex for senior citizens.^ The building has central steam heating and the fuel is neither billed nor metered to individual apartments.^ Winter indoor temperatures average 26/sup 0/C (79/sup 0/F).^ In order to explain behavior more fully than the simple statement ``tenants don`t pay for the heat,`` we show how the tenants and maintenance staff act as a self-regulating system that determines heating system operation through local optimization.^ Using data from ethnographic interviews and a questionnaire survey of all the residents, the authors give quantitative measures of reported comfort and strategies for controlling comfort.^ They also discuss thee factors which tenants consider important for thermal comfort and their choices among various heat control strategies.^ For examples, why do only 35% use radiator valves to control the heat while 84% use windows.^Implications are discussed for new construction and retrofit, as well as for equity and management policies.^ The authors argue that a proper understanding of the behavioral context in multifamily buildings is essential, both to avoid ineffective and costly retrofits and to suggest low-cost measures which address the behavioral determinants of energy use.